Posts Tagged ‘SARU’

If transformation goes any slower, it will go backwards

News | Non Fiction | South Africa Comments Off

I TAKE my hat off to the seven Springboks who went to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) with their concerns about transformation. It takes a lot of courage to do that from within the ranks of rugby.

Usually players speak out only after they have finished with the game because they know that if they do so while within it, they can say goodbye to their careers. Already a witch-hunt for names has started.

I hope Cosatu can protect them. But I hope too that the South African Rugby Players’ Association gets on board. So far, at least in public, its response has been muted, apparently going along with the South African Rugby Union’s (Saru’s) assurances.

It should take note of the fact that black players did not feel able to go to it with their concerns.

Saru’s response to the players was to restate its position. “Saru recently signed an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the government and Sascoc (South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee) on a strategic transformation plan for rugby. Our focus now is on delivering on our understanding with them and we will continue to engage with sports leadership in the country on our progress.”

A closer look at this transformation plan reveals that it is already showing cracks. It says the principal objective in this World Cup year is to: “Engage (the) national coach to increase black player representation to 30% (seven players in a squad of 23). From the seven generic black players two must be black Africans.”

The four-year aim of the plan, which is timeline-based with interim targets, is to “increase black participation in the Springbok team to 50% by 2019″.

At Kings Park on Saturday, Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira and Bryan Habana were yet again trotted out as the sole representatives of black South African rugby talent. On the bench were Trevor Nyakane, Siya Kolisi and Lwazi Mvovo, meaning exactly five black players in the match-day squad, as there have been in each of the Tests this year.

Even after the Cosatu intervention and for a relatively meaningless non-Test game against Argentina this Saturday, there are still only five black players in the match-day 23.

Scarra Ntubeni, who was the best hooker in South African Super Rugby this year, has not even made the bench this season and has clearly been usurped as third-choice hooker by Schalk Britz. Elton Jantjies, the in-form Super Rugby flyhalf, has also been sidelined.

If our promising young black players are not being given regular game time at this level now, the next target — 50% of black Springboks by 2019 — also looks like a chimera.

I have heard complaints about marginalisation from black players for years, at provincial and national level. If the strategic transformation plan were effective, marginalisation should be a thing of the past.

We have not heard any protest from Saru president Oregan Hoskins about the breach of the plan’s targets in the Springbok teams. Nor from Saru CEO Jurie Roux.

Is there an intention to monitor its implementation? Will failure to meet targets incur meaningful sanctions? And, if so, will there be transparency about the process?

When the plan was launched earlier this year there was much talk of a brave new world in rugby. Hoskins talked of “a watershed moment for our sport”. Roux said: “Transformation is a critical business imperative in SA and if we had not taken this new approach to what had been an organic process up until recently, we would have put our sport in peril of becoming marginalised.”

So far, there is little evidence of establishment push behind this “new approach”.

Saru has just announced it is cutting funding to three of the four academies set up to produce black high-performance talent. This will further narrow the pipeline for emerging stars.

The poor attendance at Kings Park last week — despite the fact that it was a Test in a Rugby World Cup year — speaks to the failure to spread the game beyond the white minority. The paucity of black rugby heroes on the field means fewer black people are drawn to attend games.

Accounts of racist abuse by some fans at Ellis Park the week before were inadequately dealt with by the authorities, which hardly makes black fans feel safe and welcome. And the cost of tickets puts the game beyond the reach of most South Africans.

In the coaching structures there appears to have been minimal transformation. There is not one black head coach in any of the significant teams: Springboks, Sevens, under-20 or Super Rugby.

Saru can get away with being opaque and high-handed because it is accountable to no one but itself.

But I was surprised by recent tweets from Sport Minister Fikile Mbalula: “Full transformation not gonna emerge over night bcos we are going to WC (World Cup).”

Perhaps the minister, who has previously been strongly proactive in his demands for transformation, knows something I don’t. I can only imagine this must be the case because he will be fully alive to the anger coursing through social media from fans who feel that if transformation goes any slower it will go backwards.

 *This column first appeared in Business Day
Kindle ItShare

I TAKE my hat off to the seven Springboks who went to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) with their concerns about transformation. It takes a lot of courage to do that from within the ranks of rugby. Usually players speak out only after they have finished with the game because they know […]

Kindle ItShare

‘I weep for the black boys who were never given a chance’

News | Non Fiction | South Africa | Uncategorized Comments Off
Motherwell High School first team

Motherwell High School team

IN A bizarre move, the South African Rugby Union (Saru) has decided to withdraw funding for its academy in Port Elizabeth. It is one of four academies set up with great fanfare in 2013 with Lotto money in areas with substantial black rugby talent.

For the past two years, Saru has funded them. From next year, it will fund only the East London academy.

I spent last week in the Eastern Cape doing research for a film on transformation in rugby.

It rapidly became apparent that the Southern Kings are going to have difficulty fielding a credible Super Rugby team next year, never mind one that fulfils its promise of showcasing local black talent.

The Southern Kings team that lost to Western Province in a preseason Currie Cup friendly on Saturday was largely white and featured several players who have already been recycled through other unions.

The only bright spot for the Southern Kings on Saturday was their Under-19s, the one team to beat their Western Province counterparts. This is their third victory in a row. They have already won their games against the Cheetahs and the Bulls. Around half the Southern Kings under-19s team consists of black boys recruited from Eastern Cape schools and they are coached by a local player, former Sevens captain Mzwandile Stick.

The under-19s are products of the academy about to be cut adrift by Saru. There seems little hope of the Southern Kings taking up the slack. They are themselves in financial difficulties, unable to pay their players’ salaries for the past month.

It would be mortifying for SA if the Southern Kings’ Super Rugby venture were to be allowed to fail. Failure would partly be defined as fielding yet another team of largely white players bought in from elsewhere.

The bloated, 18-team version of Super Rugby that comes into being next year was created largely to accommodate their long-term inclusion. The reason Saru pushed so hard for it was to boost black rugby by giving the Eastern Cape its own team in the most competitive competition in world rugby.

They were right to do so. Not only will a successful Super Rugby team hugely strengthen black rugby but it will also limit the buying up of black players from the region by other franchises. If these players can achieve their dreams of making a Super Rugby or Springbok team in their own province, they will stay at home, where they will be a lot better off.

Speaking to rugby people in the Eastern Cape last week, I realised just how profound and widespread is the conviction that black players are deliberately excluded from professional teams. I was repeatedly given examples, for instance, of black players who could have shone in the place of some of the current Springboks incumbents.

“I have no problem with the white boys in the team,” said one. “They have worked very hard to get where they are. But I weep for the black boys who were never given the chance.”

Poverty and inequality are major culprits in keeping our teams white. For instance, a rugby coach at a mainly black former Model C school in Grahamstown said when his boys ran onto the field for practice at 3.30pm, he was very aware that they had been up since 4am for the long walk from township to school and that, in between, all they had had to eat was two slices of bread.

The same coach had been in charge of the Port Elizabeth Country Districts’ Craven Week squad the year before. He said the players had missed four meals before their first game because they weren’t given a travel allowance. This, before competing with players from some of the richest schools in the country.

But, on this trip, I also heard another view equally powerfully expressed: that, in fact, plenty of middle-class black boys were now also at good schools where they benefited from the same nutrition, education and sports facilities as white boys. And yet they were still not making it into professional teams.

These men I spoke to — intelligent, reasonable, passionate rugby fans — were adamant: a racial and cultural bias in mainstream rugby meant black boys were simply not being considered by a great number of white coaches.

In another development, it was reported at the weekend that the Super Rugby franchises are refusing to approve the allocation of broadcasting funds proposed for next year when the new deal kicks in. The proposal is to give the Super Rugby franchises R25m each a year and the eight small unions R15m. The big unions are balking at the share claimed by the other eight.

I hope the Super Rugby franchises stick to their guns. But I also hope this rebellion is part of a more ambitious plan to transform Saru so that it is better suited to serve South African rugby as a whole. The success or otherwise of the Southern Kings could be a litmus test of this.

The Southern Kings are clearly in need of help. I was told that, during Alan Solomons’s tenure as coach during the Kings’ first abortive Super Rugby stint, he established a clear progression path for players from under-19s to the senior team. In the succession of coaches who have followed him, this has been lost. As a result, the all-important development path for local players is interrupted.

Saru head office, which has until now so capably run the Eastern Cape academies, needs to take a more central role in the Eastern Cape. A hands-off attitude is not good enough. Cash that has been frittered away on professional teams run by the small unions should be diverted to development. Saru should not only continue to fund the Port Elizabeth Academy, but should expand it and establish others.

Anything less might make the allocation of a Super Rugby franchise to a black rugby-rich region look like a cynical gesture, setting them up to fail.

*This column first appeared in Business Day

 

 

 

Kindle ItShare

IN A bizarre move, the South African Rugby Union (Saru) has decided to withdraw funding for its academy in Port Elizabeth. It is one of four academies set up with great fanfare in 2013 with Lotto money in areas with substantial black rugby talent. For the past two years, Saru has funded them. From next […]

Kindle ItShare

Saru must modernise to level the playing field

News | Non Fiction | South Africa Comments Off

THERE were eight black players in the Western Province team which played the Lions in the Currie Cup final in October last year: six in the starting line-up and another two on the bench. The Lions had three black players in their squad. Western Province beat the Lions 19-16.

This fact is interesting in the light of a statement made to Parliament this week by Oregan Hoskins, president of the South African Rugby Union (Saru).

“In Saru we try to do the right thing,” he said. “I have to look at a white player and say we have to replace you with a black player because of transformation. It’s part of the job, but we will try to maintain a balance between competitiveness and transformation.”

He seemed to be saying that there is a trade-off between competitiveness and transformation and that a white player equals competitiveness and putting a black player in his place is just doing one’s political duty.

I can’t imagine Mr Hoskins, himself a man of colour, really believes this but nevertheless it is the philosophical basis of the policy with which Saru plans to shake up the racial demographics of rugby.

The plan is based on quotas: that is, persuading coaches to put more black players on the field. The subtext is that having more black players on the field might well result in a drop in standards but that this is the price one has to pay for playing rugby in SA.

Just one example of why this is an incorrect assumption is last year’s Currie Cup final.

This equation of whiteness with excellence is not confined to rugby; but rugby is the focus here and what the poverty of Saru’s vision reveals is how outdated is the thinking within it.

The Saru general council is mostly white, largely elderly and all male. As is the tendency with old boys’ clubs, they replicate themselves in subservient structures. White union presidents appoint white CEOs and white coaches who favour white players. It is narrow, self-affirming and exclusive.

In any organisation, it is critical that management reflects the diversity they want to create. It is too easy for a white manager to pick someone who looks and speaks like him, who went to the same school and the same church. He knows which buttons to press to get results.

A black African Springbok described to me how he experienced it: “White coaches trust their own kind. If someone of colour comes along, you have to work three times as hard for them to trust you. If you are a similar race, they will trust you. But for someone of colour, even though your record can speak for itself, you have to prove yourself again and again.”

Even though there was no increase in the number of black Springboks when Peter de Villiers was head coach, the fact that he was not white made a difference.

“Often your coach is a kind of mentor,” said the black Bok. “Someone you can lean on, tell him when you are stressed or whatever. It’s much easier to confide in a black coach than it is to confide in a white coach, because you feel he can relate to what you are saying.

“Some white coaches are good in that they give you the freedom to share what you are feeling but you don’t feel comfortable to share the deep stuff. Because we all struggle to break through to senior levels — both the coach and the players — so we are all going through the same thing.”

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the team which won the Currie Cup with eight black players last year is coached by SA’s only senior coach of colour.

Allister Coetzee has headed the Western Province Currie Cup coaching team for the past eight years and the Super Rugby team for the past six. He is our first and only black Super Rugby coach, an indictment in itself.

Coetzee claims he does not see colour. He simply chooses the best player, regardless of race. There is no doubt this is true.

But I also think that the fact that he is himself of colour gives confidence to black players. Race is still too loaded an issue for it not to affect perceptions of oneself and others, especially in the cauldron of intensely competitive, professional team sports.

If Saru is serious about wanting more black players on the field, they need to stop talk of quotas and focus on modernising themselves. That is where transformation is really needed.

 *This column first appeared in Business Day
Kindle ItShare

THERE were eight black players in the Western Province team which played the Lions in the Currie Cup final in October last year: six in the starting line-up and another two on the bench. The Lions had three black players in their squad. Western Province beat the Lions 19-16. This fact is interesting in the […]

Kindle ItShare

Sponsors could hold rugby to higher standards of governance

News | Non Fiction | South Africa | Uncategorized Comments Off

THE question of which lucky South African company gets to channel millions of rands into rugby from next year is an open one. Deals expire at the end of this year.

Sponsors contribute almost half of the R800m that flows into the coffers of the South African Rugby Union (Saru) each year.

This potentially puts the sponsor in a powerful position. In return for paying Saru’s bills, it surely has the right — and perhaps the obligation — to ensure these funds are properly spent?

I’m not suggesting financial impropriety on Saru’s part — it produces a clean audit every year — but a sponsor would be doing South African rugby a huge favour if it were to help Saru to meet its own standards of corporate governance.

There is precedence for this in another sporting code with a comparable history to rugby.

After the Gerald Majola bonus scandal at Cricket SA (CSA), Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula in 2012 appointed Judge Chris Nicholson to investigate CSA. Nicholson produced an excellent report, not only pinpointing the weaknesses in administration but suggesting how they be remedied in line with international best practice.

Momentum Life, cricket’s chief sponsor, went on to stipulate in its contract with CSA that Nicholson’s recommendations be implemented as far as possible.

One of these was that the board, in the spirit of King 3, should ideally have a majority of independent directors equipped with the appropriate skills. Saru does not have a board. Instead, it has an executive council, which has a few independents but the majority of members are elected officials drawn from the ranks of the provincial unions.

These elected officials rely on the 14 provincial presidents for re-election after each four-year stint. This means they are less likely to take hard decisions when necessary, even when it comes to enforcing their own constitution. For instance, the Saru constitution stipulates that each union must provide an operating budget “which should reflect no worse than a break-even situation” within two months of the start of each new financial year. If member unions fail to do this, Saru can stop funding them.

In practice, some unions have failed to submit such financial statements for years. Yet Saru continues to hand over millions of rands to them each year.

Despite an often dire financial situation, unions continue to contract players in the hope of getting some silver into their cabinets. It never happens.

Saru carries the mantle for rugby, a solemn responsibility in a country such as ours. It is the “custodian of rugby in South African rugby”. A sponsor might inquire whether the benefits and powers bestowed on unions are appropriate to the wider interests of the game.

In 2013, the Mpumalanga Rugby Union was granted the right to host a Test in Nelspruit on the grounds that it would help spread the game in the area.

The year before, a study by the Sports Science Institute showed that rugby was played in a paltry 40 high schools in Mpumalanga and there was a total of 23 clubs. Apparently without any assessment being done on whether the Test had produced any long-term benefits for rugby in the region, the Pumas were granted another Springbok-Wales game last year.

 

 

And then there is the question of sustainability, a critical concern for any organisation.

In contrast to Mpumalanga, 458 high schools in the Eastern Cape play rugby and there are 263 rugby clubs. If we want to ensure a reliable pipeline of players, this is clearly an area to focus on. As a bonus, these players largely form part of the country’s dominant demographic — young black Africans.

Saru’s member union in the most fertile area of the Eastern Cape is the Border Union. Chronic mismanagement last year forced Saru to take over the running of the Border Union. The plan now is to get the union’s finances into shape, then hand it back, hopefully to a more suitable administration.

A better solution might be to stop pumping R10m a year into propping up a historically problematic administration.

Disband the union. Instead, use the money to strengthen rugby in schools and clubs. Set in place proper governance and achievable targets and you will be assured of a steady supply of skilled rugby players, most of whom will be black.

Last month, Saru launched its plan for transformation. Well meaning but essentially ineffectual, it was, yet again, all about quotas and numbers.

This plan — promising, for instance, 50% black Springboks by 2019! — is supposed to be implemented by the mostly white, middle-aged presidents who have for years been ignoring quotas.

And, crucially, there are no penalties attached to any union or team which fails to meet these targets.

Fortunately — or unfortunately — rugby has never had a Majola moment. And so it has evaded the scrutiny and external regulation imposed on cricket. Without such a crisis in rugby, the government is unlikely to intervene. But a sponsor can.

 

*This column first appeared in Business Day

 

Kindle ItShare

THE question of which lucky South African company gets to channel millions of rands into rugby from next year is an open one. Deals expire at the end of this year. Sponsors contribute almost half of the R800m that flows into the coffers of the South African Rugby Union (Saru) each year. This potentially puts […]

Kindle ItShare

Wanted: another coach for Dale College

News | Non Fiction | South Africa | Uncategorized Comments Off

JORICH Loubser matriculated last year with six As and, like many thousands of other 18-year-olds, he will soon be starting at university. Next week Jorich will register for a BCom in accounting at the University of Cape Town (UCT). He was awarded a small rugby bursary by the UCT Rugby Club and has already begun training with their under-20s.

What sets Jorich apart is that he is a white Afrikaner who was educated at a predominantly black school, Dale College, in King William’s Town. Having coffee with him this week, he struck me as a particularly heartening example of a born-free white youth.

I’ve been following Dale College for several years because it seems to me to provide a litmus test for development.

Potential Springboks are spotted and nurtured at schools. So if we want more black Springboks it’s obvious that we need to put resources into predominantly black, rugby-playing schools. Dale is perfect for this: it is well run and, courtesy of its origins as a school for the sons of British officers during the Border wars, has excellent, if increasingly shabby, infrastructure. But it suffers from being situated in a badly administered, poverty-stricken province.

When I first went to Dale in 2010 it had one full-time rugby coach, a very basic gym and no help at all from either the Department of Sport and Recreation or South African Rugby Union (Saru). Unlike other predominantly rugby schools, its old boys, who were then still mostly white, were largely uninterested.

The Border Union, the local representative of Saru and responsible for development in the area, was bankrupt. The president, African National Congress heavyweight Phumlani Mkolo, has been charged with the alleged abuse of funds meant for Nelson’s Mandela’s funeral. The union is now being administered by Saru head office.

Jorich, who was head boy of Dale last year, is a good advertisement for it. He is passionate about the school and has an intelligent insider’s view of its strengths and weaknesses. He brushes off questions about race: he says of course he was aware of the fact that he was a different colour to most of his classmates, but that it didn’t affect either his perception of them, or theirs of him. His best mate had a Zulu mother and Xhosa father. His girlfriend is the sister of Bulls player Bjorn Basson.

There have been some positive developments at Dale College, he says.

There has been a surge of interest from more recent alumni, who are less interested in race. Old boys now fund about 40 bursaries a year. This is for both tuition and hostel fees so it comes to about R40,000 a year per boy.

Boys from poorer backgrounds benefit greatly from being in the hostel because it means they get proper nutrition and don’t have to struggle to find the money for transport to get to practice and games.

This year the Department of Sport and Recreation has designated Dale a “sports focus” school, which means it will be funded to help 15 poorer, feeder schools in their area. Probably the most important initiative, though, is from Cricket SA (CSA). Rugby is Dale’s headline sport but the school is also a breeding ground for cricketers. CSA is now sponsoring two bursaries but, even more importantly, it is funding a full-time coach. In the brief time the CSA coach has been there, he has made a big difference to Dale cricket — last year they were unbeaten in both the Eastern and Western Cape.

CSA involvement has also stimulated a new interest in the game and more boys are being drawn in. Last year, for instance, an interclass tournament was initiated that meant every boy got to play on the A-field, giving the coach the opportunity to unearth previously unidentified talent. If CSA can fund a coach for Dale, surely Saru can too?

Jorich, who played lock for the first team, says Dale needs coaches who can improve their technical skills — a kicking coach and a conditioning coach, for example. Dale boys tend to be smaller, so good conditioning is crucial.

The school also needs a war chest to fend off predatory private schools. Dale’s rugby stars are constantly being lured to richer schools that need to boost their black player numbers. Dale can’t compete with private schools, which offer not only full boarding and tuition fees but also enticements such as generous allowances and rugby kit. Perhaps some companies could come on board and help fund such a chest?

Jorich points out that the only Dale player in the past few years who has profited from migration to a richer school is Stormers player Scarra Ntubeni, who went to KES in Grade 10. Mostly, they do not thrive.

It would be far healthier for pupils, and for the school itself, to strengthen Dale and let its boys reach their full potential in a familiar environment, where they are not valued purely for their prowess on the rugby field.

 *This column first appeared in Business Day
Kindle ItShare

JORICH Loubser matriculated last year with six As and, like many thousands of other 18-year-olds, he will soon be starting at university. Next week Jorich will register for a BCom in accounting at the University of Cape Town (UCT). He was awarded a small rugby bursary by the UCT Rugby Club and has already begun […]

Kindle ItShare

Springboks, the cash cows flogged to support a bloated Saru

News | Non Fiction | South Africa | Uncategorized Comments Off

NOW that the Springboks’ disappointing performance last month has been thoroughly picked over, perhaps it is time to look at the contribution of rugby’s off-field team to this demoralising episode and, hopefully, learn some lessons from it.

Last year, the Springboks played 12 games. This year, an extra two were loaded on to what was already a heavy schedule. In the last, disastrous Wales game on November 29, the Boks looked worn out, which was hardly surprising. Most of them had been playing one high-intensity, all-or-nothing game after another since Super Rugby began in February, 10 months earlier. The effect of this on their bodies was brought home by the devastating injury suffered by Jean de Villiers, whom Heyneke Meyer had days earlier identified as the one man critical to SA’s chances of winning the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

To add to the problems, the large squad felt messy: there were too many players brought along for the ride, never even getting a shot at warming the bench. There were too many black faces in this contingent not to suspect some window-dressing. But for all the passengers in the squad, both black and white, it must have been a disheartening experience.

There were questions as to why Meyer didn’t include more newcomers in his match-day squads, particularly against Italy. I think the answer lies with the off-field team.

The performance indicators in Meyer’s contract are all about winning every game. Development — racial or otherwise — will not win him a second term.

So, why did the South African Rugby Union (Saru) insist on the Boks adding on the Wales game to their schedule after the international Test window was over? The risks of this additional burden outweighed any advantage to the team.

Next year is the most important year in world rugby. Surely preparation for that should have been uppermost in everyone’s minds?

The Boks had already played Wales twice this year, so they were not gaining experience against a little-known opponent. Meyer had already had three games in which to test players’ ability to adapt to wet weather. The inevitable downside — the damage done to the Springbok brand and to team morale by a humiliating loss that will haunt them for another six months until they get a chance to redeem themselves — is huge.

The answer is money. Saru was reportedly paid £750,000 for the Wales game. When Jurie Roux, the CEO of Saru, announced that the two additional games — against the World XV in June and Wales in November — he said the extra income earned would go towards funding preparations for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Have the Springboks not already earned their keep, then? A look at Saru 2013 annual report shows its turnover for 2013 as just under R800m.

Almost of all Saru’s income is from two sources: sponsors — chief among them Absa — and the sale of broadcasting rights.

A mere R194m is allocated to “high performance”, the category that includes the Springboks, the Springbok Sevens and the Springbok Women’s team, and that sum is split among all three teams. So less than an eighth of Saru’s income goes to the team which attracts the bulk of it.

Springboks? Cash cows might be a more appropriate name. They are being flogged to the limit in order to keep afloat a bloated organisation.

My (very modest) New Year’s wishes for South African rugby are that:

• Saru transforms itself into a rational, streamlined, visionary organisation in which all its constituent parts forget self-interest and work together for the greater good of rugby;

• Saru sets the professionals free to get on with the business of producing world-beating teams that make all South Africans proud;

• The smaller unions and the clubs attached to the Super Rugby franchises stop living off the earnings of the professionals and dedicate themselves instead to semiprofessional and amateur rugby. They could have a huge role to play in restoring club rugby to its former glory — with all the concomitant benefits to the community — but for that to happen, they have to give up their pretensions of professionalism; and

• Saru and all its stakeholders think through what it means to be a flagship South African brand in 2015 and then formulate an effective policy to make it happen, starting from the top down. The Springbok coach needs to be contractually incentivised to select and develop a more racially diverse team, as do the Super Rugby coaches.

Saru should acknowledge that channelling development, particularly of black players, through its constituent unions does not work.

Saru should come up with a better plan for nurturing and promoting black rugby talent.

It is pointless waiting for the government to sort out education and school sport. Saru should take the lead.

*This column first appeared in Business Day

 

 

Kindle ItShare

NOW that the Springboks’ disappointing performance last month has been thoroughly picked over, perhaps it is time to look at the contribution of rugby’s off-field team to this demoralising episode and, hopefully, learn some lessons from it. Last year, the Springboks played 12 games. This year, an extra two were loaded on to what was […]

Kindle ItShare

Nice plan but it lacks teeth

News | Non Fiction | South Africa | Uncategorized Comments Off

Closer study of the South African Rugby Union’s Transformation Strategic Plan shows it has much to recommend it.  It is a five-year road map whose end point is 2019, the year in which the Rugby World Cup will be held in Japan and, if all goes well, South Africa will, for the first time, field a racially balanced national team.

It is a useful statistical document, providing endless figures on the racial breakdown of various teams.  It takes into account every aspect of the organization of the game: from professional to club to school rugby.

Dramatic targets for the professional teams – 50% black/white splits for the Springboks, Super Rugby and Currie Cup teams – have seized the headlines.  But the Plan also includes targets for more black coaches, referees, and administrative officials.  Women and disabled players get a look-in.  As does the promotion of social cohesion through better organization of amateur rugby

It is frank about rugby’s tardiness: “..most of SARU’s provinces have failed to show tangible transformation results, owing to an equal opportunities approach that lacked proper talent identification and development programmes.”

This statement is itself, of course, loaded: some might argue that it was equal opportunities for white players only in some provinces. But that is a subject for another column.

The Plan points out that “transformation-related data have been collected and analysed since 2008 to highlight development and this has included demographic profiles of provinces. Regular feedback was also given to provinces to highlight key focus areas. More work is required, however, to ensure the reliability and the quality of data collected from the provinces. Some provinces refused to submit financial data, which ultimately negated Saru’s abilty to strategically align itself with transformation and development goals.”

This paragraph hints at the inherent weakness of this Plan: it relies heavily on the provincial unions to make it happen and, apart from a couple of notable exceptions, they do not have a great track record.

Let’s look at what they have to play with:  Saru’s figures show that almost two thirds of  boys playing rugby at school are black.  Given that schools are the incubators of professional rugby players, it is startling how tiny a proportion of them go on to be contracted by the unions.

There are caveats here: most are at Eastern Cape schools, which means poverty puts a break on their ambitions early on.   But I still don’t understand why Saru has never systematically targeted these schools to produce more black Boks.   It seems to me to be the obvious route to take: provide decent nutrition, mentoring, coaching and facilities to a selection of better functioning schools and you could make a huge difference to the numbers of black kids who stand a chance of competing at a higher level.

What happens now is the rich unions buy kids from Eastern Cape schools and put them in top rugby schools/rugby academies. Many can’t cope with the transplant but many also make it through. What happens to them? If you look at the SA Schools Under 19 side –the Junior Boks – the representation of black players is well up: 40% are players of colour.

It is on the next step up the rugby career ladder that black players fall out in their droves: getting a contract with a provincial union to play Vodacom Cup or Currie Cup. Here the proportion of black players falls to 30% and, by Super Rugby, it is down to 26%. Our current Bok squad features 19%.

This is where the Transformation Plan is vulnerable. Its strategy for reaching the lofty targets for Super Rugby, for example, are to “engage Super Rugby franchises to increase black representation…”

These are the very unions which have not picked black players in the past. There are no sanctions attached to a failure to meet these targets.  So it is not immediately obvious why they would suddenly have a change of heart.  It seems to me the only way you will ever get unions to do the right thing is if they decide to do so.

Take the Sharks, for instance – now with new, effective management under Aspen CEO Stephen Saad, they have out-shone every other union in racial representativity. Except for Western Province but, given the wealth of coloured players at their disposal, they have little excuse not to.

One of the stated targets is to have five players of colour in the Springbok team fielded in next year’s Rugby World Cup.  Exactly two decades on from our magical Mandela moment in 1995, such an achievement would have a particular significance. But this too seems little more than a nice idea. Heyneke Meyer’s contract firmly states that he has control over selection.  His performance targets prioritise winning, not nation-building.

So, all in all, a great Plan. But that is about it.

*This column first appeared in Business Day

 

Kindle ItShare

Closer study of the South African Rugby Union’s Transformation Strategic Plan shows it has much to recommend it.  It is a five-year road map whose end point is 2019, the year in which the Rugby World Cup will be held in Japan and, if all goes well, South Africa will, for the first time, field […]

Kindle ItShare

A tale of two would-be Springboks: Johannes and Fikile

News | Non Fiction | South Africa | Uncategorized Comments Off

NO LESS a figure than Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has weighed in on the rugby transformation debate.

In a letter to the Cape Times, written as the Springboks were preparing to take on Argentina in Salta last month, Tutu remarked that it was “particularly hurtful” to see the selection of black players as “peripheral squad members never given the chance to settle down and earn their spurs”.

“Now, 20 years later, I lament the tortoise pace at which transformation at the highest level is being effected.”

The country, he wrote, deserved a Springbok team that was representative of the “full spectrum of the rainbow that defines us — not on the basis of quotas or affirmative action or window-dressing, but on merit and for our long-term wellbeing as a nation”.

Tutu is entirely correct in lamenting the paucity of black Springboks and, as spiritual successor to Nelson Mandela, his words carry particular weight.

But I’m not sure they make a useful contribution to a debate that has become shallow and polarised. With accusations as serious as racism being bandied about, the South African Rugby Union is becoming increasingly paranoid and defensive. The government, under pressure from its own constituency, issues threats. Coaches, already under intense pressure to win no matter what is thrown at them, feel under siege. Racial quotas result in black boys from poor areas becoming commodities, bought by richer schools to bring up their numbers — and then ruthlessly discarded if they lose form.

A proper debate needs to be opened up about the role of rugby in SA which takes into account the fact that it cannot be separated from the ecosystem in which it operates. It can be argued, for instance, that the Springbok team is mostly white because, even in 2014, SA still affords white people the best chance of fulfilling their potential: and not only in sport.

We know that we live in the most unequal society on earth, with the biggest gap between rich and poor anywhere in the world. And the post-apartheid dispensation has only increased the concentration of wealth in the upper echelons.

Figures released by Stats SA earlier this year show that the poorest households are black and headed by women. Black rugby talent is largely concentrated in the Eastern Cape. Stats SA revealed that, in the Buffalo City metro, for instance, 45.8% of households are female-headed. Only 52.6% have piped water into their homes.

Almost one in five live below the poverty line.

Poverty follows a child from such a home — let’s call him Fikile — to school: where he is likely to encounter inadequate buildings, poorly motivated and educated teachers, little or nothing in the way of sporting or training facilities. It’s likely to be a non-fee-paying school, so operating with minimal resources.

No matter how talented a rugby player he is, his chances of developing his skills are limited.

Compare him to a pupil — let’s call him Johannes — at Grey College, Bloemfontein, the most prolific producer of Springboks. Grey College comes weighted with more than a century of investment from the ranks of SA’s privileged. Its buildings and sports facilities are magnificent. Parents can afford to pay for extra staff to supplement teacher numbers. Old boys are willing and able to make generous donations.

Johannes also benefits from historically enriched social capital: his mother will be waiting in her car to pick him up after practice. He will go home to a hot shower, a comfortable bed and a nutritious meal. He will likely have access to nutritional supplements. On match days his family will be out in force to support him.

Meanwhile, Fikile is more likely to have to make his own way home. He will have to fetch water from a communal shower to wash; his evening meal will be bread or pap. There will be little in the way of the protein essential in this adolescent growth phase to build the muscle required to make it as a top South African rugby player.

On match days he will have to hustle for taxi money to get to the field. His mother, single-handedly supporting her family, probably on a social grant, is unlikely to have either the money or the time to accompany him.

Both Fikile and Johannes will dream of one day donning the green and gold. But the lives each has been born into will determine which one has any chance of realising his dream.

This inequality extends beyond school. Black players have spoken about the additional stress poverty imposes on them even if they make it to semi-professional teams. One told how, throughout a training session, he would be fretting about whether he had enough cash for the taxi home afterwards, while his white teammate climbed into the Golf bought for him by his father.

This is serious because it distracts the black player from what should be single-minded concentration on his performance. The coach notices and chalks it up to lack of commitment — and he ends up being sidelined. Poverty brings with it a sense of shame so the black player is unlikely to try to explain his predicament in such a competitive environment.

Even at the highest level the emotional toll of inequality puts many black players at a disadvantage. For instance, Jean de Villiers’ dad, Andre, still accompanies him to almost every game, no matter where he plays. Andre de Villiers makes no demands on his son but is simply there to offer support.

By contrast, Siya Kolisi, who grew up in poverty in Zwide, has spoken of how he experiences his family as an additional source of stress: “If I don’t play,” he told me, “people in the township don’t eat.” So he has to deal not only with the psychic wounds of a deprived childhood but an ongoing dearth of emotional support.

Playing at Springbok level requires emotional resilience: you need to be able to bounce back from long injury lay-offs, poor results, losing your place in the team. Only players who have this kind of resilience are able to cement their places in the starting line-up. Life has given Jean de Villiers the best chance of acquiring this. Kolisi is one of thousands of talented black players for whom it will always be a struggle.

We are not going to be able to close the inequality gap in the short term so we need to think about how to draw on rugby as a nation-builder in the meantime.

*This column first appeared in Business Day

LETTER IN BUSINESS DAY (05-09-2014

LIZ McGregor’s brilliant analysis (A tale of two would-be rugby Springboks — Johannes and Fikile, September 4) has clarified and verbalised the thoughts that I, and perhaps others, have had about the question of black representation in the Springbok rugby side.

Her final paragraph is worth repeating: “We are not going to be able to close the inequality gap in the short term so we need to think about how to draw on rugby as a nation builder in the meantime.”

Thank you, Ms McGregor.

Cedric Harris
Via e-mail

Thank you, Cedric, for your kind words. It would be good if everyone interested in the game could talk about this more and come up with a more intelligent way of running the game.

 

 

Kindle ItShare

NO LESS a figure than Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has weighed in on the rugby transformation debate. In a letter to the Cape Times, written as the Springboks were preparing to take on Argentina in Salta last month, Tutu remarked that it was “particularly hurtful” to see the selection of black players as “peripheral squad […]

Kindle ItShare

Banking on better run rugby

News | Non Fiction | South Africa Comments Off
Louis von Zeuner, centre of the second row, after handing out the jerseys before the first game against Wales in June 2014

Louis von Zeuner, centre, second row, after handing out the Bok jerseys before the Wales game in June 2014

LOOK out for a subtle but seismic improvement in the quality of South African rugby administration over the next year or two. The election last week of Louis von Zeuner to the executive council (exco) of the South African Rugby Union (Saru) is fantastically good news for the game.

The highly respected former deputy CEO of Absa will bring a wealth of cutting-edge governance experience to a body urgently in need of modernisation and some intellectual heft.

Exco  is the executive arm of Saru and elected by the all-powerful general council, which is comprised of the presidents of the 14 unions making up Saru.

On the exco executive council sits the Saru president, vice-president, CEO, chief financial officer, a players’ representative, the company secretary, four former union presidents and a couple of co-opted members.

Like the general council, the exco executive council remains rooted in the amateur era. Men who have been in rugby administration for the past 20 twenty years, with little leadership or governance experience outside of it, have continued to elect each other to the highest body. Elections are characterised by frenzied deal-making and politicking, mostly within the existing pool.

The route by which Von Zeuner managed to penetrate this incestuous circle is an interesting one: he is the players’ representative. Thus he does not owe allegiance to any clique and he gets to give a critical but neglected constituency a highly effective voice.

Player welfare has long been a strong concern for Von Zeuner. He is chairman of MyPlayers (Pty) Ltd, a private company owned and managed by SA’s professional rugby players to ensure they get their fair share of brand-related income. He has also instigated a much-needed programme wherebyplayers develop skills which that will enable them to switch to alternative careers once rugby has finished with them.

As a fully fledged member of the council exco, he is likely to intervene in scheduling which currently that largely ignores player welfare in favour of the voracious demands of broadcasters and Saru coffers. The new SA, New Zealand and Australia n Rugby (Sanzar) broadcasting deal on Super Rugby, for instance, which will perpetuate the treadmill for exhausted and injury-ridden players, might look very different next time round.

Von Zeuner will bring the full weight of his experience and personality to Saru. His vision is broad: he is passionately committed to a strong and sustainable SA, and is a great fan of the National Development Plan as a way to achieve this.

During his 30 years at Absa, he oversaw the transformation of its customer base from largely white and Afrikaans to almost two-thirds black.

I interviewed him while he was still deputy CEO and was impressed by his deep understanding of power relations within rugby. Absa was at the time — and still is — Saru’s chief sponsor, pumping in millions of rand each year.

He had strong views on where rugby should be heading: in terms of the development and promotion of black players, for instance, and the accessibility of rugby to all South Africans. The price of tickets, he pointed out, was way beyond the means of the majority, thus perpetuating its image as a game for an elite, mostly white community.

Since reducing his role at Absa to nonexecutive director, Von Zeuner has chosen his new commitments carefully. Still only in his early fifties, He wants to give back: to use the considerable skills he gained in the banking sector for the greater good. He is on the board of Telkom, for instance, helping to turn it around.

Rugby is one of his passions but he is also very conscious of its capacity for nation building. He believes that all involved in rugby have a duty to bring pride and hope to all South Africans.

He will not take his responsibilities on the exco council lightly. He will want to bring to the table the same governance and fiduciary duties that bind nonexecutive directors in the commercial sector. This might well include fresh oversight and new blood. , as in any other business.

The game has changed dramatically in the decades since many of the present current administrators first came on board. In the amateur era, most of the income came from gate takings. Now most fans watch the game on TV; broadcasting is the big money-spinner.

Hundreds of millions of rand s now pour into the Saru head office. An organisation of this size, operating in a highly competitive global arena, needs sophisticated skills in finance, contracting and negotiating. It is big business.

All sport relies heavily on sponsorship. Absa provides roughly half of Saru’s annual income. But sponsors, increasingly impatient with poorly run organisations, are demanding the same levels of governance they themselves are subject to.

If rugby is to grow and prosper, it needs to jack up its administration — and Von Zeuner is the man to do it.

* This column first appeared in Business Day

 

 

Kindle ItShare

LOOK out for a subtle but seismic improvement in the quality of South African rugby administration over the next year or two. The election last week of Louis von Zeuner to the executive council (exco) of the South African Rugby Union (Saru) is fantastically good news for the game. The highly respected former deputy CEO […]

Kindle ItShare

Jonathan Kaplan calls it like it is

News | Non Fiction | South Africa | Uncategorized Comments Off

IT IS well argued and highly constructive but, nevertheless, the verdict delivered on the state of the profession to which referee extraordinaire Jonathan Kaplan has devoted the past 30 years is quietly damning.

As fans and players have long claimed, refereeing is often inadequate, but this has little to do with the quality or commitment of individual referees and everything to do with a system that struggles to keep up with the demands of an ever-evolving game.

So, in the heat of a fast-paced contest, a ref must be able to discern a new trend — recognise that it is not a one-off error but a deliberate and repeated attempt to stretch the rules — and then respond appropriately. The failure of the system is that this kind of information is not included in the official feedback protocol that follows each game. This is clearly wrong. All refs officiating at similar games need to pool information on new developments and decide collectively how to deal with them. Players need fairness and consistency, and better communication between refs is crucial to providing this.

Kaplan’s book, Call It Like It Is, is compelling. It feels, though, like two books struggling to fit into one and each suffers from being curtailed and crammed in with the other. That said, it does have more depth than the average rugby biography.

He relates with insight and intelligence the impact of his parents’ divorce when he was 10. They let him decide which of them he wanted to live with — he chose his dad because his mother was moving to Joburg with her new husband and his two younger brothers and he was worried his dad would be lonely, left behind in the family home in Durban. Two years later, his father married again and his wife had twin girls.

Kaplan’s sense of abandonment and displacement is all the more powerful for being universal: the pain suffered by many children of divorced parents. He later moves to Johannesburg to live with his brothers and his mother but finds her new husband “less than adequate” as a stepfather. He describes the moment he stood up to his stepfather, who then, as with his half-sisters, disappears from the narrative.

His brothers are his emotional bedrock but both live in Canada. Kaplan lives alone with his two bulldogs with the intermittent appearance of transient love interests. One gets the sense that, from an early age, he realised he had to plough his own furrow and this psychological mind-set is perfect for a ref, the essential lone ranger. He also had to become his own “good father”: consistent, fair, emotionally intelligent and reliable. This compensates for the flawed examples of his childhood but it also has its benefits on the field. What ideally would have been a parallel book is Kaplan’s analysis of the global state of refereeing and how it could be perfected. This section is excellent and should be read by all involved in the administration of the game. A good referee is an artist, says Kaplan, akin to the conductor of an orchestra, facilitating a free-flowing performance that is balanced between attack and defence.

He has huge sympathy for fellow referees: they are under intense pressure; they have to think and move quickly — they have to be exceptionally fit. They bear the brunt of player and fan displeasure when things don’t go their way. One needs to be a very strong and self-confident individual to survive and thrive.

Kaplan’s recommendations for a smarter system for managing referees are : all world-class refs should fall globally under one coach who would be in constant contact with them to assess and rule on new developments. Now, the system is disjointed and inconsistent — with different referee managers each for South African rugby; Super Rugby and International Rugby Board (IRB) games.

Laws need to be trimmed and simplified and rendered comprehensible to players and coaches, as well the frequently bewildered fan. All deserve a better service than they are currently getting.

Kaplan says he has observed a decline in refereeing standards over the decades. The remedy, he says, is simple: better use of technology and better use of the television match official. He also believes every match should have two refs: the notion that this wonderful game can be controlled by one man is “archaic”. Two officials would obviate suspicions of bias and each could concentrate on different aspects of the game. They could also bounce decisions off each other.

Recently retired, Kaplan is only 47 and an intelligent, thoughtful man with unrivalled experience of the game at the highest level. It seems obvious that rugby authorities here and at the IRB should draw on his skills to improve their refereeing operation. It is such a crucial element of the game and the skills someone like Kaplan can offer are too rare to waste.

*This column first appeared in Business Day

 

Kindle ItShare

IT IS well argued and highly constructive but, nevertheless, the verdict delivered on the state of the profession to which referee extraordinaire Jonathan Kaplan has devoted the past 30 years is quietly damning. As fans and players have long claimed, refereeing is often inadequate, but this has little to do with the quality or commitment […]

Kindle ItShare