'Someone must pay for Boks' Staaldraad hell'

By Ashley Smith

The pictures of Springbok degradation that sent shock waves through the rugby world on Friday have led to formal steps to boot out the Bok management team, including coach Rudolf Straeuli.

The most horrifying of the photographs shows South Africa's rugby pride, naked and humiliated, clutching rugby balls and one another, sitting in a dark pit where they were kept for four hours while water was poured on them from time to time.

Their filthy faces are etched with fatigue and utter misery.

The sneaked pictures of the Springboks at Kamp Staaldraad, a pre-World Cup boot camp, shocked the nation when they were published in Independent group newspapers on Friday.

There were calls from senior members of the sporting fraternity, including Western Cape sports minister Patrick McKenzie, to Straeuli and his team to "account to the general rugby public" and "if the situation demands it, to step down".

The South African Rugby Players' Association told Weekend Argus that they would be travelling throughout the country over the next few days to ask members of the pre-World Cup Springbok squad for a mandate to call for a formal investigation into the humiliating goings-on at Kamp Staaldraad.

If it were proved that the players were humiliated, the entire management team, including Straeuli, should be held responsible, the association said.

Already some players have "expressed concerns" about the camp.

Kamp Staaldraad was overseen by the team's bodyguard, Adriaan Heijns, and run by five "instructors" who were armed with guns.

But there are fears within senior rugby circles that members of the Springbok team who attended the "team-building" camp will not speak out for fear of not being selected for the Boks again. The only Springbok to have slammed the camp publicly so far is centre Gcobani Bobo. He said he was "bewildered" by the experience and "could not believe what they were putting us through".

Weekend Argus can also disclose exclusively that Kamp Staaldraad was discussed with representatives of other top rugby-playing nations while group matches were being played at the Rugby World Cup.

Piet Heymans, chief executive of the association, who was in Australia at the time, said player associations throughout the world had condemned the practices at Staaldraad.

Representatives of top rugby-playing nations had told him that, in a professional era, the idea of such a camp would never be "entertained".

Countries such as New Zealand, Australia and England had so-called team-building sessions but these were conducted in a "very professional, scientific, humanitarian and dignified manner".

Heymans said the goings-on at Kamp Staaldraad were "clearly not dignified".

"One would have thought that South African rugby had moved on. Clearly there are other ways to get the same result (of building a team)," he added.

McKenzie said: "I challenge anybody to show that what was depicted (in the pictures of the camp) contributed to a cohesive and well-prepared team capable of winning the World Cup.

"Instead it is my belief that our players were left traumatised and shell-shocked... and I want to encourage those national players who felt humiliated and degraded to step forward and speak out against these practices.

"The people of South Africa have been betrayed by the very people to whom we entrusted the Springbok rugby players... and I want to publicly challenge the persons responsible for this disgraceful behaviour to account to the general rugby public and, if the situation demands it, to step down."

However, SA Rugby bosses on Friday refused to "judge" the apparent degrading goings-on at Kamp Staaldraad, despite pictures of naked, miserable Springboks splashed on front pages of newspapers across the country.

A police camp near Thabazimbi was the venue for the bizarre camp where the Springboks were made to strip, swim in an icy dam, blow up rugby balls under water, slaughter and cook but not eat chickens and spend four hours in a pit with a tarpaulin over them.

They were also subjected to ear-splitting renditions of the English national anthem God Save the Queen and the New Zealand rugby team's Haka war cry.

Deputy managing director of SA Rugby, Songezo Nayo, said on Friday that the Boks - who look more like buck caught in the headlights of a car than rugby players in the pictures - took off their clothes voluntarily because they did not want to get them wet.

Asked specifically about the apparent humiliation depicted in pictures, Nayo said: "I can't say that it was or wasn't (humiliating). They are in a situation (naked) fairly regularly with each other. From what I understand they were about to get into the water and they did not want to get their clothes wet."

He said players and management would submit a report to the SA Rugby executive early next month.

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