Rugby Union: South Africa confirmed as World Cup hosts

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The Independent Online
THE 1995 rugby World Cup will be held in South Africa as planned and that - after the African National Congress gave its full blessing yesterday - is official.

The World Cup organising committee, headed by Russ Thomas of New Zealand, met with the ANC deputy president, Walter Sisulu, and the ANC's shadow minister of sport, Steve Tshwete, yesterday afternoon and, after only half an hour of talks, all emerged smiling to make the announcement.

Thomas said any lingering doubts that rugby's showpiece would be staged in South Africa had now evaporated: 'The World Cup will take place in South Africa in 1995.'

Also present at yesterday's meeting at the ANC headquarters in Johannesburg was Ebrahim Patel, who was appointed president of the South African Rugby Football Union two weeks ago following the death of Danie Craven.

'I'm very elated,' Patel said. 'I'm absolutely thrilled that the ANC has given its unconditional support to the staging of the World Cup.' And unconditional indeed it was, as Tshwete confirmed. 'The ANC will rally fully behind the efforts of Sarfu and the World Cup committee to ensure the success of the event. There are no conditions at all. The decision was taken on the basis of good faith commitments from Sarfu.'

These commitments, Tshwete explained, centred on Sarfu's plans to develop rugby in the non-white communities, the absence of movement on which had prompted him, during the South African tour of France in November, to back calls for the resumption of the international rugby boycott. At that point, the International Rugby Board's plans to hold the next World Cup in South Africa looked distinctly shaky.

Since then, things have changed. The rugby authorities have tempered their traditionally haughty disdain for the ANC, their allied sports bodies and the cries from many townships for rugby to follow the example of cricket, which is now challenging football as the favourite pastime of black children.

Relations between the ANC and the South African government have also improved markedly, with joint schemes well under way for the holding of the country's first all-race elections within the next 18 months.

The ANC, in short, is in a conciliatory mood. Tshwete, who spent 15 years in jail for his political activities, said that the World Cup would have a significance for South Africa beyond rugby. 'It is going to boost the fortunes of rugby in particular, of course, but also in sport generally and in the country's socio-political situation. I have no doubt it will reinforce the overall drive towards reconciliation.'

The World Cup organising committee - Thomas, Sir Ewart Bell of Ireland, Marcel Martin of France and Nick Labuschagne of South Africa - travelled last night to Cape Town where they will be joined today by the secretary of the IRB, Keith Rowlands.

They will meet today with South Africa's best-known rugby union fan, President F W de Klerk, for what - after yesterday's announcement - will no doubt prove to be a predominantly social affair before discussions with Sarfu officials to prepare the ground for 1995.

The World Cup directors will remain in South Africa for two weeks.