Rugby Union: Australia's SA Test to go ahead

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The Independent Online
SOUTH AFRICA'S Test against Australia in Cape Town on Saturday will be played after all, because of the negotiating skills of the 73-year-old president of the Australian Rugby Union, Joe French. After spending nearly 24 hours in his hotel room French announced last night that the match will go ahead, and that his team will meet Eastern Province here today.

'I have been in contact with Colin MacDonald, our ambassador in Pretoria, who, like myself, has had discussions with the ANC (African National Congress). As a result we have received the necessary assurances and the tour will continue.'

South Africa's international rugby future and Australia's participation here was threatened when an agreement was broken that national anthems should not be played before the Test match between South Africa and New Zealand in Johannesburg last Saturday. Also the minute's silence for victims of violence was ignored when spectators sang their anthem.

Flying the flag and singing the anthem had been considered by the black community as a symbol of white nationalism. On South Africa's return after 18 years of international isolation because of apartheid, the newly formed South African Rugby Union had wished to prove that they are now an inter- racial organisation. Instead the Test became virtually an Afrikaaner festival.

'During the last four years the Australian Rugby Union has been in constant contact with our ambassador here to try to sort out the political situation,' French said.

'Mentally, we were ready to go home immediately the row broke out as there was no question of allowing our players to be endangered if the ANC withdrew their approval of the tour. I told Steve Tshwete, the ANC spokesman for sport, that that would be our stand.

'I believe that not only the Test match on Saturday has been saved but the future of South African tours to France and England this autumn and their visit to our country next year. Also the World Cup in South Africa due to take place in 1995 was under serious threat'. French refused to discuss South African sports politics but said that if the 'code of conduct' is not adhered to in Cape Town, then future rugby visits to this country and outgoing tours would be under threat.

A spokesman for the ANC said last night: 'Everyone is free to carry a flag but some were erected in the stadium. Also one would expect silence when asked to honour the deaths of fellow South Africans.'

Danie Craven and Abrahims Patel, the joint presidents of the South African Rugby Union, said in a statement yesterday that they did not authorise the playing of anthems and apologised that their undertaking had been violated. However, they did not reprimand the president of the Transvaal Rugby Union, Louis Luyt, who was responsible, although he is a member of their executive council.

Luyt remains unrepentent: 'I have no regrets as the national flag and anthem Die Stem are still officially recognised under the present governement, and have no wish to be dictated to,' he said.