Rugby Union: Springbok tour hangs in balance

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The Independent Online
SOUTH AFRICA'S tour of England hung in the balance last night when it became clear that only a positive commitment from Danie Craven, president of the South African Rugby Football Union, to de-segregate the game in the Republic would be sufficient to allow the four-match visit to go ahead as planned and without the threat of disruption.

The key to the issue concerns regaining African National Congress approval for the tour and there was a glimmer of hope in that direction following an exchange between Leeds City Council and the ANC. With Leeds on the verge of withdrawing the municipally-owned Elland Road as a venue for the Springboks match against the North on 10 November, the council said that what is needed is a definite response from Craven.

While the Springboks are due to arrive from France on Sunday, pressure on the trip was prompted by the ANC and the South African National and Olympic Sports Congress, both announcing in the past few days the withdrawal of support for the tour. The two organisations charge the SARFU of failing to develop the game among the country's black population.

Meanwhile, Leeds council has written to Craven to 'ensure that all previous agreements on de-segregating rugby are implemented.' The council also said it had been told by the ANC that a positive response from Craven would 'go a long way to ensuring that the tour of England would enjoy the ANC's unqualified support'.

That appears to be the only answer if the tour is to be a peaceful one, or indeed if there is to be any tour at all. It was in 1969 that the South Africans last visited these shores and the scene then was one of pitch-invasions and ugly clashes between demonstrators and police. Yesterday, there were glimpses of a repeat in store. Britain's 10,000- strong Anti-Apartheid Movement said that it would be closely watching developments in South Africa, where the wrong response would set plans in motion for demonstrations. Then, in addition to the Elland Road lock-out warning, came a cancellation request for the opening match of the tour, against the Midlands at Leicester's Welford Road ground today week.

Leicester council own the ground, which was leased to the club for 34 years, and was 'currently reviewing the terms of the lease to determine its options'. The council's leader, Peter Soulsby, was writing to the club to suggest that they 'consider the cancellation of the match with the Springboks' and he would be stressing 'the city's excellent record in promoting racial harmony and that to proceed with the match could cause serious problems.' There are no plans at present, though, according to the Bristol club's administrator, David Tyler, to cancel the next match, against the England B side at the Memorial Ground on 7 November.

With the full England international following on a week later, Dudley Wood, secretary of the Rugby Football Union, hoped the ANC would change its view and said: 'The long-term development of the game in the townships is a long process and South Africa's newly shaped rugby set-up has been in place for less than a year.

'At the moment all things are go, but clearly some venues are already threatened by cancellation and even when matches go ahead there is a suggestion of protests. Nobody welcomes that sort of atmosphere, but we hope that the South Africans are prepared to tolerate rugby even in those conditions.' Maximum security has been planned for the Twickenham Test.

In France, finally, Jacky Abrahams, South Africa's assistant tour manager, stated that he would see out the tour. Formerly a top official with the ANC-aligned black South African Rugby Union, Abrahams dismissed reports that he would be quitting and said: 'I'm still part of this tour and I must go ahead with it.' Abie Malan, the Springboks manager, said: 'We are not going to get involved in political arguments. We are here to play rugby and the tour is going ahead.'

Wallowing Wallabies, page 31