OPINION: Does rugby royalty like Rassie DESERVE privacy?

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus and his wife of 20 years, Nicolene, have quietly divorced, according to court documents. However, many South Africans are on the fence about whether this information should’ve remained confidential or become the source of tabloid fodder.

Unlike other sports stars, Rassie has chosen to keep his family life away from prying eyes and, for the most part, off social media.

But does the public have a right to know what happens behind closed doors to their sporting heroes and coaches?

And is this rule only applicable to rugby royalty on the condition that they are on a winning streak?

RASSIE ERASMUS DIVORCE – DO WE HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW?

According to reports, Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus and his wife of more than 20 years have sadly parted ways.

The notoriously private couple – who wed in 2003 –  are parents to three children: daughters Nikki, Carli, and Janie.

Neither Rassie nor Nicolene have confirmed or denied the reports. SA Rugby have also declined to comment on the personal lives of their staff.

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus and wife Nicolene split.
Images via Instagram:
@nikkierasmus/ Odd Andersen, AFP

On social media, many have claimed that Rassie’s life off the pitch is “no one’s business.”

Here’s what a few Facebook users had to say…

Annette Snyman: “It’s a private matter. We must respect this.”

Shona Grey: “We want rugby news, not news about personal lives.”

Stephan Kruger: “Why is this news?”

PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SPRINGBOK SCANDALS

While Springbok fans have empathised with Rassie Erasmus and his marriage split, the same cannot be said about former Bok Elton Jantjies.

The infamous flyhalf was dragged through the mud by media and fans after he admitted to having an affair with team dietician Zeenat Simjee (who vehemently denied the allegations). He was also accused of using illegal substances and domestic abuse.

Sbu Nkosi’s reputation was also tarnished, and he was labelled “problematic” after his personal struggle with mental health dominated headlines.

Speaking in a press conference last year, Bulls director of rugby Jake White even went as far as to air Sbu’s dirty laundry. He said of the player: “He was married and had a child. But he’s now got a girlfriend, and he’s got two kids with her. If that was my son and he was 26, 27 years old, I would worry about him”.

Sbu Nkosi and Elton Jantjies are portrayed as the ‘bad boys’ of the Springboks.
Images via Instagram:
@sbu_nkosi14/ @eltonjantjies

Speaking of Jake White, the former Springbok coach quietly divorced his wife in early 2008. By the end of the same year, he had married again. According to IOL, Jake was accused of flying his mistress to the 2007 World Cup. He was also accused of duping the public into believing his “public sham” of a marriage.

Who can forget scandal after scandal about the late Joost van der Westhuizen – who played alongside Rassie Erasmus – that was accused of cheating on his wife Amor Vittone with multiple women (including a stripper), and allegedly abusing drugs.

While Springboks Chester Williams and Percy Montgomery quietly divorced their partners, other players like Andries Bekker, Derrick Hougaard, and James Dalton had their troubled personal lives laid bare.

SPRINGBOK AND FAMILY CULTURE

There is no doubt that Rassie Erasmus – the “brain” behind SA’s two consecutive Rugby World Cup titles – is a national hero. The fact that he’s even been bestowed an honorary doctorate is proof of his positive influence.

The Springbok coach has also emphasised that the “culture” of the national team is based on their strong family dynamics. Unlike other countries, the SA rugby squad has welcomed wives and children onto their training grounds and permitted them to travel with their spouses to the World Cup.

Rassie’s own wife, Nicolene, and their three children were all present at both the 2019 and 2023 World Cup games.

In a clip from MNet doccie Chasing The Sun 2, Rassie said of his players: “If you can’t trust somebody with their family, but you want to trust them in front of 80,000 people to make the right decision for the country?

“If he doesn’t have the ability to handle his family, his wife, and his children, control that, and stay focused on the programme, surely you’re not going to trust him in that field?”.

But with placing such emphasis on maintaining a strong family unit, when such a bond is broken via a bombshell divorce, marriage affair, or domestic abuse allegations, should it then become open to scrutiny?

RIGHT TO PRIVACY?

The Springboks media team has made it clear that they will not comment on the personal lives of their staff. And Rassie’s divorce is no exception.

According to South African law firm Bosse & Associates, sports stars can institute an action for delict on the grounds that they have been defamed or their dignity has been violated. Alternatively, a claim for a breach of one’s constitutional right to privacy could also be exercised.

When it comes to non-sporting angles about our sports stars – particularly our beloved Springboks and their coach – one has to ask – Is it in the public interest? Does the public have a right to know? And does the news have the possibility to affect on the individual’s professional life?

While we all have different opinions on it, the fact is that the lines have surely become very blurred.

As Facebook user Tumisang Mamabolo shared: “Once you choose to be a public figure, please don’t tell us about your private life…everything becomes public”.