Tony McKeever

SA Rugby, now what?

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Congratulations to the Australian Rugby Union who against all odds have managed (read carefully and meticulously choreographed) to bring the 15th Super Rugby franchise to Melbourne, especially when ARU has 80 000 registered rugby players and SA Rugby more than 500 000, over 5 times the number of players in Australia.

SA Rugby has had 4 years to plan for the inclusion of their sixth Super Rugby franchise from the Eastern Cape in Super Rugby and now they are left with the most diabolical wrangle, which has put 10 of the 14 South African rugby unions on a collision course with each other. If it is not sorted out now it will tear South African rugby apart.

Let me declare at the outset that the tragedy in all of this has nothing to do with racism performance or money, but about a small group of individuals not adhering to the basic tenets of the SA Rugby constitution, which is that rugby must be fair and a game for all, without discrimination and rancour. However, the Eastern Cape franchise has been unfairly tarred and feathered with accusations of racism, low performance levels, being financially destitute and a drain on the resources of rugby in the country. For example SA Rugby, who led the bid process for the Southern Kings, failed to attain a collective shareholders’ agreement between Border, EP and SWD, which is the fundamental cornerstone of a franchise’s corporate structure.

This last part of the Eastern Cape being a drain on resources is true but not because of their own doing. SA Rugby has put the region on a drip-feed system that keeps them weak. The marker in all of this is performance — on the field and off the field — and that, and only that, must be the determinant of progress or failure. Had SA Rugby adhered to their Presidents Council resolutions of June 2005 and abided by their constitution, the Eastern Cape would have cost R10 million in one shot in 2006, as agreed, and not the R220 million financial devastation that has wreaked havoc on rugby in South Africa.

The staggering R220 million and all 14 unions’ money, spent, lost and forfeited on a dubious and sinister campaign, deliberately flies in the face of a legal and constitutionally binding agreement, on all 14 unions, that first excluded the Southern Spears and has now marginalised the Southern Kings.

The cost is so mind boggling and shocking, that it is almost incomprehensible that the actions of a few have been tolerated for so long, without recourse. The past 4 years have been a reckless and negligent campaign in direct violation of the SA Rugby constitution. They have gone and disadvantaged rugby by more than R220 million in a crazed 48-month spending spree that defies logic.

Had this R220 million rather been invested in the game in South Africa, we would not only have won the Rugby World Cup bid as well as the 15th Super Rugby franchise, based on merit, but also established SA Rugby as true leaders of Sanzar and be lauded as true sports ambassadors of the game internationally.

Take a look at this obscene spending over the past 4 years and come to the jaw-dropping realisation that this is so out of whack with reality it has to end. And soon.

Costs to exclude the Southeastern Cape region and SA Rugby from 2005-2009:

– Cost of funding the Spears from August 2005 to March 2006 — R6.5 million (of the R10 million discussed for 2006 only).
– Cost of acquiring 50% shares in the 3 Spears shareholders — R13.5 million.
– Legal costs against the Spears — R4.3 million.
– Lost sponsorship of R15 million per annum to the EC franchise for 5 years 2006-2010 — R75 million.
– Lost gate receipts of 5 international games per annum in the Eastern Cape at R3 million each for 5 years — R75 million.
– Liquidation costs — R5.7 million.
– Loss of the promised SA Rugby Academy in Alicedale — R30 million.
– Coega rugby summit — R500 000
– SA Rugby’s deployment of Godfrey Afrika to establish the EC franchise and associated costs — R3 million.
– Southern Kings 16 June 2009 launch and game against the British Lions — R4.5 million.
– SA Rugby Super 15 bid costs — R2 million.

Subtotal: R220 million

The Eastern Cape franchise was set up in June 2005 with a unanimous Presidents Council resolution that today is still legal and binding and yet through bizarre self-interest and narcissism, the collateral financial damage to South African rugby has been the most mind-numbing reckless expenditure and damages to the game, in excess of R220 million!

The news out yesterday was that the Melbourne Rebels have won the 15th Super Rugby franchise and despite all the advantages that the Eastern Cape had, the ARU trumped SA Rugby. It was really more a triumph of ARU’s O’ Neill vanquishing and pillaging SA Rugby in the boardroom.

The pathetic excuse that the Southern Kings would cost extra travel of $400 000 is a pittance compared to the $426 million Sanzar will share from 2011-2015 and if anyone swallows that one, they need to take a few days off for post-traumatic stress disorder.

The fact that absolutely no contingency plan or preparation has been made for the Eastern Cape Super Rugby franchise to play in an international rugby tournament from 2010 onwards even if they lost the bid fair and square, signals deep and very serious capability and competency issues within SA Rugby that now has a further negative knock-on effect on the 14 SA Rugby Unions, as you will see.

This is where confusion and panic and ugly infighting will set in as one of the options has been calls to alter the Currie Cup to a 6-team format comprising the 6 Super Rugby franchises and that the top five advance through to the Super 15 from 2011. This option negatively impacts on the Pumas, Leopards and Griquas who would stand down in favour of the Southern Kings.

A second option is that the last-placed team of the Super 14 stand down for the Southern Kings in 2011. This puts in jeopardy the Lions and the Cheetahs.

A third option is to amalgamate the Cheetahs and Lions back into the Cats of old to make way for the Southern Kings. Try discussing this with Harold Verster and Kevin de Klerk, presidents of the Cheetahs and Lions respectively, and you will get a thousand yard stare.

A fourth option is to drop the Lions in favour of the Southern Kings for the 2010 Super 14 as the Lions have been the last placed South African side for the last 3 years.

A fifth option being discussed — because SA Rugby has violated their constitution and deliberately misrepresented matters to government and repeatedly broken promises made at Presidents Council level — that the Sports Amendment Act be invoked and SA Rugby’s leadership is replaced with an interim curatorship, as Sascoc has carried out with ASA.

A sixth option is for SA Rugby to assemble a task team within the next 2 weeks, that is mandated by SA Rugby’s Presidents Council, to table solutions to remedy this problem by December 31 2009.

The scene is now set for someone to bring order to this chaos and deliver the solution for the enormous financial issues facing SA Rugby and take the conflict out of rugby and deliver this to the 10 SA Rugby Unions that are under threat.

If an independent two-man panel appointed by Sanzar has chosen Melbourne to host the new franchise to take part in the 2011 Super 15, so too can SA Rugby appoint an expert determination panel to reach a unanimous position on remedying this terrible impasse.