WHEN a rugby player oversteps the divide between asserting his team’s rights and unjustifiable physical aggression, he could end up on the wrong side of the law, the Western Cape High Court has warned.
This was so in the case of Benjamin Zimri, the Delicious Rugby Club captain whose appeal against his conviction was dismissed on Friday.
Zimri was found guilty of culpable homicide in 2008 and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment following the death of Rawsonville Rugby Club player Riaan Loots during a match in Worcester on June 23, 2006.
The two sides had been playing at Rawsonville’s home ground in a match apparently punctuated by racial remarks and verbal abuse.
The match played earlier by the clubs’ second teams had also been marred by violence and racial hostility.
According to the evidence before the Worcester Regional Court, where Zimri was tried, the Delicious Rugby Club captain had swung a stiff arm at the throat of Loots, who fell backwards to the ground.
While Loots was on the ground, Zimri kicked his head.
Loots was taken to hospital, where he was declared brain dead. His life-support machines were switched off on the Sunday following the match.
A Full Bench of the Western Cape High Court dismissed Zimri’s bid to appeal against the regional court’s finding.
In a judgment written by Judge Rosheni Allie, the court said while there had been discrepancies in the evidence presented by the State witnesses regarding the scuffle, the State’s evidence had been consistent in certain material facts about the violence.
Among these was that Zimri had swung a stiff arm at Loots’s throat and had then kicked Loots’s head.
Judges Willem Louw and Ashley Binns-Ward concurred with the finding.
Judge Allie said Loots had been a young man in the prime of his life who was “brutally felled in the heat of a rugby match”.
Rules and referees’ penalties, said Judge Allie, existed for rugby matches precisely to regulate the conduct of players so the matches did not degenerate into anarchy.
“While rugby can fairly be described as a robust game, it is meant to build confidence and a sportsman – like team spirit, not hostility and aggression,” the judgment read.
“When a player oversteps the divide between reasonably asserting his team’s rights and unjustifiable physical aggression towards an opponent, he may find himself in contravention of the law, as in this case.”
Judge Allie also noted that the appeal had followed an unduly long process.
The appeal had previously been argued before two judges who had not been able to reach agreement on the matter.
Also, Zimri’s lawyers had failed to file certain papers on time, the primary reason being a lack of finances for legal representation.