The South African Rugby Union expressed its sadness on Friday at the passing of its former president, Dr Louis Luyt. He was 80.
The sometimes controversial former player, rugby administrator, newspaper proprietor, businessman and politician passed away at home in Ballito after a long period of illness.
‘Doc Luyt’ was intimately involved with talks with the then banned African National Congress (ANC) to bring about rugby unity in South Africa. He was also the key figure in negotiations that ensured national federations retained control of rugby when the game went professional at the end of 1995.
But he also earned criticism for some outspoken statements and decisions. His determination to legally contest the government’s right to appoint a commission of inquiry into rugby in 1998 led to President Nelson Mandela appearing in the witness box for five hours as a defence witness.
The court action was successful but Luyt’s rugby colleagues passed 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.”
Dr Luyt organised South Africa’s successful hosting of the nation-building 1995 Rugby World Cup and ensured that the national unions retained control of the game when it turned professional. In his time as president of the old Transvaal Rugby Union he turned it onto one of the richest and most powerful rugby organisations in the world.
His single-mindedness and determination to defend what he thought was right led him into controversy on many occasions and he was not concerned that he was far from being universally popular, both within rugby and without.
If, for nothing else, he will be remembered for being the man who brought the 1995 Rugby World Cup to South Africa, creating an occasion that showed the country what it could achieve in unity.
Louis Luyt was born in Britstown in the Karoo on 18 June 1932 and, as a player, represented Free State as a lock. He founded his own fertiliser business before moving into brewing and newspapers.
He rose to prominence as a rugby administrator through the Transvaal Rugby Union became president of South African rugby in March 1994.
Following his resignation in May 1998 he went into politics, winning election to the South African parliament as leader of his self-styled Federal Alliance.
He leaves behind his wife, Adri, and four children. Funeral arrangements have not been finalised yet.