Bok winger lets fly with racism claims

Time of article published Oct 18, 2002

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By Douglas Carew

Bok rugby legend Chester Williams claims that turbulent former Springbok wing James Small heaped racist abuse on him using the offensive "k" word.

Williams says Small inspired him but also deeply hurt him by calling him a " k...r".

The ugly slur came when the two were on opposing sides in a Currie Cup match. According to Williams, Small went on to say: "Why do you want to play our game? You know you can't play it."

This is one of the revelations contained in Williams' biography Chester: A Biography Of Courage, written by Mark Keohane, which was published this week. The latest edition of Sports Illustrated magazine carries an extract from the book.

In the book Williams reveals a complex relationship with his fellow Bok wing at a time when both were pin-up boys of Springbok rugby. Williams says he watched Small play at a national schoolboy rugby tournament in Paarl in 1987 and marvelled at his talent.

It persuaded him to put aside the political difficulties which had forced him to give up rugby and take up the sport again.

When the two met on the rugby field, the racial slur did not surprise Williams.

"That obscenity on the field did not shock me; I had been called the k-word many times in my rugby life. It was standard practice in most matches I played in the early 1990s and James had a reputation for being abusive and vocal on the field," said Williams.

"If I was going to let racial abuse get to me, then I was never going to succeed as a black rugby player in South Africa. The racial taunts were expected. If anything upset me it was the ignorant and arrogant belief the game belonged to whites and that the black community had no right to show an interest in the game, let alone play it."

Williams reveals that the multiracial, comrades-in-arms image of the '95 Boks was an illusion. Being a black player in a predominantly white team meant your playing pedigree was always being questioned on the basis of colour.

"It was hard to be accepted as just a rugby player; you were either a product of development, a quota player or just a mere token," he says of his time in the World Cup team.

"Even when you were first in the team's breakfast diningroom, other players would not join you. I was a black rugby player and that somehow separated me from the squad."

Small responded to the Saturday Star through his lawyer, Allan Saunders, that he had "no independent recollection of the match or incident to which Chester refers".

"Chester and I were always very competitive on the rugby field, but I was not aware that he harboured such strong feelings towards me," Small said.

"In fact, only a few months ago I congratulated him on his good work with the Sevens side, and he invited me to play in his benefit match, which I was looking forward to, but which was unfortunately cancelled."

Small said he understood the attempt to sensationalise past events to promote book sales, but remained of the view that events which occurred in the heat of battle on the rugby field should remain there.

Williams says he believes that Small resented his success.

"It is weird to explain. You had to be in the room to appreciate it. There has always been a distance. We were never friends and are not now."

Williams says it was clear that all that mattered to Small was James Small and not the team. "For him it was never about the team."

The last test Williams and Small played together was at Twickenham in 1995.

"That day I scored two tries... When I crossed for my second try, he got really upset that I had scored instead of passing the ball to him.

"As I was running back from scoring, he yelled: 'F..k it, why didn't you pass?' There was never a word of congratulation from him. Not on the field and not in the dressing-room afterwards.

"For him it was about breaking the record for tries. It was not about who else scored."

Small, in his response to the Saturday Star, said: "With regard to my alleged selfishness and manipulative skills, I think my participation in 49 test matches for my country and three Currie Cup winning sides speaks for itself."

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