Sunday, April 01, 2007

“The incident has been strongly condemned by the Boland Rugby Union.”

June 26, 2006

[Latest UPDATES below...]

If you ever get an invitation to play the "Delicious Rugby Club," think Hansel & Gretel, politely refuse and back away quickly.

South African P.A. reports the Boland Rugby Union has launched an urgent investigation into the incident that left Riaan Loots of the Rawsonville Rugby Club brain-dead this past weekend.

"The shocking incident between Rawsonville and Delicious is a cause for concern and the board has appointed a senior advocate to uncover the real facts of the incident," the union's spokesperson, Rayaan Adriaanse, said in a statement issued after a board meeting on Monday.

Rugby Planet reports, "Police have confirmed that a charge of murder will now be investigated."

The Cape Times has more details:

Loots, 24, a flyhalf for Rawsonville Rugby Club, was declared brain dead after being beaten and kicked in the head by an opponent from Delicious Rugby Club in Ceres at the end of a match in Rawsonville on Friday. Ceres lost 23-6.

Rawsonville chairperson DP Spangenberg ran onto the field to break up the fight.

Spectators watched in horror.

Boland police spokesperson Randall Stoffels said a case of assault with an intent to do grievous bodily harm would be changed to murder when the doctors switched off Loots's life-support equipment.

Worcester Medi-Clinic doctor Christo van Dyk declared Loots brain dead on Sunday.

His family has decided to donate his organs. [ . . . ]

Jack Abrahams, chairperson of the Boland Rugby Union, said: "It's not an incident we can feel proud of.

"I'm personally upset. We'll definitely investigate. We're bound to. It's just too shocking."

Abrahams said all rugby clubs in the Boland had to sign a code of conduct at the beginning of each year and were responsible for enforcing discipline.

The chairman of Delicious, Bennie Leenders, could not be reached for comment.

Source: Cape Times

SABC fills in a few more blanks:

In a closely contested game between the two clubs, the game degenerated into open violence. It is alleged that Loots was kicked and punched several times to his head. Loots was rushed to a nearby hospital. Christo van Dyk, a doctor, says Loots sustained injuries to the head and blood seeped into his brain. Van Dyk says technically Loots is brain dead and there is no possibility that he will be able to recover.

[UPDATE: Tues. June 27, 2006. 8:32 am ET]

Murray Williams has more on this morning's front page of the Cape Argus:

The chairman of the Boland rugby team being investigated in connection with the death of a rugby opponent has alleged that the players were provoked by racial taunts both before and during the game.

Delicious Rugby Club chairman Bennie Leendertz claims that the taunts caused the outbreak of on-field violence that eventually led to the death of 24-year-old flyhalf Riaan Loots. [...]

On Monday the Delicious Rugby Club was suspended with immediate effect from participating in Boland rugby and an advocate was appointed to conduct an independent investigation into the incident.

Police spokesperson Captain Randal Stoffels said today that police had completed their investigation and had forwarded the docket to the State prosecutor. A decision would be made "by Thursday or Friday" as to whether anyone would be charged.

On Monday a Mr DP Spangenberg, spokesperson for the Rawsonville team from Ceres, said Loots had been "punched in the face and, as he fell down, another player kicked him in the head".

But Leendertz claims his players were provoked - and that both sides were to blame for the fight.

"There was fighting from the start of the third team's game," he said.

"Before the first team match we spoke to the players to behave themselves on the field. They mustn't ... be hooligans, because rugby's a gentleman's game." [...]

Do South Africans actually have to remind each other before kick-off that rugby is a gentleman's game?

At senior level?!

I might have thought this was indoctrinated and conditioned into rugby players brains by the time they are teenagers, let alone adults. Maybe it's league policy to wave a yellow card before kick-off in areas where there's a strong whiff of racial tension and violence. Continuing directly...

He alleged that as the players took to the field, a Rawsonville player had told a Delicious players: "Luister hier, hotnootjie. Ek gat vir jou donner (Listen, Hotnot. I'm going to beat you up)."

Let's see. Player gets beaten into a coma. Two days later the player is declared brain-dead. And after a couple days collecting his thoughts, Leendertz makes his guys -- the accused -- into victims and justifies a defenceless player on the ground getting deliberately kicked in the head as self-defence.

Leendertz added that the referee was also to blame.

"Decisions he made were not consistent. For the whole game he favoured Rawsonville players."

Rawsonville won the game 23-6.

"It made my players feel very bad," Leendertz said.

What is Leendertz trying to say here...? That the attack was self-defence against on-field violence? Or retaliation against racial provocation? Or indirect settling of scores because the referee was unfair? All of the above?

If this is the best excuse that a club manager can offer by way of explanation, then it's hardly a surprise any more that many South Africans continue to take a psychotic loser like Pieter van Zyl and make him into a folk hero.

The free-for-all broke out with just minutes of the game remaining. Loots was left with bleeding on the brain.

Leendertz said: "After the player was injured, I and two other members of the executive went on to the field to look at the grade of the injury. The same (Rawsonville) player told us we must 'f*** off' from the field."

He said he had been "very upset about the racism, but I just turned around and walked off the field."

On the suspension of his club, he said: "It's very unfair. As far as I'm concerned Rawsonville's team must also be suspended. They were also fighting. We have taken some pictures of our players' injuries (sustained) on the field."

Source: Cape Argus

Finger-pointing, sharing the blame, and we still don't know the name of the accused. This is getting messier by the hour. To be continued...

[UPDATE: Tues. June 27, 2006. 6:21 pm ET]

Ben Maclennan at SAPA writes about the History of Violence between the two teams:

The clash between two Boland rugby clubs that resulted in the death of a 24-year-old player allegedly kicked in the head was not the first violent confrontation between the sides.

Nor was it an isolated incident: club rugby in the Western Cape is regularly punctuated by violence, often fuelled by alcohol and sometimes by an undercurrent of racism.

After a match between the two sides in September 2004, a Delicious front ranker, Charlie Manuel, was suspended for life by the Boland Rugby Union (BRU) after hitting Rawsonville assistant coach Andre Carstens so hard that his eardrum burst.

That match was halted prematurely, and the referee had to leave the ground under police guard after being threatened by spectators.

In the aftermath, Delicious, a historically coloured club, complained that the BRU was listening to only "three white clubs" - one of which it names as Rawsonville - and not to "the other 200 brown and black clubs".

That was only one of several incidents in recent years.

In May 2003 players of Cape Town's Harlequins complained that spectators pelted them with stones and bricks and threatened them with guns and knives after a match against Strand United.

In August the same year a Mossel Bay player was stabbed, his captain hit in the face with a brick, and the team's manager assaulted by angry Groot Brakrivier supporters.

In September 2004 the president of the Kuils Rivier rugby club, Eddie Gurah, was suspended for life after being found guilty of repeatedly hitting and kicking Hamiltons player Angus McKenzie, even after McKenzie had collapsed to the ground.

In November last year a match between Mossel Bay's Barbarians and Oudtshoorn's Bridgeton ended in chaos when one player attacked another, and supporters from both sides joined in.

The referee was taken to hospital with a stab wound to the head, and the Barbarians players were trapped in their changing room for more than an hour before being escorted away by police.

Administrators have expressed concern: three years ago the then-SA Rugby Football Union's manager of club rugby, Hein Giliomee, said the ongoing violence meant club rugby was losing players, referees and spectators, and that "thugs" should be removed from the game.

A year later, in the wake of the Gurah incident, the then Western Cape MEC for Sport Chris Stali announced an official inquiry into club rugby violence, and threatened to call in the police as a "final resort" to prevent club rugby in the Western Cape from falling apart.

Boland president Jackie Abrahams said in reaction that 2 367 club matches had been played since March that year and violence had occurred at "only 32" of them.

The inquiry went ahead anyway, and though it has not yet completed its work, it last year produced an interim report.

The report said statistics did not show that violence was endemic in the Boland, while there were only "limited occurrences" in the South Western Districts, a region which includes Mossel Bay.

While there was no single reason for the violence, alcohol abuse was probably the major cause of spectator violence, the report said.

In the Boland, clubs generally came from poor communities where alcohol abuse was rife.

"Also, a major factor is where there is little or no control over the sale of alcohol at grounds, with spectators bringing alcohol into grounds or arriving in an inebriated state," the report said.

Another major cause of violence was the "win at all cost" attitude of many clubs and players, which inevitably rubbed off on spectators, leading to overt aggression and violence.

"The racial divide is still great and this adds to tensions between clubs, players and supporters and often is reflected in attitudes of hostility, abuse and conflict on match days," the report said.

It said more work had to be done to build relationships between clubs and players from different communities.

It also recommended a "concerted programme" of investment, education and capacity building that addressed the lack of specialised rugby facilities in poor communities."

It also said spectators should be educated to respect referees' decisions - "irrespective of how unhappy they are". - Sapa

[UPDATE: Mon. July 3, 2006. 8:47 am ET]

There still have not been an official charges laid in the investigation into the death of Riaan Loots, the young South African assaulted and killed on the field two Fridays ago.

Malani Venter in Die Burger writes, "[Loots] fell to the ground after a stiff arm tackle to the throat and was then kicked to the head."

Murray Williams, writes in this weekends' Cape Argus that the provincial Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has called for more eye-witness accounts of the violent brawl. A police report on the incident was sent within days to the provincial DPP, Rodney de Kock, for a decision on whether to prosecute anyone in connection with Loots's death. The DPP's office said today that they needed more information before making a decision.

Karen Breytenbach of the Cape Times has more:

The National Prosecuting Authority is expected to announce on Monday whether it will charge two Ceres rugby players in connection with the assault that led to a Rawsonville flyhalf's death.

Meanwhile, a commission of inquiry appointed by Boland Rugby Union is to try to determine what might have triggered the assault.

Ismail Jamie, SC, of Cape Town, has completed his report and is to lead a commission of inquiry from July 10. Witnesses, match officials and the medical staff who treated the injured player, Riaan Loots, are to be asked to testify.

The union has also appointed advocates to a commission to investigate allegations of racism, biased refereeing and other problems in Boland rugby.

A Boland Rugby Union report on the refereeing of the match has been completed.


[UPDATE: Tues. July 4, 2006. 2:11 pm ET]

Murray Williams, writing in the Cape Argus, reports more on-field violence in South African club rugby a week after the death of Riaan Loots.

Violent spectators halt rugby match

July 4, 2006

Violence in club rugby in the Western Cape reared its head again when spectators, including a knife-wielding man, invaded a rugby field in Clanwilliam.

This weekend's incident comes a week after the death of 24-year-old Boland rugby star Riaan Loots. [...]

It has also been reported that at least three Boland rugby clubs have withdrawn or are in the process of withdrawing from the Boland rugby league.

Saturday's fight broke out towards the end of the game between the multiracial Clanwilliam Rugby Club and the exclusively coloured Delicious club of Clanwilliam.

Before the game, the players held a minute's silence in memory of Loots, who was buried in Strand on Friday.

"There was a bit of niggle here and there (during the match), but nothing serious," said Clanwilliam coach Arend Redelinghuys. "But with 10-15 minutes remaining in the game, a fight broke out.

"The players would have sorted it out, I'm sure," he said. "But then some spectators ran on to the field to join in. One of our wings, Marcus Greeff, was kicked in the head twice.

"I ran on to the field. It wasn't difficult separating the guys (players). I said to the ref he had better stop the game, that it's a mess now. And he blew his final whistle," Redelinghuys said.

But the violence escalated.

"Then a spectator came running on to the field with a knife. Luckily, their coach saw the guy and ran over and smacked him. If it wasn't for him..."

Redelinghuys insisted the players had not been to blame. After the match, the two teams had still shaken hands and met for a beer.

"The crowds are going to make it impossible for the young guys to play rugby.

"Rugby is very important for the platteland. We play rugby for fun and for pleasure. And we want to take our families and our kids to the games. But now it's just not safe."

Redelinghuys said fencing off the playing area was not an option. "There's no way we're going to fence our fields," he said. "We'd rather not play."

Redelinghuys said he was appalled by the example that adult spectators were setting for children.

"Some parents are now saying the children are not allowed to go to the rugby in case the spectators get out hand."

Redelinghuys said it was difficult to control alcohol abuse as many people arrived at matches after consuming alcohol.

Isaac September, of the Delicious club in Clanwilliam, was not available for comment.

Source: Cape Argus

[UPDATE: Wed. July 5, 2006. 7:47 am ET]

Karen Breytenbach writes in this mornings' Cape Times that the Boland Rugby Union is now overseeing three separate investigations into recent on-field violence.

The Boland Rugby Union, rocked by the death of a player after an assault at the end of a match, is investigating three cases of violence involving players. Hearings begin next week.

The union has also disclosed that it imposed R80 000 (USD$11,130) in fines on some of its 224 member clubs last year for flouting rules.

The three incidents subject to hearings have taken place since December. In the most serious of these, Rawsonville flyhalf Riaan Loots, 24, was kicked and punched at the end of a game against Ceres's Delicious Rugby Club last month. He was admitted to intensive care with bleeding on the brain. [...]

A Montagu scrumhalf, alleged to have hit an opponent in the face with a brick, has failed to attend his disciplinary hearing with the Boland Rugby Union and has been warned to return to the union's head office in Wellington on Tuesday.

The injured player had stitches and has been left with a scar.

The Clanwilliam Rugby Club and the town's Delicious Rugby Club, whose players were involved in a brawl on the field on Saturday, are to appear at a joint hearing before a legal expert and two members of the union's executive committee on Tuesday.

After the fight erupted, spectators ran onto the field with bottles and a knife. A Clanwilliam Rugby Club player was allegedly kicked in the face.

Ivan Pekeur, secretary of the disciplinary committee, said he had received statements from the Clanwilliam Rugby Club and a report from the referee. Once he had witness statements from Delicious, he would draw up a charge sheet and call witnesses.

Once the hearings had been concluded, a commission of inquiry would be set up to investigate "issues festering under the surface that have triggered violence". [...]

Boland chairperson Jack Abrahams said unions set clear rules for clubs.

"Clubs have to change their attitudes to become tolerant of one another. We can't do that for them. How do you change hate to love?"

Source: Cape Times

This story gets more and more insane. It's hard for me to say more than what sensible people already know, namely, that players kicking opponents in the head and alcohol-fuelled spectators running onto the field with bricks and knives is not in the spirit of the game. Rugby is not the cause of this violence, and neither is bad refereeing. It's something more disturbing and has to do with racial tension underlying the new post-apartheid Republic. I have never visited South Africa. So I don't know firsthand the reality of living and playing rugby in their rural provinces. But the more I learn about the Loots tragedy and the other accounts of violent encounters on the rugby paddock there, it appears there's still a lot of work to do promoting tolerance and reconciliation in a nation where not so long ago a government death squad was calling itself the "Civil Co-operation Bureau." Obviously, solving the legacy of apartheid is beyond the purview of this blog. But this is a story with huge implications for the future of rugby in South Africa. And with FIFA awarding their next World Cup to that country, it's something the entire sporting world will want to keep a close watch.

[UPDATE: Tues. July 11, 2006. 1:23 pm ET]

Via Cape Argus, SAPA reports:

An inquiry into the death of Boland rugby player Riaan Loots has started behind closed doors at Wellington, SABC television news reports.

Statements have been submitted by a referee, two touch judges, a paramedic and a doctor.

[UPDATE: Tues. July 18, 2006. 2:59 pm ET]

Murray Williams of The Cape Argus reports two Boland rugby players were formally charged on Tuesday with the murder of star flyhalf Riaan Loots.

Ben Zimri, 26, the team's eighth man, and inside centre Wayne Matthee, 19, arrived at the police pound at 8am, accompanied by their lawyer, Barnito "Benoux" Klaasen.

Inside, the two men were formally charged by investigating officer Bernard Prince.

They then walked across the police pound to the courtroom, hiding their faces from a small army of media. [...]

Zimri said he was a father of two, earned R450 a week working for an agricultural company and paid maintenance of R300 a month for each child.

Matthee said he lived with his parents in Paarl, was unmarried, had no children and dreamed of becoming a professional rugby player.

Klaasen told the court that neither man had previous convictions or outstanding charges against them.

They would agree not to interfere or make contact with any State witnesses if released on bail. The players said they could afford to pay bail of R500 each, if necessary.

The State agreed with Klaasen that neither of his clients were flight risks.

Theron released the pair on a warning to appear again on September 8, while the police investigated further.

It is understood that police are still awaiting a final medical report on Loots.

Also in court today was D P Spangenberg, chairman of Rawsonville club.

"Everyone on the field that day saw what happened," he said afterwards.

"It's still very raw for us - some players are still traumatised. I just hope justice is served."

He said the two sides were not on speaking terms.

"There's a lot of hatred."

Whole article.

SABC reports Spangenberg, the chairperson of the Rawsonville rugby club, has condemned the release of two rugby players.

I guess so. 500 Rand is worth USD$70. When was the last time you ever heard of a person charged with murder being released on bail of SEVENTY DOLLARS??!!

Admittedly, I don't know much about South African law and society. But that bail seems to me criminally low, even if there's a low chance of flight. Every time I update these reports, I feel sicker and sadder. Let's hope something good can come from all this.

[UPDATE: Tues. August 15, 2006. 3:20 pm ET]

South Africa Press Association (SAPA) update via Mail & Guardian:

Rugby death: Boland to lay charges

Cape Town, South Africa
27 July 2006 04:21

Charges of breaking the Boland Ruby Union's constitution will be laid after the death of a player in a club match in June, the union's lawyer confirmed on Thursday.

"We hope to serve the charges by Friday next week," said Chris Faure.

He declined to say how many people would be charged, or what the specifics of the charges were.

Faure was speaking after a meeting of the union's executive council, which considered recommendations received from advocate Ismail Jamie.

Jamie chaired an investigation into a headline-grabbing incident of rugby violence in which Riaan Loots from Rawsonville rugby club was fatally injured during a match against the Delicious club.

Faure said certain individuals and clubs would be charged, but refused to divulge further particulars, claiming it would be "highly unethical" of him to do so when those facing charges had themselves not been informed.

He said a disciplinary committee, under the chairpersonship of advocate Schalk Burger, would also be convened to hear the matters as soon as possible.

Two players from the Delicious rugby team of Ceres have already appeared in the Rawsonville Magistrate's Court on charges of murder following the death of flyhalf Loots.

-- Sapa


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