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Government ruling casts doubt over South Africa’s Rugby World Cup bid

The South African Rugby Union’s (SARU) bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup was dealt a blow today (Monday) after Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula banned it and three other national federations from hosting and bidding for international events over failings in meeting racial transformation targets in their respective sports.

South Africa is one of four nations currently bidding for the 2023 World Cup. However, Mbalula (pictured) said today: “I have resolved to revoke the privilege of Athletics South Africa (ASA), Cricket South Africa (CSA), Netball South Africa (NSA) and South African Rugby (SARU) to host and bid for major and mega international tournaments in the Republic of South Africa as a consequence of the aforementioned federations, not meeting their own set transformation targets with immediate effect. I will review this decision when considering the results of the 2016/2017 Transformation Barometer.”

Mbalula has stressed that the transformation drive is morally “the right thing to do”, considering South Africa’s history. He added it was strategically necessary because of the reality that 84 per cent of the country’s Under-18 population was black African and only 16 per cent white, coloured and Indian.

“It is not my intention to disrupt the momentum gained from the implementation of the Transformation Barometer and the global competitive edge of some federations and sports bodies,” Mbalula said, according to the Sport24 website. “However, I am mindful of the urgent task for federations to move with speed in the direction of providing quality of opportunities and access to the youth of our country.”

In July, World Rugby said the national unions of France, Ireland, Italy and South Africa confirmed their formal interest in the 2023 World Cup by the deadline of June 15. Formal union confirmation was the latest phase in a process that will culminate in the selection of the 2023 host in May 2017.

The bidding process is expected to start in earnest next month, with South Africa hoping to stage the tournament for a second time after the 1995 World Cup. Responding to the decision, SARU chief executive Jurie Roux said the Union planned to engage with Mbalula on the organisation’s hopes of hosting the 2023 World Cup. He added that SARU is confident of resolving the matter and continuing with its bid.

Roux said in a statement: “There is no question that we have more work to do and we could be moving faster, but our sport has undergone a major overhaul in how we do business and how we measure ourselves in the past two or three years and we have definitely made great progress. Transformation is a key strategic imperative for SA Rugby to remain competitive and to survive in the sports landscape in our country.

“Our barometer for 2015 shows that we have achieved our target in 11 out of 13 dimensions as agreed with government. We have made further progress on and off the field in 2016 to date and over the coming months our commitment to transformation will become even more evident. We are confident that the suspension will be lifted at the next reporting of the EPG.”

Mbalula has said the decision will be reviewed after he has received the results of the federations’ transformation efforts for 2016-17, which could be as late as 2018. The racial make up of the national rugby squad has long been a contentious issue in post-Apartheid South Africa.

In September, Pretoria’s High Court abandoned a legal action aiming to ban South Africa from the 2015 Rugby World Cup. The hearing was brought by the previously little-known political party Agency for New Agenda (ANA) against SARU and Mbalula. It contended that the government’s policy on transformation had not been met through the naming of South Africa’s squad for the tournament.