South Africa's 'Beast' in eligibility controversy

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The Independent Online

Confusion surrounded the international future of South Africa prop Tendai Mtawarira yesterday after it emerged he may not be eligible to play for the Springboks.

The 24-year-old, nicknamed "The Beast", was born and raised in Zimbabwe and played youth rugby for the nation before joining the South African domestic system with the Natal Sharks.

Mtawarira made his Springboks debut last year, supposedly gaining eligibility through residency criteria, and was a key figure in his side's victory over the British and Irish Lions earlier this year. He is currently in France with the Springboks and was due to feature in last night's Test against Les Bleus.

But South Africa's sports ministry this week issued a statement questioning the South African Rugby Union's decision to play him as he is not a citizen of the country. The SARU did not comment on the situation, instead quoting their own statement from last week which said Mtawarira had been cleared to tour following discussions with the ministry.

The ministry's statement read: "We must state up front our admiration for the gifted Zimbabwean prop forward. He is a live-wire on the rugby field. But just like he must obey the rules of rugby on the field, he must comply with the laws of South Africa in life here on our land, like all of us.

"According to the President as well as the CEO of the SARU, 'The Beast' is not a citizen of South Africa. He does not even have a permit for permanent residence in South Africa.

"The CEO of The Sharks corroborates these facts and makes the interesting remarks: 'There has never been any issue about his nationality.'

"The issue here is not his nationality. It is his citizenship. He has never applied for a South African citizenship or passport.

"Of course he would not get a passport if he was not our citizen," the ministry statement added. "This is the law that all citizens in all countries respect. What is wrong with some of our compatriots? No sport can be bigger than South Africa.

"Most important still, sports leaders should be the first to understand why national teams cannot play foreigners, no matter how outstanding they may be.

"Morne Steyn cannot represent New Zealand, Dan Carter cannot represent Wales, Wayne Rooney cannot play for Bafana Bafana. The list goes on. Federations, provinces and clubs are more than welcome to approach us for advice on these issues.

"To simply rely on slipping through the legal framework [as the CEO of the Sharks seems to be doing] is very dangerous and negligent. Let us take our country more seriously. Only citizens of a country may represent that country."

Whatever the outcome, it is understood the Lions will not want to launch any kind of protest and will be happy for the SARU to sort the issue out themselves.