Rugby Union: Tour hope rises as Luyt quits

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The Independent Online
IT IS the news that South Africa and the rest of the rugby union world has been waiting to hear. "Luyt Goes," reads the front page of today's Afrikaans newspaper, Rapport, reporting the resignation of the South African rugby chief, Louis Luyt.

The newspaper quotes Luyt as saying, "I have resigned from Sarfu [The South African Rugby Football Union]", a simple statement that means this summer's England Test and the Welsh and Irish tours to the Republic will probably now go ahead.

The National Sports Council (NSC) called for an international boycott of South African rugby, accusing Luyt of racism and mismanagement. Luyt says in the interview that he has resigned for three reasons; he has been abandoned by the Sarfu executive, he did not want to harm rugby and he did not want to damage South African rugby's partners Australia and New Zealand.

Luyt said: "If the people that take South African rugby forward do not have the backbone to resist the NSC, the government and its fellow travellers, I will act."

The NSC chief executive, Mvuso Mbebe, said the council would probably withdraw their call for the suspension of tours to South Africa if Luyt quit. Although the NSC appealed directly to Ireland and Wales, the request also cast doubt on England's Test in Cape Town in July.

Francois Pienaar, the man who captained South Africa to the 1995 World Cup and the player-coach of yesterday's Tetley's Bitter Cup winners, Saracens, anticipated the resignation and hoped that the Springboks could get back to concentrating on rucks on the field rather than political mauls.

"When Louis resigns we can host many countries from around the world again in the next few months and try to develop the South Africa we wanted when we won the World Cup."

Ireland are scheduled to play two Tests in June against the Springboks as part of a seven-match tour. Wales' five-game visit overlaps with Ireland's tour, and they play one Test on 27 June. Meanwhile England are scheduled to play one Test in Cape Town on 4 July after their tour of Australia and New Zealand.

The British Minister of Sport, Tony Banks, said last night that if Luyt had gone it was good news. "He really ought to have gone before quite frankly."

Rugby sources said the NSC had taken time out to give Luyt an additional 48 hours to reconsider his position in the face of fast crumbling support.

The NSC said Luyt had not matched efforts in almost all the nation's other 142 sporting codes to eliminate apartheid divides and promote the sport among blacks. There are no black players in South Africa's Springbok national rugby side or in its top junior teams. Luyt, a staunch advocate of white rule before apartheid ended in 1994, rejected an informal vote of no confidence at a special Sarfu general meeting on Thursday, saying: "I answer to no man, only to God."

Eight regional unions voted for Luyt to go and since then two of the four regions that supported him have changed sides, adding to calls for him to resign in the interests of the sport. Rugby officials in Ireland, Wales and Australia said at the weekend they would consider a formal boycott call if it was made, but that they hoped for a settlement. It now looks as if their prayers have been answered.