Posts Tagged ‘Vodacom Cup’

Fiddling while the jersey burns

News | Non Fiction | South Africa | Uncategorized Comments Off

IN A speech in Durban a few days ago, South African Rugby Union (Saru) president Oregan Hoskins fingered schools as one of the stumbling blocks to transformation in the Springboks. Saru runs an annual budget of close on a billion rand.

All they have to do is channel some of that into the cash-strapped schools in the Eastern Cape bursting with black rugby talent and passion. Add a few high-performance academies to hone the skills of the front runners and then persuade its coaches to give all players of colour equal opportunity with white players and you’d soon see a lot more black Springboks.

To his credit, Hoskins took responsibility for not adequately supporting previous Springbok coaches. This presumably included Peter de Villiers, last seen presiding over the public burning of the Springbok jersey.

The furore over the paucity of black players in the 2015 Bok squad has been dismissed in some quarters as par for the course in a World Cup year. But this is nonsense.

The Rugby World Cup is a big deal: it’s when we show the world who we are — in technicolour. If, 20 years into democracy, we are still saying that excellence is white, it’s a problem, not least for the black kids dreaming of donning the green-and-gold.

Obviously, ideally, this should not blow up at World Cup time and should be dealt with on an ongoing basis. But it doesn’t look as if it is.

The men in charge of rugby continue to fiddle while the jersey burns. They are at present fiddling, yet again, with the Currie Cup format. The proposal on the table now seems to be that the Vodacom Cup will be abolished from next year and replaced with an extended Currie Cup.

Saru is not giving out any information but according to an apparently reliable report in Die Burger, from next year there will be 15 teams in the Currie Cup, which will include one from Namibia. In the first half of the year, the 14 unions plus Namibia will play each other in a newly constituted Currie Cup. The top nine will go on to play each other, while the remaining six will battle it out for a lesser title. This means an awful lot of Currie Cup rugby will be played during a protracted Super Rugby tournament.

Our 40-odd rugby schools and the Currie Cup are the bedrock of development in South African rugby. Schools are where rugby talent is developed. The Currie Cup is where promising young players are blooded for Super Rugby. This production line is important for professional rugby as more senior players head off overseas.

In 2012, the Currie Cup was altered to accommodate an extended Super Rugby campaign. Since then, SA’s oldest competition has haemorrhaged viewers and Absa is ending its sponsorship. Won’t more Currie Cup games from second-tier teams competing for viewers with Super Rugby diminish interest further?

More to the point, is this an appropriate use of Saru funds?

In its constitution, adopted in 2009, Saru states as an objective:

•  5.1 applying its income, directly and indirectly, for the promotion, development, support, upliftment, administration and playing of rugby in SA;

•  5.2 pursuing policies and programmes, at national and all other levels, aimed at redressing imbalances of the past and creating a genuinely nonracial, nonpolitical and democratic dispensation for rugby in SA;

•  5.3 adopting and enacting such measures as will foster, promote, regulate and encourage the playing of rugby and provide facilities for rugby in SA, and in any other territory as may be decided upon, for all persons, irrespective of race, colour, creed or gender, and to eliminate any discrimination and inequality among players and officials alike;

If it is to honour its own constitution, should a large chunk of Saru’s millions go into supporting the small-town fiefdoms that run these second-tier teams? Or into paying player squads, most of whom will be white and whose development will have been paid for by the schools mentioned by Mr Hoskins?

What would make more sense is to confine the Currie Cup to the Super Rugby franchises. The small unions should be playing semi-professional rugby, relying on local sponsorship for funds. Saru should be applying its income to funding a development campaign in areas where there is abundant black rugby talent.

Meanwhile, it is interesting to see how the Bok transformation issue is playing out in the political landscape.

The burning of the Springbok jersey accompanied the launch of a new organisation, Supporters Against Racist Rugby Associations, in Mossel Bay. The Western and Eastern Cape are the sites for some of the most closely fought battles between the African National Congress (ANC) and the Democratic Alliance (DA). These are also the provinces that host the most black talent and experience the most frustration among black fans.

One of the most thoughtful recent political interventions came from DA shadow spokesman on sport Solly Malatsi. In an oped article, he outlined the importance of a systematic overhaul of rugby development. If the ANC drops the ball, perhaps the DA will pick it up?

• This column first appeared in Business Day

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IN A speech in Durban a few days ago, South African Rugby Union (Saru) president Oregan Hoskins fingered schools as one of the stumbling blocks to transformation in the Springboks. Saru runs an annual budget of close on a billion rand. All they have to do is channel some of that into the cash-strapped schools […]

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Play now, pay later

News | Non Fiction | South Africa | Uncategorized Comments Off

GLAMOROUS though it might appear, a career in rugby is not the wisest choice. Each year, about 200 boys sign on for the first time with one of the 14 unions. At any one time, there are about 1,000 professional players in the system. At the most, 5% of them will make it into the national team, which means they stand a chance of earning enough to live on and, at the same time, investing enough money to retire on.

Salaries for the vast majority of professional players are low. A junior player contracted to one of the eight smaller unions will earn an average of R100,000 a year. A senior player will earn R200,000. The minority who make it into Super Rugby squads will earn between R700,000 and R800,000. They will earn this amount, if they are lucky, for about 10 years. It will not be enough to provide for them and their families once their rugby-playing days are over.

Most contracts stipulate a 40-hour week: players have to report for work between 8am and 4pm and they get 20 days’ holiday a year. This means it is difficult for them to prepare at the same time for a second career by studying or doing some sort of apprenticeship.

Those who make it to Super Rugby can make it work if they are clever about the opportunities that come their way. They can secure sponsorships and make the contacts which might help them get decent jobs after rugby. Some Premier Division Currie Cup players might also be able to leverage their brand value. But for most Vodacom Cup players, the future is bleak.

This is one of the reasons the professional aspirations of the small unions is so problematic. They don’t do these young men any favours.

There is one glowing exception: the Welkom-based Griffons.

The Griffons are an exceptionally well-managed union. They have thought through their role in an intelligent and realistic way and implemented a strategy which keeps the union solvent, treats their players fairly and produces winning rugby.

The Griffons started life as the Northern Free State Provincial team and were based in the then thriving mining community in Welkom. Club rugby was strong and most mines had their own teams.

Now there are hardly any working mines and their funds come mostly in the form of the R10m annual share of broadcasting revenue from the South Africa Rugby Union.

The Griffons decided about eight years ago that the best way to serve rugby in their region was to position themselves as a development unit.

This meant limiting the amount they spent on professional players and instead instituting an innovative system of semi-professionalism. They allocate less than half their income to professional salaries.

Some of their players have full-time jobs at local firms. Their employers usually deduct the time spent on training and matches but the Griffons pay a monthly retainer and a decent match fee as compensation.

Other players are full-time students. Some play for the University of Free State Varsity Cup team, the Shimlas, and they are loaned to the Griffons for five months.

The Griffons management encourage their players to study. They plan their training schedules around the timetables of the students and those who work for outside firms.

Last year, the union took home the First Division Currie Cup, proving that, despite these restrictions, they are still able to produce winning rugby. They also manage to nurture stars for the bigger stage: both Cecil Afrika and Branco du Preez started their professional careers at the Griffons.

Unlike some other unions, the Griffons stay within their budget. For the past six years, the union has broken even, despite the fact that they channel significant funding into the clubs and schools that fall under their jurisdiction. They field several amateur provincial teams, including girls’ under 15s, women’s under 17; provincial under 19s and under 17s.

As a journalist, what impressed me most about the Griffons was their openness. All it took was an email to their CEO, Eugene van Wyk, to elicit a copy of their 2014 financial statements, complete with a detailed breakdown of where every cent goes.

This is despite the fact that Van Wyk is currently in Australasia, touring with the Cheetahs, for whom he acts as team manager.

Instead of trying to compete with the Cheetahs, their local Super Rugby franchise, the Griffons collaborate with them and share resources. It’s eminently sensible and an example that all the small unions should be following.

Semi-professionalism is the way to go for the smaller unions. It means that they can stay within their budgets, provide proper support to amateur rugby in their regions and manage their contracted players properly. And that means ensuring they balance their rugby with preparation for a second career.

 *This column first appeared in Business Day
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GLAMOROUS though it might appear, a career in rugby is not the wisest choice. Each year, about 200 boys sign on for the first time with one of the 14 unions. At any one time, there are about 1,000 professional players in the system. At the most, 5% of them will make it into the […]

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SACS takes on KES

News | Non Fiction | South Africa Comments Off

SIMMERING hostility over the poaching of schoolboy rugby talent has finally broken out into open warfare. The South African College School (Sacs), one of the oldest and best boys state schools in the country, has cut all ties with another venerable educational institution, King Edward High School (KES) in Johannesburg. Sacs’ rugby, water polo, cricket and hockey teams will no longer play against KES teams. What precipitated this dramatic gesture was the fact that Sacs arrived at the St Stithians Easter Rugby Festival last month with a squad of 23 boys and left with 22. One of their grade 10 black pupils is now a KES boy. It is suspected that the boy was offered a scholarship to persuade him to switch schools.

The top 24 state boys schools agreed just a few months ago on a sports charter “born of the concern that some of the high-profile sports at our schools are increasingly being driven by noneducational imperatives and affected by questionable (unethical) practices”. The charter rejected the practice of “approaching and offering money to boys to allow or encourage them to switch schools”.

It was agreed that scholarships and bursaries should be offered for academic achievement and financial need respectively, and should ideally be offered only in grade 8.

The charter follows a much angrier response on www.saschoolsports.co.za from Eastern Cape headmasters after last year’s Grant Khomo Week trials for under-16s, a popular hunting ground for talent scouts. At least Sacs and KES are fairly equal. This is not the case for Eastern Cape state schools, the country’s chief incubators of black rugby talent and largely based in much poorer communities.

The headmasters of Dale College, Queens College, Selborne and Hudson Park High School weighed in. Roy Hewett, headmaster of the last-mentioned school, was the most scathing: “Young men are approached in a clandestine way either at, or shortly after, the Grant Khomo Week. They are made financial offers which include free schooling, all expenses paid, clothing and a significant monthly payment, for a contractual commitment to the franchise in question. They are strongly encouraged to keep the knowledge of these negotiations from their schools and often disappear during the third-term break.”

These headmasters argue that the practice impoverishes their schools — they and their coaches have nurtured these boys for many years.

The boys have developed strong loyalties to the school: they are part of a healthy ecosystem in which sporting prowess is only part of their development. Academic achievement and character building are equally important. As rugby stars, these boys are regarded as heroes by their peers and provide inspiration and mentorship to younger boys.

Usually it is the Super Rugby franchises that initiate and fund the transfers. They place boys in stronger rugby schools in Pretoria or Durban. Sometimes, rich schools by promising players to boost their first teams or their quota of black players.

One could argue that these boys are being given a chance to move up in life: a life-changing opportunity for a better education and new networks that could enhance their career prospects.

Too often, though, it does not work out this way.

Frequently the transfer happens in grade 11 because schools don’t want to be saddled with a boy who then doesn’t perform, so they snaffle him to provide the X factor for their first teams in the last two years of school. The boys face hostility from other pupils because they are given a place in the team over others who have worked for it throughout their school career.

Being catapulted into a new school, particularly a largely white, much richer school, for the last two years of one’s school career is bound to be disorienting. The pupil will have been separated from family, community and culture.

And because he has been admitted to this institution purely to boost the rugby team, if he doesn’t perform, he is made to feel a failure.

This cynical use of young boys speaks to the power of rugby. A school whose first team performs well at rugby is considered a good school, regardless of other weaknesses. Parents with resources flock to such schools. Old boys open their wallets more eagerly. Greater resources mean schools can employ more teachers than the government will pay for, which means smaller classes and more individual attention. They can afford playing fields, libraries, computer labs and swimming pools.

Even if a black boy achieves his dream with an under-19 contract at one of the franchises, how far will he get? The racial composition of our elite teams does not bode well.

There is only one black South African Springbok with a regular starting position — Siya Kolisi. Super Rugby teams are overwhelmingly white. This year’s introduction of racial quotas for the lower rung of professional rugby, the Vodacom Cup, shows how many Saru unions have to be forced into giving their black players a proper opportunity.

The increase in tension between schools is regrettable but hopefully will result in the issue being properly addressed.

 

*This column first appeared in Business Day

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SIMMERING hostility over the poaching of schoolboy rugby talent has finally broken out into open warfare. The South African College School (Sacs), one of the oldest and best boys state schools in the country, has cut all ties with another venerable educational institution, King Edward High School (KES) in Johannesburg. Sacs’ rugby, water polo, cricket […]

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Sharks show the way

News | Non Fiction | South Africa Comments Off

IMG_1144THE Sharks’ dominance of the Super Rugby charts is a fine example of how a dynamic and visionary administration plays out on the field. Take, for instance, their response to the introduction earlier this year of racial quotas into the Vodacom Cup. Rugby’s protectionist right threw up their hands in horror. In contrast, the Sharks not only embraced the challenge but actually exceeded the quota stipulated by the South African Rugby Union (Saru): their Vodacom Cup squad featured six African players.

But it is in their high-flying Super Rugby team that their more progressive attitude has been most obvious. Where other franchises persist in relegating their black players to the wings or the bench, the Sharks are playing young S’bura Sithole at outside centre and have backed him in that crucial position throughout the season. Lwazi Mvovo is at fullback and Tera Mthembu is a second-choice looseforward. Cynics speculate that Jake White wants the Springbok coach job again, and he knows on which side the political slice is buttered.

I suspect the influence of Sharks CEO John Smit. Black Springboks I interviewed during his era as Springbok captain spoke glowingly of his support and his sensitivity to the debilitating effects of marginalisation. Black players in some of the leading franchises felt that they had to add prejudice to the many challenges faced by any professional player to get to the top.

One hopes now, at the Sharks at least, their path will be easier. One hopes too, the other franchises will take note. Until Super Rugby franchises give more black players a proper chance, the Springboks will remain largely white, because it is from the Super Rugby teams that the Springbok coach must pick his squad.

Apart from the fact that it is the right thing to do, giving black players a proper shot at the big-time pays off.

I suspect here the hand of the chairman of the Sharks board, Stephen Saad.

Saad is an astute, socially aware entrepreneur who saw the potential for generic medicines while the rest of South Africa was still in the extortionate grip of Big Pharma. Now his company, Aspen Pharmacare, produces life-saving antiretroviral drugs at a fraction of the price once demanded by the international pharmaceutical industry.

Saad’s combination of business savvy and love of rugby is good for the commercial side of the Sharks. Their brand, already strong, can only be enhanced by the nurturing of more black stars. It is the black middle class that offers the best opportunity for explosive economic growth. Look at the Orlando Pirates or Kaizer Chiefs: their popularity means an endless supply of brands wanting to be allied with theirs, and prepared to pay handsomely for it.

The more the Sharks reflect the broader South African demographic, the more likely they are able to access sponsorship, which in turns means better facilities and better pay for their players.

It would also suit SuperSport, which has a substantial shareholding in Sharks (Pty) Ltd. MultiChoice, owner of SuperSport, is seeing its most dramatic growth in the black middle class.

Currently, SuperSport’s largest customer base is among white people over the age of 50, a wealthy segment of the population, but a dwindling one.

What’s more, if the Sharks were able to attract more black fans, they might be able to fill the many empty seats in the Kings Park Stadium.

On a different, but allied note, that excellent Saru innovation, the Springbok Experience, is looking for a Cup. In fact, two Cups: the Zonk Cup and Parton’s Cup.

Parton’s Cup was one of the trophies awarded in the inter-provincial league run by the South African Bantu Rugby Board (SABRB), formed in 1935. The league, which culminated in the awarding of the NRC Cup (Native Recruiting Corporation Cup), was sponsored by the Chamber of Mines.

The Springbok Experience, at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront, has done a very good job of presenting black and white rugby history, both separately and together. To complete the picture, Andy Colquhoun, Saru’s head of corporate affairs, is keen to add these two iconic cups because they represent the strong pre-apartheid rugby culture. Prof Andre Odendaal, historian, and until this month CEO of Western Province Cricket, writes that the first SABRB inter-provincial league was held in Kimberley in 1936, when the inaugural NRC Cup was shared by Eastern Province and Transvaal. This was the first of 28 inter-provincial rugby tournaments to be held over the next 38 years up to 1974. These tournaments involved a grinding schedule of matches over a period of one week, records Odendaal, particularly after a knock-out competition for the Parton’s Cup was added to the league format for the NRC Cup.

So, anyone out there with either of these Cups in their display cabinet should please get in touch with Colquhoun. They have a wonderful piece of rugby history in their hands.

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THE Sharks’ dominance of the Super Rugby charts is a fine example of how a dynamic and visionary administration plays out on the field. Take, for instance, their response to the introduction earlier this year of racial quotas into the Vodacom Cup. Rugby’s protectionist right threw up their hands in horror. In contrast, the Sharks […]

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Hopefully, 2014 Vodacom Cup fiasco will lead to a new rugby model

News | Non Fiction | South Africa Comments Off

The New Year sees the launch of the 2014 Vodacom Cup campaign, which will be marred by a clumsy attempt by SARU to make up for their failure to promote black talent and a reactionary intervention by AfriForum. It is, however, not certain that AfriForum’s campaign – against the introduction of racial quotas – will be all that helpful to the small unions, for whom the competition is particularly significant. Callie Kriel, CEO of AfriForum, has bizarrely invoked the anti-discriminatory rules of the International Rugby Board in a letter to the South African Rugby Union. SARU has stipulated that, from 2014, all Vodacom Cup sides have to field seven players of colour in their 22-man squads, with at least five players in the starting team. At least two of the seven will also have to be among the forwards.

Mr Kriel objected on the grounds that “A quota system …does nothing to develop new players. Institutions simply import existing black players in order to comply with the quota requirements. Rugby unions should focus on development  programmes instead of discriminating against  certain players on the basis of race,” wrote Kriel.

The problem with this statement is that the small unions tend to import virtually all their players, both black and white.  What SARU objects to is that currently the players they import are almost all white.

The minor unions are in the extraordinarily privileged position of being  funded to field professional teams in the two competitions they take part in, the Vodacom Cup and the bottom tier of the Currie Cup.  They achieve this by virtue of being equal partners in the 14-union body that makes up SARU. Professional rugby is an expensive business: players, coaches, medical staff, match-day referees and security staff must be paid. Add to this travel and accommodation costs.  Most  also have their own stadia to sustain.  All this costs SARU around R10million for each union – and some of them continue to dip into the mother bodies’ funds over and above that.

And to what end? Television broadcasts of Vodacom Cup and First Division Currie Cup games show largely empty stadia.  TV viewerships are low.  It begs the question: what is the point of these unions?

The Vodacom Cup was initially conceived of as a developmental competition but, given that most unions buy in players from the schools – usually in other provinces – that actually do the developing,  that aspect of it has become farcical. It used to be argued that the Vodacom Cup provided a stage for promising players who might then be noticed by the bigger unions. No longer: the Varsity Cup has taken over as the beauty contest for incipient stars.

And as Mr Kriel correctly points out, it is not at this level that the goal of transformation is most effectively  pursued.  “Instead of playing the numbers game in a top-down manipulation, SARU and the government should address their own failure to develop young black talent at school level”.

AfriForum’s  campaign inadvertently raises the question: should we not be thinking of an entirely new model for South African rugby?  The Super Rugby franchises might, for example, consider following the lead of the English premiership clubs and break away from the union structure.  Our big clubs could argue, as the English clubs have done, that they attract the money – from SuperSport and the big sponsors – so why should they have to share it?  And why should they continue to allow the small unions to have such a disproportionately big say in the formation of policy?

Should the small unions not drop their professional pretensions and focus instead on fostering club rugby?

Or we could look at the system followed by the current world champions, the All Blacks.  The New Zealand Rugby Union General Meeting allocates votes to member unions based on the number of teams each is responsible for. Thus a union with fewer than sixty affiliated teams (which includes high school teams) gets two votes. The number of votes per union graduates upwards to seven votes for unions with 225 or more affiliates.

By contrast, the SARU General Meeting gives two equally weighted votes to each of its 14 component unions. If we followed the New Zealand example, South African rugby would be dominated by the Western and Eastern Cape.  At least there would be a stronger democratic base for SARU. It would also mean performance would be rewarded in that clubs which work to spread and strengthen grassroots rugby would be able to increase their voting power.

The NZRU system is much more agile and responsive than ours.  Super Rugby franchises are operated separately from the provinces and their boards contain independent business people with the appropriate skills. The All Blacks are centrally contracted and managed by a high performance department.

Mr Kriel’s intervention might be motivated by special pleading for a particular interest group but if it sparked new thinking on how we managed our rugby, it wouldn’t be entirely unwelcome.

This column by Liz McGregor first appeared in Business Day

 

McGregor is author of Springbok Factory: What it Takes to be a Bok (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The New Year sees the launch of the 2014 Vodacom Cup campaign, which will be marred by a clumsy attempt by SARU to make up for their failure to promote black talent and a reactionary intervention by AfriForum. It is, however, not certain that AfriForum’s campaign – against the introduction of racial quotas – will be […]

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