Smit takes the helm amid mudslinging

Springbok rugby captain John Smit will remain at the helm of the side until the end of the year, coach Peter de Villiers announced in Cape Town on Wednesday, as political mudslinging over the sport continued with the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) condemning the reaction of African National Congress (ANC) MPs to former Springbok captains calling for an end to political interference in the sport.

De Villiers confirmed Smit’s appointment after having met the player in South Africa and more recently in France. “I was very impressed with John and have enormous respect for what he has achieved with the Springboks in the last four years. He is the World Cup-winning captain.
He has global respect and he has the desire to add to what was achieved in France last year,” he said.

“This is a new chapter for Springbok rugby, but I believe we must build on the success of the World Cup and it made sense to me to further invest in John’s excellent leadership and his ability as a player,” explained De Villiers.

Smit, who is currently contracted to club rugby in France, said he is thrilled to be a part of the De Villiers era. “When we met in Cape Town, I was encouraged by the coach’s desire for success and his passion for South African rugby. To be offered the chance to continue with the Springboks is a challenge I would never refuse. I feel honoured to be given further opportunities to lead the Springboks.”

De Villiers ideally wants Smit to continue his domestic rugby in South Africa, and Smit has agreed to do so provided SA Rugby and his French club, Clermont Auvergne, can agree on terms and conditions.

“The Springboks will always be my priority but it is important that any move back to South Africa to play domestic rugby is done in a professional and mature way. The French have been fantastic to me and they understand my desire to play for the Springboks. It is a situation that now will be dealt with on an administrative level between SA Rugby and Clermont,” added Smit.

“For now my focus is on getting back to match fitness and making a contribution to Clermont’s season,” he said.

De Villiers said he appreciates the complications of having his captain based in France, and for this reason he wants Smit back in South Africa. “We will find the best possible solution in the coming weeks,” he said. “It was important for me to officially confirm the situation, so as to ensure there is no misinformation based on speculation.”

De Villiers, who has spent two weeks visiting European clubs at which senior Springboks are playing, described the trip as encouraging. “We must do what is best for Springbok rugby and my intention is to ensure the best available squad is selected. I will explore all avenues for this to happen.”

Mudslinging

Meanwhile, the FF+ was reacting to a scathing attack by Sport and Recreation Minister Makhenkesi Stofile last week that followed a move by AfriForum and a group of former Springbok rugby captains to hand over a petition to SA Rugby president Oregan Hoskins, calling for an end to political interference in rugby.

The FF+ condemned accusations levelled at it by ANC MPs in Parliament’s portfolio committee on sport on Tuesday indicating that the party had used AfriForum and the former Springbok captains to obtain its own objectives.

“It is a pity that the ANC members of the parliamentary portfolio committee on sport are now starting to rely on conspiracy theories to explain the reaction of former Springbok rugby captains on the government’s interference in rugby.

“They should rather judge the merits of the Springbok captains’ criticism of the government’s interference,” the FF+ said in a statement.

The FF+ described the ANC’s condemnation of the involvement of the captains as “strongly reminiscent of the ‘total onslaught’ rhetoric of the 1980s”. The only difference, said the party, is that the shoe is now on the other foot.

“The ANC government will just have to learn from the mistakes of the previous regime that calling on ‘total-onslaught conspiracy theories’ will in the long run not discount the merits of the new struggle”, said FF+ leader Piet Mulder.

In a statement last week, Stofile slammed the participation of the former captains in the public campaign as the “re-emergence of the erstwhile ambassadors of apartheid” in South African rugby.

“We regret this apparent rattling of the skeletons in the apartheid cupboard. Their gaunt eyes of injustice seem jaundiced in their interpretation of issues and in their selection of battlefields,” he said, adding that they would not be allowed to reimpose their political will on the sport in their attempt to protect the benefits of apartheid bequeathed to their children.—Sapa

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