Original Research

South Africa’s journey to full status on the International Rugby Football Board, 1906–1958

Wouter J. De Wet
New Contree | Vol 91 | a253 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/nc.v91i0.253 | © 2024 Wouter J. De Wet | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 21 August 2023 | Published: 29 February 2024

About the author(s)

Wouter J. De Wet, Department of History, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Free State, QwaQwa, Phuthaditjhaba, South Africa


South African rugby went from being a student of the game around the turn of the century to achieving full and equal status on the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB) in 1958. This process lasted more than half a century and included, among other things, three Imperial Rugby Conferences, regular dealings with the governing bodies in New Zealand and Australia, diplomatic missions to Britain, and several failed schemes aimed at representation. Important, too, was the effect of internal politics as nationalist Afrikaners steadily gained control over white South African rugby – and the country at large – from the 1940s onward. This article explores the political strategies and diplomatic efforts of the South African Rugby Football Board (SARFB) to achieve full status on the IRFB. In doing so, it sheds light on the inner workings of rugby administration in the country, the interrelation of sport and politics, as well as the role played by the South Africans in the complex network of international rugby relations during the first half of the 20th century.

Contribution: This article contributes to South Africa’s sports history by examining its role in international rugby relations during the first half of the 20th century. Through an analysis of how the sport was administered and governed during this era, both locally and in relation to the rest of the rugby-playing world, we can better understand the complexities of rugby administration and colonial era sporting relations.


South Africa; rugby; rugby administration; rugby governance; international relations

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 4: Quality education


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