It was recently announced that all written submissions with respect to Rassie's alleged violation of World Rugby's code of conduct had been filed and an oral hearing would now take place. SARU and Erasmus will appear before the committee on the 30th and 31st of October 2021, some 3 months after the incident. It's shaping up to be a big battle, but who is on the back foot?
During the British & Irish Lions series, Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus created a video in which he analysed the performance of Nic Berry in the first test, a game the Springboks lost. The video is just longer than 60 minutes and took a hardline on the errors made by the referee on the one hand, but the lack of accountability on the part of the referee and World Rugby on the other. The real question is, who released the video?
When the video initially went viral, the opening remarks by Erasmus in the video lead all to believed that the Director of Rugby's frustrations had lead him to create and leak the video to the public. However Rassie, as is always the case, has released a number of cryptic tweets since then, in which he asks the question, who released the video?
If the video was created by Erasmus and submitted to World Rugby through the appropriate channels, then Rassie and SARU are likely to walk away free of sanction. If the video was leaked to the media, identifying the leak is key to unravelling the story here. If World Rugby leaked the video, then they are in for a torrid time in the coming weeks as they square up to the outspoken Erasmus. World Rugby takes a strong stance on the long standing practice of not publicly criticizing the referee, so their whole case against the Director of Rugby will fall flat if the video wasn't publicly available by the man so accused.
"Match officials are the backbone of the sport, and without them, there is no game. World Rugby condemns any public criticism of their selection, performance or integrity."
The panel convened to hear the matter consists of chair Christopher Quinlan QC, Nigel Hampton QC and Judge Mike Mika. Upon learning the date of the hearing, both Erasmus and SARU have requested a public hearing, one in which the public is freely available to view proceedings and the evidence and are able to decide for themselves, who really is to blame for what unfolded during the British & Irish Lions series.
Rassie, represented by his name sake, Frikkie Erasmus released a statement in which they called for the public hearing and it is this very fact that has me suspicious as to the true facts of the whole event. If Rassie was at fault and had leaked the video, he would be far less inclined to a public hearing. However, if the accused feel they are to be done a continued injustice by keeping things behind closed doors, maybe it is World Rugby who has something to hide.
"The allegations against Rassie are unfounded and the facts will be revealed during the hearing. There is no justification for any secrecy" said Frikkie.
World Rugby has declined the request for a public hearing and reminded all parties that a full judgement will be published by the adjudicators once all evidence had been heard and a decision had been reached. Isn't this the same kind of secrecy that got us all into this mess in the first place?
Whilst World Rugby is moving to put Rassie & SARU on trial, it could just as easily be the reverse that happens. The hearing should be made public to protect the integrity of the sport at large. There is no denying there have been some glaring gaps in officiating this year and its time that all involved were held accountable, not just the coach or player with his winning % and job on the line.
In just over two weeks, the trial gets underway. We can only hope the whole story is told and the ones truly at fault are dealt with appropriately. But keeping it secret, only begs the question, who is hiding and what?