By Nick Said
FUKUROICITY, Japan (Reuters) – Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth will line-up against Italy in a must-win Rugby World Cup Pool B clash at the Shizuoka Stadium in Japan on Friday despite allegations of physical and racial abuse hanging over him.
The matter stems from an incident in the South African coastal town of Langebaan on Aug. 25, during which a man was allegedly racially and physically abused by a group that included Etzebeth.
The South African Human Right Commission (SAHRC) will approach the Equality Court on Friday to ask it to hear what amounts to a civil case, a date for which will only be set later.
State prosecutors have yet to decide whether there is a case to answer.
Etzebeth has denied any wrongdoing and for now remains part of the South African squad.
South African Rugby said on Thursday it would abide by the jurisdiction of the Equality Court and confirmed it had instituted an “internal process” to address the issue.
Etzebeth, in a statement following the August incident, denied any abuse.
“It is completely untrue and unfounded to claim that I physically or racially abused anyone in Langebaan. Multiple witnesses can corroborate that,” he said.
SA Rugby says it reaffirms its commitment as a “good corporate citizen” to abide by any requirements placed on it and its employees by South African authorities.
“We have fulfilled all requests to date and will continue to do so as and when advised,” it said in a statement.
“Following our discussions with the South African Human Rights Commission we have instituted an internal process to address the matter, the details of which remain an employment matter between SA Rugby and the player.”
The Equality Court can hear cases even if state authorities decline to prosecute and usually hand out fines or community service.
The timing of Wednesday’s announcement by the SAHRC will be of some concern to Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus, coming two days before arguably the biggest match for the Boks since their World Cup semi-final against New Zealand in 2015.
South Africa, one of the pre-tournament favourites, must beat Italy on Friday to stay in contention for a quarter-final place and Etzebeth is a key member of their forward pack.
(Reporting By Nick Said)