Rugby Union: England relieved as Springboks tour is given go-ahead

AFTER 48 hours of frenzied diplomacy - the Rugby Football Union secretary, Dudley Wood, has hardly been off the phone - South Africa's four-match tour of England was yesterday given the reluctant approval of the African National Congress.

So the tour, which for the past month has been in France, proceeds but we should not expect another, anywhere, unless the South African Rugby Football Union gets on with as radical a development plan for the townships as has been instituted by its cricketing counterpart under Ali Bacher.

The ANC's support had been withdrawn after South Africa's National and Olympic Sports Congress had unexpectedly come out against the tour, citing the failure of the recently unified Union to fulfil its promises to the deprived majority while concentrating instead on high-profile - and by inference white - tours.

Last night, the Anti-Apartheid Movement in London fell into line with the ANC and said it would not attempt to disrupt the tour, although the NOSC said that its position had not changed and it would not do anything to prevent demonstrations. 'Our general council took a decision and we cannot rescind it,' Bill Jardine, the NOSC projects officer, said.

No one was listening. For instance, Leeds City Council swiftly withdrew its threat to the North of England match at Elland Road, which is council-owned. But the ANC's continued blessing will be dependent on SARFU's committing far greater resources to township rugby than it has so far.

'The ANC's support for all future international rugby engagements will be re-evaluated in the light of how SARFU responds to the crucial question of sport development,' a statement said. 'The fact that SARFU is not meeting its commitments as far as sport development is concerned undermines rugby's ability to contribute to the normalisation of sport.'

Danie Craven, co-president of SARFU, had asked the ANC's sports spokesman Steve Tshwete to intervene - even though Tshwete himself believes Craven and other members of the old guard from the former South African Rugby Board should resign and make way for a new generation with a positive PR profile like Bacher's.

'We urge the Anti-Apartheid Movement not to engage in any activities to disrupt the current tour of the South African rugby side to England,' Tshwete said. 'It is impractical for the matches of the South African team to be called off, since elaborate preparations have been made for this tour.'

In addition to which the ANC, as Wood pointed out last night, had given the tour its initial support. Indeed without it, it simply would not have happened. 'We would not have embarked on the tour in the first place if it had not been supported by all groups in South Africa,' Wood said. 'It was very disappointing to hear that the support was in danger of being withdrawn. There has been a lot of diplomatic activity going on behind the scenes and we are very pleased with the outcome. Rugby union is one of the last sports to have resumed international relations with South Africa and it would have been very sad if the tour had been called off.'

The Springboks - continued use of the sobriquet is one of the problems - are due in London on Sunday after playing their ninth match in France, against the French Barbarians on Saturday. They begin against the Midlands at Leicester next Wednesday and continue with England B at Bristol on Saturday week and the North on 10 November before the Test at Twickenham on 14 November.

But South African rugby itself is now as much on trial as the South African team after heavily losing the second Test to France. SARFU claims to have spent 1m rand ( pounds 208,000) so far on development and that it is pledging another R6m, money that it says can come only from international tours even though there never seemed to be financial stringency when it wanted teams and players to break the boycott.

In apartheid's shadow, page 36