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Last Updated: Monday, 8 September, 2003, 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
SA rugby racism probe halted
South African lock Geo Cronje
Springbok lock Geo Cronje was initially cleared of racism
An independent inquiry into alleged racial prejudice within the national rugby team, which was due to start on Monday, was held up by a court order late in the day.

The national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, asked that the inquiry be held in public and filed an interdict at the Cape High Court, which SA Rugby and the South African Rugby Football Union (SARFU) want to oppose.

"A new hiccup has arisen in terms of television," SARFU chief executive Mvuleli Ncula said. "We have been served with papers seeking the hearing in public so we will be meeting and taking legal advice."

The inquiry differs to the public inquiry - also chaired by retired judge Edwin King - that investigated match-fixing in cricket in 2000 because it stems from an internal problem and has not been summoned by the government.

King, 74, was expected to interview the first witnesses on Monday but the inquiry had yet to draw up its Terms of Reference and therefore was unable to start.

The legal hold-up will prevent King from making any headway until Wednesday at the earliest.

[Mandela] remains available to give advice should it be requested - he did not want to interfere in any way
A spokesperson for former President Nelson Mandela
The investigation was prompted by the resignation of the team's media spokesman, Mark Keohane, who said an earlier, internal investigation into an alleged racist incident amounted to a cover-up.

The case has received saturation coverage in the South African media, prompting even Nelson Mandela, the former president, to offer his services to the inquiry.

Mandela, however, has been persuaded by South Africa sports minister Ngconde Balfour to stay out of the row.

"He has stepped back now, following a discussion on Sunday with the minister," Mandela's spokesperson Zelda la Grange said on Monday.

"But [Mandela] remains available to give advice should it be requested. He was going to give very general advice and he has enormous wisdom to offer, which was purely the purpose of his initial position."

South Africans are passionate about sport and many had hoped that it could provide a unifying force in a country still struggling to overcome the legacy of apartheid.

But far from bringing South Africans together, the dispute over the national rugby team, the Springboks, is proving deeply divisive.

Documentary evidence

The row began when it emerged that a white player, Geo Cronje, had initially refused to share accommodation at a training camp with a black player.

An inquiry by the rugby authorities failed to find evidence to back up allegations of racism.

But just as the scandal seemed to be fading away, it returned with a vengeance. Keohane said he would not be part of an organisation which tolerated prejudice.

A seven-page document he produced to back up his accusations will form the basis of King's inquiry.

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22 Aug 03  |  International

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