Super six sell

Keo, in his Business Day column, writes that it is outrageous that consideration is even being given to a proposal that would revamp the Absa Currie Cup into a Top 14 competition in 2007.

There are not 14 professional teams in South African domestic rugby. There are not even eight teams and this season’s Currie Cup competition is proof that there are not six teams of the necessary quality to give credit to the term strength versus strength.

South African rugby, as has been the case for the last century, has five teams and number six will always be the one league soft option for the Bulls, Cheetahs, Lions, Western Province and Sharks. The last round of matches emphasized this point, with the Lions overwhelming the Pumas 89-10, the Sharks toying with the Falcons 48-10 and Western Province using the Griquas 55-17 hit out as a training run in preparation for the weekend’s semi-finals.

The Currie Cup, like most things in South African rugby, is desperate for a commercial plan that maximizes the strength versus strength component, frees up money to keep players in this country and encourages excellence.

Currently, all 14 provincial unions get the same broadcasting deal annual allowance, which is in the region of R8million. If you translate that it means that a union like the Griffons has been given R80 million in the last decade. There has been no return on this handout and it is 80 million that could have been invested in other ways. The Griffons is just one example of many that underlines why full-time professionals should operate the game that is currently governed by elected officials.

The Accenture report of four years ago proposed the shutting down of at least two provinces and the redefining of the other six as semi-professional. The report after a six month audit into the game was conclusive in its finding that 14 provinces were financially draining on the South African Rugby Union. The report recommended a professional structure of six teams, in which your professional player base is between 180 and 200 players and not the current 700-plus players. The report, which cost SARU R3million, was thrown in the bin. For those elected officials at SA Rugby interested in reviewing the report please don’t hesitate in contacting me.

The report, like all things relative to South African rugby, reveals nothing that wasn’t obvious to the passer by. The South African game cannot continue to sustain 14 professional provinces. Nor should any elected officials be allowed to encourage this kind of commercial abuse.

In this weekend’s French club matches Agen beat powerhouse Biarritz. Four South African players, courtesy of the Kolpak ruling that allows South Africans to play as locals, started for Agen. These players are in France because the money is better.

Those decent professional players would not be there if the South African structure was modeled around a 200 player base, in which salaries could be comparable to the European or Japanese market.

The proposal that should be tabled at SARU is the reduction of the Currie Cup from the existing eight teams to a Premier Division of six, with five league double headers and a final between one and two. The sixth team plays the winner of the First Division in a promotion relegation double header (home and away).

Again it is nothing revolutionary. In the circumstances, most would see it as a logical improvement on what was showcased this season.

There has been sustained interest in this year’s Currie Cup because of the strength versus strength format that ensured the top five teams played each other twice. To accommodate all 14 teams in one Premier Division next year would not only defy logic, but show up the decision-making to be motivated by election favours that ensure the provincial presidents continue to operate a professional sport.

There has to be a definitive distinction between what is professional and amateur in this game. Currently there is none and the only people who can change this are the provincial presidents. These guys should be asking themselves what they can do for the game in this country and not what the game can do for them.

They have the power to initiate the right change and leave a legacy that will define South Africa’s professional game in the future. The 14 provincial presidents, abused for their selfishness, can turn the ridicule into rapturous applause by moving aside and allowing paid professional to operate the game – paid professionals who would be accountable for every decision.