South African rugby international Eben Etzebeth could be forced to return home midway through the Rugby World Cup in Japan over a case of alleged physical and racial abuse.
The South African Human Rights Commission said it would institute legal proceedings against the Springboks lock forward at an equality court on Friday.
He is accused of assaulting and racially abusing a person in South Africa in August.
The court proceedings are due to start on the day Etzebeth, a key member of the South African team, is due to play against Italy in a crucial World Cup pool game in Shizuoka.
It is unclear if the court will require that he return home to take part in proceedings.
Etzebeth was accused of racially abusing a person on a night out during a holiday in the coastal town of Langebaan, near Cape Town. He was also accused of assault.
He denied both allegations and said he had witnesses who could corroborate his story.
The late-night incidents are alleged to have happened the day before South Africa’s World Cup squad was announced.
Etzebeth was reportedly at a bar with friends and family when the incidents are alleged to have taken place.
He said in a statement after the allegations surfaced that it was “completely untrue and unfounded to claim that I physically or racially abused anyone … multiple witnesses can corroborate that”.
SA Rugby promised to co-operate with authorities and said it would take a hard-line approach if Etzebeth was found guilty, but backed him after his denials, saying we “trust our people to act responsibly”.
Eben Etzebeth (Mike Egerton/PA)
At the time, Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus said he met Etzebeth and believed his story, and the player was included in the World Cup squad.
“I was definitely worried about it when I first heard about it,” Erasmus said. “If there was any truth to it that would have been a massive issue for us. But after chatting to Eben and hearing his side of the story, there is trust between a coach and player.
“I have to trust him to do some stuff on the field and win test matches and he must trust me to believe him when he tells me something.”
Etzebeth also met the human rights commission before flying to Japan with the Springboks squad. The allegations are also being investigated by criminal prosecutors.
The 27-year-old, who is 6ft 8in tall, has played 81 tests and is one of the most experienced players in the Springboks squad.
He has played a part in both South Africa’s games at the World Cup so far, starting in the loss to defending champion New Zealand and coming off the bench in a big win against Namibia on Saturday.
He was named to start the game against Italy on Friday, when South Africa effectively need to win to stay in contention at the World Cup.
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Around the World Cup (Day 14)