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How can rugby move on from such bias and prejudice?

The Springboks’ Siya Kolisi and Rassie Erasmus. Picture: Kazuhiro NOGI/AFP

The Springboks’ Siya Kolisi and Rassie Erasmus. Picture: Kazuhiro NOGI/AFP

Published Nov 28, 2021


LET it go with Rassie, people tell me every day.

Let’s move on. We made our point.

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The only point made was from World Rugby – and that point was that privilege rules, white is right and while it is easy to say black lives matter, it isn’t quite as easy to show that black lives matter.

ALSO READ: SA Rugby, Rassie Erasmus officially withdraw appeal against World Rugby

South African Rugby’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has been banned from all rugby activities for two months and he can’t have any active involvement with the Springboks on Test match days until September 2022.

World Rugby’s ‘independent committee’ made up of white men ruled in favour of the white Australian referee Nic Berry against Erasmus and black Springboks captain Siya Kolisi.

Berry was the main witness for World Rugby's case against Erasmus bringing the game into disrepute for challenging Berry's match officiating.

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ALSO READ: Dave Rennie’s slap on the wrist hardly consistent with Rassie Erasmus’ punishment

Berry detailed at length how his character was attacked by Erasmus and how his life is in ruins because of it. Everything, said Berry, that he had worked to achieve as an international referee, Erasmus undermined through his criticism of (Berry’s) performance.

Erasmus in his 62 minute video that went viral pointed out 26 instances where Berry got it wrong against the Springboks; that in 35 minutes of ball in play. World Rugby’s referees panel, according to several reports, agreed that Erasmus had it right in 23 of his 26 highlighted objections to Berry.

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More damning than the 26 decisions was the way Berry treated Kolisi like a second rate citizen and afforded the white British & Irish Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones the necessary respect.

Kolisi, at a media conference, was asked if he felt poorly treated and disrespected by Berry. He said yes and he articulated just why he felt that way. He spoke his truth and he supported his belief with examples from the match.

The independent committee, all of whom are paid World Rugby retainers, dismissed Kolisi’s evidence as it being ‘his perceived truth’.

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WATCH: Rassie Erasmus hints at a few beers, Mauritius holiday during suspension

Just because he felt that way didn’t make it that way. The black man was silenced even before he could start speaking and when he did speak, the disdain with which he was treated was justified as him having a persecution complex. Kolisi, apparently, was simply projecting.

Not so, the white referee Nic Berry. His truth, how he felt and what he feels he has had to endure, has been accepted as the gospel of what played out.

Berry continues to referee at international level and has never been sanctioned for his abysmal match officiating in the first Test between the Springboks and British & Irish Lions.

Kolisi was fined for saying he felt disrespected and for supporting Erasmus’s critique of Berry.

Erasmus, four months after the fact, was banned from all rugby three days before the Springboks played England at Twickenham. Everybody and anybody knows that Erasmus’s greatest asset is what he brings to the Boks on match-day.

World Rugby and the ‘independent committee’ have ensured he won’t be there until September next year.

Australian referee Nic Berry looks on as the Springboks’ Faf de Klerk clears against the British and Irish Lions. Picture: Rodger Bosch/AFP

So they have not so much punished Erasmus, but they have punished the Springboks.

Erasmus is banned from all rugby for the next two months, which means he cannot work with the women’s squads, he cannot work with the Sevens squad, he cannot make any contribution to the development programmes and to all the other rugby programmes he oversees.

Erasmus was not fined and is on full pay, but his rugby brain, which makes for a better rugby world, has been muted for the next two months. The only loser is the growth of the game and the only winner is the establishment.

I have never understood how easily people ‘just want to get on with it’ when the establishment decides a decision is final.

It is why apartheid survived for as long as it did. It is why a white police officer had no qualms about putting his knee on a black man’s neck and, over the course of nine minutes and in full view of the world, proceeded to kill the man through suffocation.

This happened because of privilege and because of this privileged belief from within those who are privileged that they are untouchable.

Kolisi should be among the most revered figures in world rugby and Berry should be among the most reviled. Kolisi should be revered for what he means to rugby and Berry reviled for on-field actions that should have disgusted rugby.

But no, the white men of World Rugby rallied to protect the white referee and comforted his distress while they took aim at the black captain, whose distress they said was his own perceived truth.

World Rugby’s leadership won’t die, which is why the only way forward for the game is through revolution and not evolution.

In the interim, all you will read is why it is time to move on, but your response should be that it is impossible to move on from such bias, prejudice and racism.