Big Schalk on defining ownership

Decision-making in South African rugby should be influenced by what’s good for the game and not by individual agendas, writes Schalk Burger Senior.

Everybody’s got a question about our rugby and everybody wants an answer that contains a solution. A senior official recently stated that he is sick and tired of people criticising the game. He is being unrealistic. The game will and must always remain a debate due to its uniqueness. It is easier said than done because, before we can answer questions, we need to know where to direct them.

I’ve also got a question about the problems we are facing in our game, but I am as much at a loss as the next rugby supporter because no-one is standing up and fronting the questions or advising us where to go. I should perhaps point out that I refer here to the game in the broader context, and not any specific teams.

Everybody wants ownership of the game, but no-one wants the responsibility that goes with ownership, which is accountability. The blame culture solves nothing. Players blame each other and, in some instances, their coach. The coach blames the media and, in some cases, his players. The administration blames the coach, the players and the media. But nobody is standing tall in our game, from the top down, putting a hand in the air and saying the buck stop here. Nobody is saying: “I run this game and therefore I answer the questions.”

Politicking dominates the coverage of rugby in this country and that is wrong. It is unhealthy because the game is about players and supporters. At least that’s what I believe. The supporter invests his money and his heart in supporting a team and all they want is for the player to give it 100% and to be able to walk from the field with his head held high.

It may sound simplistic, but there are times when we complicate the simple things. And it is the simple things that more often than not give you the answers. My rugby and business philosophy has always been to scrutinise a winning performance and dissect everything so that you understand the reasons why you are being successful. At least then you’ve got something to go back to as a measurement when you start losing.

There’s a tick list. Are you still doing the things that made you successful? You may have tweaked something that you perceived to be small, but which in fact holds it all together. At present there are many new ideas and philosophies but no leaders.

What holds our rugby together commercially is the support base, and this support base is not being acknowledged. This support base wants answers to rugby questions and is not interested in the politics of the sport. For example, what are the attacking or defensive strategies that will be employed by a certain team – what corrective startegies are being employed by teams that are struggling and above all who is carrying the can?

These rugby people want to know that people who love the game are entrusted with positions of authority and that the decision-making is influenced by what’s good for the game and not by individual agendas. They want to read about their heroes on the back pages of the newspapers and not the game’s administration on the front pages. They want to believe in the game and they want to believe there will always be hope. They want to feel comfortable that someone is steering the ship, in good times and when the seas are hectic. They want a captain they can look up to, and it is not there at the moment.

If you ask me who is responsible for the future of South African rugby as a game, I can’t tell you. There are many whose actions indicate they own the game, but there is not one person willing to front up on the very issues that demand responsibility and accountability to become a feared and, above all, respected rugby nation.

There are fundamental flaws within the infrastructure of our rugby and the way we play the game, but that is part of the methodology. In any company, individuals, and not infrastructure, provide leadership. South African rugby will always be strong because of the natural nursery of talent, but to be healthy this player base must be complemented by a commanding individual (or individuals) who can offer wise words of comfort, on and off the field, in troubled times and inspire triumphs – the kind of people who understand that with ownership comes accountability to the stakeholders of the game.

Rugby will always be like war. History has shown that only strong generals, with the best strategies, will survive and win the important battles. These generals lead from the front of the battlefield and fight with their troops. The troops know that their leader has been there before and that the decisions he makes are in the best interests of everyone involved.

- Read Schalk Burger Senior every month in SA Rugby magazine.