SA players win in 'stand-off' with World Rugby
SPOTLIGHT: South Africa’s players’ union, MyPlayers, has won a moral battle against World Rugby in the wake of Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus’s ban.
Erasmus has just returned from a two-month ban, slapped on him in mid-November over the hour-long video he produced after the first Test between South Africa and the British & Irish Lions in July last year.
Erasmus is still barred from attending matches in an official capacity for another eight months, following his now infamous criticism of Australia referee Nic Berry.
SA Rugby was also fined £20,000 (ZAR409,000) for their role in the sorry saga.
However, in a spin-off of the World Rugby statement after the hearing, the players’ union approached World Rugby for ‘clarity’ of a statement that linked Springbok captain Siyamthanda Kolisi to the hearing.
“MyPlayers wanted to seek clarification on whether statements made by players during press conferences could be used to bring charges against their employer,” MyPlayers CEO Eugene Henning told @rugby365com in a statement.
It relates to a section of the World Rugby statement which referenced the media briefing by Kolisi and assistant coach Mzwandile in which Kolisi was asked about the video.
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Kolisi was asked about a statement made by Erasmus that he, the Bok captain, felt “disrespected” by the Australian match official, Berry.
“I didn’t feel respected at all. I didn’t feel I was given a fair opportunity,” Kolisi said in response to a question from a British journalist.
Asked for clarity in In what way do you feel what way he felt he was disrespected by the referee, the Bok skipper replied: “Did you watch the video?
“Did you watch the video that’s been put out there?”
The journalist replied that he has not seen the entire video.
“Okay, I think watch that and then we can [talk] – after playing the game.
“I don’t really want to get into it, to be honest, but we can speak about it after the game. I will speak anything about the game but I don’t want to get involved in that.
“I just say I just didn’t feel got given the same access to the referee and there’s proof. If you watch the game again you’ll definitely be able to see yourself.”
World Rugby said, at the time of the hearing: “It is important to appreciate that what Siya Kolisi did in his answer was to express his own feelings or belief.”
“Returning to Charge SA Rugby two: neither Siya Kolisi nor Mzwandile Stick has been charged with Misconduct arising out of their comments. When Ms Potts was asked about that by Hampton, she said that was because WR was not alleging that those comments per se were necessarily insulting. The charge was put upon the basis that SARU failed to instruct those persons and others not to comment at all on the match officials and officiating in the first Test.”
MyPlayers sought to clear up the issue as they felt that because World Rugby instituted a misconduct charge against SARU based on the fact that the remarks made by Kolisi were considered to be “not disciplined or sporting and adversely affected the game of rugby”.
“As the Players’ Organisation, we found the underlined sentence particularly concerning,” Henning said in his statement.
“It suggested a correlation between what the player had said in response to a question from members of the media, and how World Rugby responded to that by instituting this misconduct charge against SARU.
“Had this charge been upheld, SARU would have been within their rights to bring further charges against the player, thereby jeopardising the player’s employment agreement and, thus, his international career.”
MyPlayers were assured by World Rugby that Kolisi’s comments in isolation were not what triggered the misconduct charges brought against SARU.
“We are, therefore, satisfied that players are free to express themselves truthfully and honestly whilst upholding the values of the game,” Henning said.
* The MyPlayers statement, in full, below:
‘Players free to express themselves truthfully and honestly’
The recent misconduct hearing between World Rugby (WR), SARU and Johan (Rassie) Erasmus refers. In reviewing the Decision that was released in November 2021, MyPlayers wanted to seek clarification on whether statements made by players during press conferences could be used to bring charges against their employer.
During a press conference on 30 July 2021, one Springbok player (“the Player”) remarked that, in his experience, the match officials in a recent game did not treat him equally relative to the opposition team’s captain. Based on a range of facts and circumstances at the time of the press conference, WR instituted a misconduct charge against SARU based on this remark. The remarks made by the Player were considered to be “not disciplined or sporting and adversely affected the Game of Rugby”.
As the Players’ Organisation, we found the underlined sentence particularly concerning. It suggested a correlation between what the Player had said in response to a question from members of the media, and how WR responded to that by instituting this misconduct charge against SARU.
Had this charge been upheld, SARU would have been within their rights to bring further charges against the Player, thereby jeopardising the Player’s employment agreement and, thus, his international career.
Engagement with World Rugby
MyPlayers has been engaging with the senior leadership of WR on this matter. These conversations were positive and constructive. WR reiterated that the misconduct charges against SARU were not instituted solely as a direct result of what the Player had said.
Prior to the press conference on 30 July, and in the interest of the game, WR instructed SARU to refrain from making any further statements about match officials who were officiating in the British and Irish Lions Series. When two members of the media asked the Player about his personal experience in dealing with the match officials, the Player should not have been allowed to answer the question given the earlier directive from WR and/or should have been comprehensively briefed about the directive from World Rugby.
As the Players’ Organisation, we feel that it is unfortunate that the Player’s name was cited in the charge sheet. This could have created an impression that the Player was responsible for the charges brought against his employer by truthfully answering questions about his lived experience.
WR assured us that this is not the case and that the Player’s comments in isolation were not what triggered the misconduct charges brought against SARU.
We are, therefore, satisfied that players are free to express themselves truthfully and honestly whilst upholding the values of the game.
Furthermore, the independent judicial panel concluded that they had no reason to doubt the genuineness of this Player’s feelings, but in their opinion, this was not the same as asserting as a fact that the player had been disrespected nor that those feelings are correct. This, too, was taken up with WR. WR reiterated their strong belief that the independent judicial panel had not been dismissive of a player’s feelings or expressions of personal lived experiences and that it would be unfortunate if that impression was created during and after the disciplinary hearing.
We are satisfied that they understood our concerns, especially within the historical South African context. We are also pleased to note that WR has been working on protocols to better facilitate conversations and processes to address matters of inclusivity and discrimination within rugby.