COMMENT | Eben Etzebeth should have never gone to Rugby World Cup

Eben Etzebeth has already made oral representations to the SA Human Rights Commission but many have criticized SA Rugby for the manner in which his case is being handled.
Eben Etzebeth has already made oral representations to the SA Human Rights Commission but many have criticized SA Rugby for the manner in which his case is being handled.
Image: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

Eben Etzebeth should have never gone to the Rugby World Cup with a dark cloud over his head and with the Langebaan assault allegations steadfastly refusing to disappear‚ the less palatable it is for the player to stay on in Japan.

The SA Human Rights Commission's decision to have the case heard at the Equality Court and SA Rugby belatedly deciding to embark on an internal probe should be enough for Etzebeth to come back home and deal with the allegations he's facing.

As individuals‚ we are responsible for our actions and Etzebeth‚ regardless of the fact he's an experienced Springbok‚ needs to step forward and face his accusers.

He's not immune from arrest‚ investigation and prosecution.

He won't be the first nor the last individual to miss a tournament because of allegations of improper conduct on and off the field.

If we need an example of a prominent sports personality who had to miss out on a major tour because of questions about their behavior‚ look no further than Ben Stokes.

The highly skilled all-rounder was accused of affray after a limited overs game against the West Indies in Bristol in 2017 and was said to have been involved in an altercation with two individuals during a night out.

The matter was viewed with such seriousness that Stokes had to miss the Ashes tour to Australia in order to deal with his alleged misdemeanour at the time.

The Ashes series is highly regarded in England and Australia and those who take part in it are often feted as heroes‚ especially if they win.

Stokes's status as a prominent cricketer and match-winner wasn't enough to save him from standing trial‚ even though he was eventually acquitted. This should have been the approach with Etzebeth.

There were allegations that surfaced‚ a charge was laid and other legal steps were taken to deal with the matter.

That alone should have been enough for SA Rugby to pull the plug on Etzebeth and let him deal with the matter outside of the glare of the World Cup.

Should he play on Friday against Italy?

He shouldn't as the noise in South Africa is far too loud for him and SA Rugby to ignore.

Most companies and “upstanding” political parties would ostensibly suspend individuals who have serious accusations levelled against them.

The assault matter has consistently refused to go away and the fact that SA Rugby have handled this issue with kid gloves spits in the faces of those who have been victims of assault and haven't received justice.

The racially charged nature of the incident also fans serious flames as SA is still battling fires that haven't been extinguished post apartheid.

Critically‚ this matter raises questions of SA Rugby's moral compass and the honesty among the senior players in the Springbok squad.

In light of what allegedly transpired on that August night/morning‚ the senior Springbok players should have come together and interrogated their accused team-mate as the fall-out in the event of his departure could have a nuclear effect as compared to him standing aside before the squad left.

Springbok coach Johan “Rassie” Erasmus said at the squad announcement on August 26 he trusted Etzebeth and trusted what he was told by the veteran lock.

But what has been happening at the SA Human Rights Commission is raising uncomfortable questions.

The thing is lessons learnt from the “Sandpapergate” episode that involved Steven Smith‚ David Warner and Cameron Bancroft highlighted that even senior players are capable of dishonesty and leading the team astray.

In this case‚ the senior players have failed to question one of their own and so have SA Rugby.

In a country where violence is not only rife‚ but with perpetrators getting away with their crimes‚ we can ill-afford to treat public figures differently.

Etzebeth must come back and it's no longer a case of if‚ but when‚ lest SA Rugby wants to be seen as an organisation that puts the player before the image and the well-being of the country and the organisation.

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