South Africa’s sports minister mounted a defense of Springboks player Bongi Mbonambi this week after he was accused of directing a racial slur at an England opponent in their Rugby World Cup semifinal in France.
Mbonambi, who is Black, was accused by England’s Tom Curry, who is white, and World Rugby is investigating the allegation. Mbonambi’s participation in this weekend’s World Cup final against New Zealand could be in doubt if he’s found guilty of misconduct.
“Bongi Mbonambi is us. We support you Bongi,” South African Sports Minister Zizi Kodwa wrote on social media.
Although the moment when Mbonambi is meant to have made the remark is unclear, Curry can be heard during the first half of the game asking referee Ben O’Keeffe what he should do if he’s the target of abuse from an opponent.
“Nothing, please,” O’Keeffe said in response. “I’ll be on it.”
South Africa won the game 16-15 with a very late penalty.
Mbonambi and the Springboks have not publicly commented on the allegation against him, although South Africa scrum coach Daan Human was asked about it and how it was affecting Mbonambi’s preparations for the final at a World Cup news conference on Monday.
“I haven’t discussed that (with Mbonambi),” Human said. “But to be straightforward and honest with you, he is a calm guy. He is well spoken and I don’t want to actually go into it because we have a World Cup final in six days’ time.”
Some South African media have claimed the whole episode might have been lost in translation, and that Mbonambi may have been shouting a word in South Africa’s Afrikaans language that sounds like the English expletive Curry accused him of using, but means something else completely.
The Afrikaans word merely means “side” and Mbonambi was shouting it to his teammates to warn them where the ball was and where England was going to attack, the reports said.
World Rugby is under pressure to resolve the disciplinary case well in advance of the final and said it can’t comment until the process has been completed. MDT/AP