Enough of Peter de Villiers

2009-07-01 00:00

PETER de Villiers must not speak to the media. He does not understand his job ­description. Whether or not his letter of appointment as the ­national coach is explicit, he has off-the-field responsibilities.

An important duty of coaches of international teams is to be ambassadors for the country that they represent. What they say in public should reflect the popular view of the country that they serve. De Villiers does not represent a popular view with the racist statements to which he is prone.

In his latest gaffe, De Villiers demonstrated that his poor judgment extends to his understanding of the ethos of the game of rugby. Schalk Burger’s actions in the first few minutes of Saturday’s important Test match,must rate as one of the most disgusting displays of bad sportsmanship by a Springbok rugby player in years. His sentence of an eight-week suspension was too light. Burger should have been given a red card and dispatched from the field for the whole game. He should have been banned for the rest of the season, if not by the international authorities, by his own country’s officials. He is an embarrassment.

The indecisiveness of the referees on the issue of a yellow card instead of a red card may have had a significant outcome on the game. Burger’s conduct in his 50th Test match is unconscionable.

De Villiers said of the incident that Burger did not deserve a yellow card because his eye gouging was “part of sport”. He said the same about the conduct of another act of violence in the same match, this time by ­Bakkies Botha, a perennial thug on the rugby field.

The British and Irish Lions coach was rightly horrified. Ian McGeechan’s response was this: “I am very disappointed he ­

[De Villiers] said that. I can’t see that ever being part of the game. It certainly wouldn’t be part of a game I want to be ­associated with.”

Rugby is a robust and, at times, violent game by its very nature. It is not a “dirty” game. What we saw in the case of Burger and Botha was dirty play at its worst. It cannot be condoned at any level.

The comments of De Villiers are serious for the sport in South Africa, especially for players at school level who may, in time to come, have the honour of representing their country. Open violence at all rugby-playing schools in South Africa has reached unacceptable proportions. It seems to be encouraged by parents on the sidelines. De Villiers has given his support to this abhorrent behaviour by his ill-considered statement.

If this is what rugby has come to, I, like McGeechan, want no part of it. I played provincial rugby with some of the toughest characters in rugby in the late seventies and early eighties. Their play was robust but seldom dirty.

If the logic of De Villiers is to prevail, rugby will be the poorer, if it survives at all.

• Jeremy Ridl is an attorney and environmental law specialist.

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