Rugby Union: Luyt casting a cup shadow

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THE EMOLLIENT noises being made by all parties to the wrangle over next year's World Cup in South Africa conceal a desperate anxiety on the part of Rugby World Cup Ltd, which is responsible for the tournament: that Louis Luyt, the all-powerful World Cup organiser in Johannesburg, could be about to take over the South African Rugby Football Union as well as the World Cup, writes Steve Bale.

The first open election to the committee of SARFU, a multi-racial amalgamation of the old SA Rugby Board and Rugby Union, will take place in March and if Luyt's allies gain control, RWC fears he will be in a position to throw his weight around even more than he has recently.

Luyt wants to reduce the number of World Cup venues from 14 to the six Test grounds - in Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Pretoria - and stage the matches as double- headers, thereby maximising the ticket revenue, 75 per cent of which will go straight to the hosts.

To try to keep tabs on Luyt, RWC has appointed one of its directors, the Durban-based Nic Labuschagne, to act as its direct representative in South Africa and Craig Jamieson, a Springbok trialist who at one time played scrum-half for Richmond, as tournament manager.

In addition, RWC summoned Luyt to Paris to explain himself last weekend. Both parties expressed themselves satisfied with the outcome, which is likely to mean nine rather than six venues. RWC remains implacably opposed to double-headers, not least because this would put ticket prices beyond the reach of black supporters.

'I am very pleased with the outcome,' Sir Ewart Bell, RWC chairman, said. Luyt said much the same, only more so: 'I am pleased that I came because many misunderstandings and misconceptions were dealt with in a very constructive way.' There will be an announcement in the next week or so.

The fact is, though, that RWC is simply waiting for its next falling- out with Luyt, the millionaire president of the Transvaal Rugby Union and chairman of the company that runs Ellis Park, the 95,000-capacity Johannesburg stadium where the World Cup final is scheduled to take place on 24 June 1995.

Luyt was appointed chairman of the organising committee by SARFU, whose secretary, Arrie Oberholzer, no longer sits on the committee, an extraordinary reflection of Luyt's power heightened by SARFU's advice to RWC to address all correspondence directly to Luyt.

Luyt, meanwhile, has been presenting the deep concern of the RWC board as a plot got up by Keith Rowlands, the International Rugby Board secretary and RWC director, and the 'English' media to have the World Cup switched from South Africa to the home countries.

It is true that alternative countries are, at the IRB's behest, preparing contingency plans to stage the tournament in the event that it cannot take place in South Africa. Although this is mainly for security reasons, it had the useful corollary of demonstrating the World Cup to be a world event rather than a South African event, let alone a Louis Luyt event.

And as for the English conspiracy theory, the five directors of RWC are Welsh (Rowlands), Irish (Bell), French (Marcel Martin), Australian (Leo Williams) and even South African (Labuschagne).