Shockwaves spread through school rugby this week after it was confirmed that three of the province’s most promising players were not who they claimed to be and were about 22-years old – while playing as Under-19 players.
As a major investigation was launched, it is believed this may be the tip of the iceberg and that fraudulent birth certificates may surface in schools across the country
Schools were reeling with the revelations and social media was abuzz as headmasters from KZN’s top rugby schools attended an urgent meeting on Monday.
One of the “boys” concerned, who was confronted with his false birth certificate, has since disappeared. According to his headmaster, he was one of the most popular boys among his peers and idolised by the younger boys.
He was a star player in Craven Week last year, destined for the Sharks Academy and was known for his well-mannered and eloquent ways. Yet it seems for his high school years, he was pretending to be someone else. His real identity and name have not yet been traced.
Although it could not be confirmed, it appears the two other “boys” were also confronted with evidence of their false birth certificates and have also not returned to school.
All three came from the Eastern Cape and the involvement of a criminal element has not been ruled out.
Scholarships to leading schools are sought after and are seen as a way out of poverty and hardship.
Dr Glen Hagemann, director of Sharks Medical, and president of the SA Sports Medicine Association, said there definitely was a difference between a 22-year-old player and an U19 player. “At 22, a player is fully matured. There would be a difference in strength, size and speed and would provide unfair advantage.
“It is contrary to the Shark code, it’s all about playing fairly and safely. Deliberately faking your age – that’s not fair play.”
While the investigation will only be completed next week, it appears that the birth certificates were false and this was red-flagged by Home Affairs when the boys concerned applied for identity documents ahead of matric.
The names of two “boys” surfaced at one school and another name at a second school – however, their names have not yet been released until the investigation is complete.
Yesterday KZN Rugby president Graham Mackenzie confirmed that an independent expert has been appointed to go through the age verification process.
“We need to have a foolproof system to ensure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen. The process of checking and verifying the age of schoolboys must be streamlined throughout KZN, all age-groups and hopefully all other provinces. It is an ongoing situation, but one that the schools are now on top of.”
Chairman of the Natal Schools Rugby Association Noel Ingle confirmed that with a “100 percent support” from schools, a verification process was now under way.
“We are all dedicated to ensuring that there are no over-age players in our system and that this situation doesn’t arise in the future. Perhaps in the past we have taken documentation at face value, and what we’ve now realised is that this is not enough.
“The schools are behind this drive to clean up the process.
“It won’t affect our Craven Week selection, as we have more than enough quality players in the province,” said Ingle.
Some of the schools playing rugby in big derby matches this weekend asked that their teams be checked first.
Glenwood headmaster Trevor Kershaw confirmed yesterday they had requested their players be investigated ahead of today’s game against Durban High School.
“Our match will be on national television and we cannot have any doubt over our players,”he said.
DHS did not respond to a request for comment.
Maritzburg College and Westville Boys High also have a big match scheduled today and Maritzburg’s deputy-head, Keith Guise-Brown said: “In the spirit of co-operation with all the schools who are participating, we fully support the investigation taking place to unravel any fraud. If we find ourselves in any way with boys over the age limit, we will pull that boy out immediately.
“The schools accept birth certificates in good faith and if we have to do a full investigation of all ages, it will be done sooner rather than later.
“This won’t be restricted to this province and all the schools are very concerned. We will tackle this head-on.”
Westville Boys’ headmaster, Trevor Hall, said: “we have all agreed to support theinvestigation in the interests of fair play”.
Kearsney’s head, Elwyn Van Den Aartdweg, chaired the headmasters’ meeting on Monday, but had gone away for the weekend and was not available for comment, while Hilton’s marketing director Paul Guthrie said the college is fully behind the investigation.
“We support the KZN rugby union in their endeavours to resolve this matter. We would encourage all schools countrywide to follow suit to ensure that boys are playing sport in their correct age groups.”
The KwaZulu-Natal final rugby squad involves 40 boys from different schools and all players will now be checked.
To comment: e-mail [email protected]