By Nick Said
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South African Rugby remains hopeful of bidding for the 2023 World Cup but the government says it will not relent from a ban that prohibits the union from launching bids in the next 12 months for major international events.
General Manager for Corporate Affairs Andy Colquhoun has said SA Rugby would engage with Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula on whether it will be allowed to push ahead with its bid plans.
But with the application process for prospective bidders starting next month, Mbalula's spokesman Esethu Hasane told Reuters no meeting had been set up and that the government would not change its stance.
"There has been no request for a meeting by SA Rugby and the situation remains the same as when the minister announced that privileges enjoyed by these particular federations, which included SA Rugby, to bid for major international events had been revoked," Hasane said.
"Nothing has changed and our view that there will be no special treatment for anyone remains the same."
South Africa banned its national cricket and rugby federations in April from hosting or bidding for international tournaments for at least a year due to their failure to increase their representation of black players.
The government says they must wait until their performance is reviewed in April 2017 to have the sanction lifted. The announcement of the host for 2023 is due to be made by World Rugby in November next year, which could leave open the possibility of late bid by South Africa after the ban ends.
"As far as we are concerned, the only time the minister may decide to lift the ban is with the release of the next Eminent Persons Group report [on sports transformation]," Hasane said.
The government has been pushing for more black players to be included in the nation's most popular sports but more than two decades after the end of apartheid, whites still make up the bulk of players in cricket, netball and rugby.
South Africa staged and won the World Cup in 1995, but had failed bids for the 2011, 2015 and 2019 competitions.
Hosting rights since the first tournament in 1987 have alternated between Europe and the rest of the world, meaning that any decision to hold the World Cup in South Africa in 2023 would be a break with tradition. The 2019 World Cup is due to be held in Japan.
Ireland, France and Italy have also publicly expressed their interest in hosting the tournament in 2023.
(This story was refiled to make clear that Hasane is Mbalula's spokesman in the third paragraph)
(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Catherine Evans)