Taking ownership

Keo, in his News 24 column, writes that the sponsors in South African rugby hold the key to the future of the game. Their money should not be viewed as a charity handout but an investment.

Three days out from weekend two of the Super 14 and South Africa’s regional participation agreement has not been signed, which says more about the competition custodians Sanzar and the South African Rugby Union than it does about the five regions who rightly refuse to sign the ground rules of their participation.

None will sign because none believes in the pre-determined relegation system decided on by the president’s council six months ago.

For those who’ve missed it the Cheetahs last year won the right to play in the Super 14 as South Africa’s fifth region.

When this was challenged by the public relations machine of the proposed Southern and Eastern Cape region and the government conveniently decided to take a momentary interest in rugby, the president’s council determined that Free State would indeed play in the tournament for one year only, but that the team finishing last among the South African teams would be automatically relegated.

In turn a new Southern and Eastern Cape region would replace this team.

This was supposed to be a compromise to Free State and the government.

But it was never a compromise because the president’s council added that the Eastern Cape franchise would be entrenched for two years, which meant that if they finished last among the SA teams they would be safe and that the team finishing above them would be relegated.

Even more bizarre is the revelation that the relegated team would have to supply the bulk of their run-on XV, 10 players I believe, to the Eastern Cape region.

None of it makes sense, but then it was not a decision designed to make sense.

This brings me to the presidential election on February 24, a two horse race between incumbent Brian van Rooyen and Oregan Hoskins from Kwazulu-Natal.

Why all the attention has been focused on the two candidates I don’t know. They don’t select themselves.

The president’s council, made up of 14 provincial presidents, will dictate the outcome and it is this president?s council that has to be held accountable for the governance of South African rugby.

The president’s council, though, is not unified. It is split between the haves and the haves not, who when it comes to voting are a contradiction of this description.

The haves, when it comes to wealth, don’t have the power. And those with the power will never have the wealth.

The big five of the Bulls, Western Province, Sharks, Lions and Cheetahs may arrive at the election in nicer cars and carrying platinum cards, but their votes carry no more weight than the poor country cousin blue-card holders, who outnumber them in presence by nine to five.

So the key to winning the election is to hitch a ride on the smaller unions and to promise them a Christmas hamper or two.

In this country, the five major unions, who are the financial life of the game, could all vote for a candidate and the guy in the other corner could win because the majority of the president’s council has cast a vote out of necessity for the Christmas hamper.

Keeping Van Rooyen as the president or electing Hoskins will not effect a turnaround of events.

The Super 14 participation agreement still won’t be signed and there will still be legal fights between the governing body and the provinces, with the governing body indirectly also settling all of the legal bills.

The president’s council members are the decision-makers in South African rugby and not the bloke who parades as president.

Yes, his personality can dominate and influence, but he has but one vote. To change the system, you have to devalue the role of the president’s council. You have to render them impotent.

How?

The sponsors!

The sponsors in South African rugby hold the key to the future of the game. Their money should not be viewed as a charity handout but an investment. Forget all the sentimental garbage about the game belonging to the people and the people being the stakeholders.

Currently, the main stakeholders are those throwing cash at the game.

And it is these corporates who have the power to change the constitution of the game and turn an amateur administration into an accountable and accepted business that then becomes accountable to the people who pay money every Saturday to endorse the product.

The romantics may disagree

Without sponsorship (read corporate investment) there would be no tournaments and there would be no professional teams. The romantics may disagree, but my retort is to refer them to club rugby, where cash is absent and so is everything else.

Sponsors, in professional South African rugby, have been led by amateur administrators for too long. Now it is time they did the leading.

It is time they initiated the business blueprint to professional rugby, instead of allowing elected officials to spend this money.

If not, nothing will change and the game they invest in will continue to be derailed.

The sponsors are more powerful than the minor unions combined because without their cash there would be no party. Once again it is a question of responsibility.

And until sponsorship of rugby as a product is coupled with ownership of this product, it really won’t matter who the hell is the president of South African rugby.