Rugby icon Louis Luyt passes on
One of the most controversial figures in South African rugby, Dr Louis Luyt has died in a Durban Hospital aged 80.
Dr Luyt, who rose from a poor background to be a self-made millionaire, was a shrewd businessman, a rugby leader and one of the instigators of the professional revolution in Rugby Union. He was a bold and brash figure who never shied away from controversy along the way.
Born on June 18 1932, in Britstown in the Cape, he worked his way up in the fertiliser business to head his own company Triomf Fertiliser. As a rugby player Luyt played for the Blue Bulls and went on to represent, and captain, the Orange Free State from the 1950s.
While making his name as a businessman, Luyt was first thrown into controversy when he was involved in fronting the establishment of the newspaper, the Citizen, which it later became apparent was funded by the government in the Info scandal. Luyt denied knowledge of this and reinvented his business again, this time with a brewing venture called Luyt Lager.
He was elected as the president of the Transvaal Rugby Union in 1989 and shortly after rose to the position of president of the South African Rugby Union.
It was in this time that Luyt also played an integral part in the re-entry into international sport, being part of a group which met with the then-outlawed African National Congress on rugby unity.
But no sooner had the Springboks been allowed back, than Luyt courted controversy by defying an agreement and playing Die Stem as the country’s anthem before the 1992 test against the All Blacks at Ellis Park.
He went on to be a key negotiator in the uniting of the three rugby boards and was the driving force behind a successful 1995 Rugby World Cup tournament, won by the Springboks.
Luyt also managed to stem a breakaway movement to professional rugby, and led the move for the Southern Hemisphere nations to join as Sanzar, bringing about the Super Rugby and Tri-Nations tournaments.
As government and rugby officials continually clashed, Luyt contested the government’s right to install a commission of enquiry into the sport, eventually taking the bold and bizarre step of dragging the government to court.
It remains the only instance in South African history where a sports official has successfully forced a sitting State President – Nelson Mandela – to take the stand as a hostile witness.
While Luyt won the case, it soured relations at all levels and led to rugby bosses passing a motion of no confidence in his leadership, which led to his resignation.
“Doc Luyt was a single-minded and determined individual who dominated rugby politics following the death of Doc Craven,” said Oregan Hoskins, the president of Saru. “On behalf of Saru I would like to send rugby’s condolences to his family and friends.”
GLRU president Kevin de Klerk expressed his sadness at the news of Luyt’s passing and conveyed his condolences to Luyt’s family.
“I would like to convey my deepest sympathies to Doc Luyt’s dear wife and children on behalf of myself and the Golden Lions Rugby Union,” he said.
“This Union was always regarded as his home in rugby and we are saddened by the news of his passing.”
De Klerk refered to Luyt as a close and personal friend, who he had the utmost respect for.
“He was always a great mentor, for most of us involved in the game, and we always strove to attain the very high standards in the sport that he set. I will sorely miss him.”
After moving out of rugby, Luyt was still active as a member of the Blue Bulls ex-players organisation and made several appearances at rugby meetings in Pretoria.
He also founded the Federal Alliance and contested the 1999 election, winning a seat in parliament and served as an MP for two years. In that time he sat on the judicial services committee.
He was married to Adri, and the couple has four children.