SA’s professionalism promotes mediocrity

Keo, in his Business Day column, writes that the concept of professionalism is 10 years old, but the thought that has gone into rugby professionalism could easily be the work of a 10-year-old.

Eon Amansure is a prop who plays for South Western Districts.

Hendrik Zeilinga is a winger turning out for the Griffons.

Previously he played for Griquas and before that dabbled with the idea of being a professional player for the Cheetahs.

The duo were just two of 701 players last year who called themselves professionals in South African rugby and who are banking a salary from the sport.

The chances of Amansure and Zeilinga making an impact in their chosen profession are nil.

They are not good enough to be playing professional rugby but they continue to do so because the system of 14 provinces and five regions demands a certain number to complete team lineups in the Vodacom Cup and Super 14 respectively.

It is why South African rugby will never consistently challenge for championship honours in the Super 14. The game here does not boast 100 players good enough to be called professionals.

Why then can the Springboks be competitive? When we ask our best 22 to battle another’s best 22 it can be done. But when our best 150 are tasked with a similar responsibility, they fail because there aren’t 150 good enough.

The system is fraught with promoting mediocrity on the rugby playing fields to appease political agendas.

It is a system that won’t change easily as lobbying with the smaller unions will determine the outcome of rugby’s national presidential election on February 24 and the next election held two years from now.

We don’t have the playing numbers and the game’s administration does not have the motivation to turn the chaos into sanity.

The game’s custodians also don’t have the morality or the foresight to think holistically about the sport’s future. They act in the now for personal gain and without cognizance of the consequence of this selfishness.

South African rugby continues to expand its professional playing base when it should be consolidating it. We should have fewer teams and fewer professional players in all our competitions — not more. We should have a professional league, a semiprofessional set-up and an amateur feeder system.

The elite should be the professionals and there should be a qualification to be a professional.

Age should be a factor. The International Rugby Board recently refused a 17-year-old permission to play in the Super 14 because they feared for his safety. It was the right move and in our country, rugby’s professional constitution should not allow for any player to turn professional as he leaves school.

The decision should have as much to do with a moral obligation to the player’s future as it does his safety. It is not just about physical appearance and emotional maturity. Every professional player should serve a three-year apprenticeship, during which time he gets paid for his services, but also hones his skills in another trade, be it through a diploma or a degree.

There should be a salary cap on players for the first three years out of school and 21 should be the coming of age. In this way, a player’s professional career would be strengthened and lengthened, especially with the all-year playing demands on the modern professional.

Most importantly, an apprenticeship would allow for a graduation into professional ranks. Over three years, a player would earn the right to describe rugby as his job. Those not good enough would not insult the definition of being a professional sportsman.

Professional rugby should not be seen by schoolboys as a quick financial fix. There are too many shattered careers of 23-year-old players, and more punch-drunk journeymen seeking out sponsorship and endorsement under the guise of professional rugby.

Our working force does not need any more failed rugby players turned fax-machine salesmen at the age of 30.

The concept of professionalism is 10 years old, but the thought that has gone into rugby professionalism could easily be the work of a 10-year-old.

The professional game in this country needs more thought and not a 702nd professional player.