Scandal? What scandal?

2012-03-24 00:00

THE truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

One can only wish that this will prevail in sport. No cheating, no doping, no red blood cell transferring, no match fixing, no ball tampering.

I know, I know, but by just dreaming about it and not trying to pursue it, we will never get to the ideal of fair play in sport.

There have been so many initiatives of fair play in sport, but the lure of money will always pose challenges to the core values of any sports code.

My code is rugby. This is the sport I enjoyed playing most, the code I enjoy watching most and, as lucky as I am, the code that I am paid to report on.

Up to now rugby has been spared major controversy when it comes to the likes of match fixing, cheating and dishonesty.

The main issue in rugby is the individual use of banned substances, and I think rugby can be proud of the way it is policing that matter.

From the International Rugby Board down to the smallest union in South Africa, good protocols are in place and chances are good that culprits will be caught.

One often hears of steroid abuse among South African schoolboys, but it remains more a fallacy than fact.

Imagine my surprise when I heard about cheating in the Varsity Cup earlier in the week.

A prominent news agency blasted the story all over our airwaves and, as usual, those cut-and-paste opportunists parading as rugby writers and correspondents were quick to distribute this very, very serious claim to their readers and followers, even adding scandal to the headlines.

Rapport, one of the newspapers in the Media24 group that I work for, is of course one of the founding sponsors of the Varsity Cup, so it was really disturbing to hear about the apparent cheating that was taking place.

I was very keen to find out where and how the cheating took place.

Were referees put under pressure to influence results? Were doping protocols ignored or results deliberately kept secret? Was money that is generated through their “pink pants” social responsibility programme being used fraudulently? Were there tender irregularities in the upgrading of sports facilities at campuses, one of the forced benefits of this competition? Was there a betting syndicate operating among the almost 990 players who participate in this competition every Monday, making it the most successful student sports event in the country?

All of these answers happened to be a big ‘No!’

The cheating, it seems, centred on the eligibility of students. Students who claimed to be students, but where not, according to the constitution of the competition.

I find the management of Varsity Rugby to be top class and their vision of education through rugby a very noble and commendable idea.

What Varsity Rugby is trying to create, based on the NCAA collegiate system in the USA, is to use a rugby competition to promote and produce graduates who will become productive citizens. It is in fact, an educational initiative!

We have all seen movies, The Blind Side and Coach Carter, which are brilliant examples of that, about the collegiate system and how important and non-negotiable education has become for intended professional athletes in basketball, baseball and gridiron.

Varsity Rugby has the same vision. They believe that a graduate student will be a productive citizen and by using a national passion (rugby) to create awareness about academic studies, we will have more and more rugby players completing their studies, coming into the economy well trained and well balanced.

This was going to take time, and every year since the inception of the competition, the eligibility requirements became stricter and stricter.

The number of non-students being allowed to play has become smaller and smaller every season and last year a rule was introduced that even prevented students from playing for two different universities in consecutive years.

The eventual objective and original vision was that only students will play in this competition and that in a couple of years, the Varsity Cup will deliver only rugby players with degrees into society. This is the issue!

A compulsory eligibility check before the final round of play found 10 students fell short of the prescribed academic requirements. They didn’t meet the minimum Varsity Cup criteria of a 30% pass rate last year. Their cases were handed over to an internationally respected rugby judicial officer who made a ruling of a severe reprimand — but no penalties — such as docking points (all 10 dropped their studies in 2011, but enrolled again in 2012).

The executive of Varsity Rugby appealed the decision, but another judiciary found no grounds for appeal and dismissed the case.

What more could they do?

I cannot see where cheating occurred. All I see is a great initiative being tainted unnecessarily by someone who’s probably never even attended a Varsity Cup match.

The Varsity Cup was cheated, not the other way around.

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