'Third force is running SA rugby'
By Fiona Forde, Jacques van der Westhuyzen and Ashfak Mohamed
Dan "Cheeky" Watson, the father of Stormers captain Luke, believes a sinister "third force" is running South African rugby and that his son is seen as the "grandchild of the struggle".
Watson, speaking for the first time since the Springbok selection furore that has engulfed Luke selection, said on Tuesday that his son was paying the price for his political activism. Watson began playing rugby in the townships in 1976 and was ostracised from white rugby at the age of 23, the same age Luke is.
The top figures of SA rugby have been involved in a row since Saturday, when South African Rugby Union (Saru) President Oregan Hoskins overruled Bok coach Jake White and selection convener Peter Jooste and added Luke's name to a 45-player squad.
Saru Deputy President Mike Stofile said on Monday that Watson has been "unfairly treated" in the past because of his father's stance against apartheid. Stofile added that Saru would not allow Luke to suffer because of his father's past.
Cheeky Watson said on Tuesday that South African rugby has an apartheid mentality. "To the third force I say: your identities and your motives are being uncovered every single day and it won't be long until people really know who you are and what you are doing."
He will not intervene on his son's behalf, though.
"It's his fight, it wouldn't be right for me to get involved. When he started school for the first time 'kill the Watsons', was written on the desk.
"I didn't fight his fight for him then, and I can't do it now. But Luke knows that he has my support 100 percent. I'm very proud of him, proud of the fact that he stands tall, stands with confidence."
Luke, on the other hand, is just happy to finally receive the call-up. "I've never had a problem with Jake, there's never been an issue from my side," said Watson on Tuesday, a day before meeting White at Wednesday's training camp in Bloemfontein.
Watson further denied a claim by a caller to Talk Radio 702 on Tuesday that the reason behind his and White's alleged "fallout" had to do with White blaspheming in a team room or on the field.
"I also heard about the blasphemy thing, but, while I'm quite a religious guy, to be honest, if that sort of thing caused me so much grief, I wouldn't be playing rugby. Rugby players have the dirtiest mouths in sport, I've even let the odd words slip, but it's part of the game and competitive sport."
On Tuesday, Western Cape Premier Ebrahim Rasool said in a statement that the Bok training camp was an ideal opportunity for White to set aside any personal differences he may have with Watson.
"This is a moment for Jake White to relinquish his preconceptions and resist the temptation, when he thins out the squad, for petulance," said Rasool. "This is a moment for Jake White to both strengthen his final squad and unite all the cultures and traditions of rugby. Let's not be afraid of what Luke Watson symbolises. Let's embrace it."
Rasool said that Watson was an outstanding ambassador for historically disadvantaged communities, as witnessed at a recent rugby tournament, the Premier's Cup, held in Khayelitsha last Saturday.
"Luke Watson, our captain, was at home among the hundreds of rugby enthusiasts from the townships - and they love him. Young people, who are the future of rugby in this country, swamped Luke as he walked about on the field of the Khayelitsha Sports Ground. This is consistent with the legacy of the Watson family."
Meanwhile, the DA on Tuesday lashed out at Rasool's comments that Watson is a "black player". DA Western Cape spokesperson on cultural affairs and sport Alta Rossouw said in a statement on Tuesday that Rasool had "clearly made a mistake" when he said that Watson should be seen as a black player in view of the fact that his father chose to play his rugby in the townships.
Rossouw said that Watson had now become a victim of "unnecessary political interference". "Luke Watson should be judged on his merit as a rugby player, and nothing else, and it is totally unfair to him, as an individual and as a rugby player, to offer him the 'inside lane' to recognition or selection."