Proteas hero leads Bok blazer protest

Former Proteas rugby captain Pompies Williams will receive his Springbok blazer on Wednesday, but says he will never wear it.

This is because several of his friends and team-mates from the former South African Rugby Federation have been denied the honour. The Proteas were the national team made up of players from the Federation.

They were told they qualified for the new blazer, but according to the chief executive of the SA Rugby Football Union, Rian Oberholzer, those from 1978 did not. These include the Noble brothers, Christie and Aubrey, and Richard Croy.

The reason for the cut-off date, according to the union, is that from 1978 Proteas players qualified to play for the Springboks under the former SA Rugby Board. Only Errol Tobias and Avril Williams, however, were ever selected.

Croy and Aubrey Noble said the attitude of rugby bosses at the time, coupled with inequality of facilities, prevented them from competing for places on an equal basis.

"We were all part of the struggle, we just resolved to fight the struggle differently," said Noble. "So why should we miss out? What opportunities did we really have?"

He said some people felt so strongly about it that they were planning a protest at Newlands when the blazers were due to be awarded. Croy, however, said there was not enough time to plan a protest.

"The only criterion stipulated when we were first told of it was that we had to have played for either the Federation or for SARU," said Noble. "We were told that our qualification would be automatic. Now they turn round to us the day before the ceremony and say we don't qualify."

An official of Sarfu admitted a mistake had been made. Instead of stipulating that the Federation players had to have played before 1978, the circular sent out had specified 1992 (the unification year) as the cut-off. This glitch was only discovered 10 days ago.

Christie Noble, younger brother of Aubrey, had already received his blazer when the change was made.

"Christie was going to Spain, so we organised that he receive his blazer early. In terms of the latest Sarfu circular, he also doesn't qualify. So what must he now do with that blazer?" Aubrey Noble asked.

Croy, who played for WP in the 1980s, asked why Federation players were being punished when they had fought the same struggle as their SARU counterparts.

"The only difference between us was that they (SARU) said there should be no normal sport in an abnormal society, while we believed it was better to fight the system from within," said Croy. "We probably won't be able to get a protest together as we have not really had time to organise one. But I would like to see it happen as Sarfu's reasoning over this one is really stupid."

Williams, who led the Proteas against the British Lions in 1980 and against England in 1984, backed up the claim by his former team-mates that Sarfu had made no distinction between post-1978 and pre-1978.

"They said everybody who played for the Federation or SARU would get blazers. I feel really sorry for those guys and although they may battle to forgive me for accepting the blazer, out of sympathy for them I will never wear it," said Williams.

Oberholzer said the decision to award blazers had been made in 1992. A "verification committee" had been appointed to decide who should be awarded and who not. It was the committee who decided on the pre-1978 ruling.

"It is possible that some were led to believe they qualified when they didn't. I sympathise with them. But the Federation players were part of the SARB and hence cannot be seen as playing for their national body before unity," said Oberholzer.

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