Home affairs probes over-age cheats in schools rugby
The Department of Home Affairs has launched an investigation into at least 11 top rugby-playing schools in KwaZulu-Natal after it emerged that fake birth certificates and identity documents were being used to field over-aged players.
The Sunday Times also established this week that:
- At least eight schoolboys over the age of 20 have provided their schools with fake birth certificates and doctored IDs in order to secure bursaries, lucrative endorsement deals and to play top flight rugby;
- Representatives from several private schools - including Hilton College, Michaelhouse, Maritzburg College and Kearsney College - held an urgent meeting on May 21 where an investigator was hired to verify all the first XV players' ages with home affairs. Westville Boys' High School, Glenwood, Northwood College and Durban High are also expected to provide their player information;
- The schools have agreed to vet the documents of all their teams; and,
- More than 320 players were checked at the recent provincial rugby trials where two were found to have already turned 22.
The KwaZulu-Natal Rugby Union this week confirmed it was verifying all documents to ensure players selected for provincial teams were the correct age. According to several sources involved in high school rugby, lucrative scholarships and the potential for big-money contracts have triggered the spate of age cheats in the sport. Scouts and agents have been blamed for procuring the fake documents.
Noel Ingle, chairman of the KZN High School Rugby Association, confirmed that eight players were found to be over-age. In addition, the Sunday Times understands that a further 15 players are suspected of being age cheats.
Said Elwyn van den Aardweg, headmaster of Kearsney College: "We always took documents submitted to us at face value but we can no longer do that."
Ingle acknowledged that a lot of the fake documents appeared authentic. "It is only during cross-checking and verification that problems are exposed ... it's very difficult for the schools." In a newsletter dated May 30, Michaelhouse rector Guy Pearson said: "There has been a veritable can of worms opened with the disclosure that there are a number of boys in KZN schools who are over-age, some as old as 21 and 22 years.
"We are in the process of verifying all IDs of boys playing in the first and second teams. This will be extended to all age groups," he said.
SharkSmart Schools of Excellence Programme, which empowers schools to meet a number of predetermined criteria related to safe and fair rugby, blamed the increase in over-age players on the money involved in high school rugby.
Dr Glen Hagemann, director of the programme, said: "They do it because schoolboy rugby has become virtually professional. Boys see a future in rugby, and schoolboy rugby is a stepping stone to that."
The probe into the over-age scandal was triggered by a recent investigation at Durban High School. Deputy principal Marie Vermaak said when one of their senior star players failed to return to school after being granted permission to attend a family funeral in April, the school opened up his files.
Startled by some of his documents, Vermark called in a private investigator - who has since been contracted by the other schools - and several discrepancies were found.
"After this, I asked our investigator to look at our entire first team. She came back and said another player was in the same situation."
When confronted, the second over-age player told her that a rugby scout in 2010 guaranteed to provide the necessary documents. "This is what happened and, a while later, he was given a fake birth certificate. We found he was actually born in 1991, not 1993."
Maritzburg College deputy head Keith Guise-Brown said: "I'm not sure if this is something that's creeping in more and more ... (but) there is no doubt some players are over-age. The issue now is to put steps in place to prevent this happening again." Provincial home affairs senior official, Lesley Dlamini, said he could not comment on the probe.