Tuks sidestep punishment again after player eligibility “oversight”

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DESPITE being found guilty of failing to meet the Varsity Cup’s eligibility requirements in four of their matches this year, Tuks will host third-placed UJ next Monday in the second semi-final of this year’s Varsity Cup. 

The rules of the Varsity Cup require that at least 18 of a Varsity Cup team’s 23-man match-day squad have to be bona fide students at the university they are representing. It came to light last week that Tuks only had 17 eligible players in their squad in their matches against Maties, Wits, Shimlas and Ikeys this year after fellow Varsity Cup teams filed complaints about the matter.

As a result of the complaints, a formal dispute was brought against Tuks by the Varsity Cup management, and although adv. Jannie Lubbe SC found them guilty of breaching the regulations, it was decided that a “strong reprimand” is the sufficient penalty for their indiscretion.

This is in spite of the fact that the rules mention the chance of “losing all points gained for that match (in which they were guilty of transgressions)” as a minimum punishment. In their defence of the dispute, Tuks attributed their mistake to a misunderstanding of Varsity Cup regulations.

Tuks was involved in a similar controversy at a similar stage of the competition last year, when they were also charged with not meeting eligibility requirements. Adv. Lubbe was also the judicial officer, and found that a reprimand was the necessary punishment as he “regarded the breaches to be in the nature of an oversight”.

Based on the concept of NCAA College Football in the USA, which is famous for its insistence on maintaining student standards, the Varsity Cup announced at this year’s competition launch that regulations had been tightened, with an increase in the bona fide student requirement from 16 to 18 players in the match-day squad. This makes the past week’s developments all the more puzzling.

The ongoing leniency towards eligibility offenders does make one wonder whether the organisers of the competition are committed in keeping it to being a student competition, as Tuks’ continued participation in the tournament despite their second “oversight” in consecutive seasons illustrates that the eligibility rule is much more flexible than it is made to seem in media correspondence from the organisers.

Apart from Tuks’ breaches, most recently, Shimlas (in 2012) and Ikeys (in 2011) have also come under fire for their team’s eligibility status and subsequently come away with nothing but a wrap on the knuckles.

The success of the competition commercially has resulted in higher stakes for all parties involved in the tournament and the high quality rugby has resulted in professional unions’ involvement in some of the Varsity Cup teams.

The consequence of this has been that the tournament is becoming besieged with professional players, some of whom have no affiliation to the teams they are representing other than a professional contract with the union which is linked to the university side.

By: Ricky Klopper

Photo: Rugby365