MARK KEOHANE, in his Business Day newspaper column, writes that the story of the Kings should be about hope and not ridicule.
The South African Rugby Union has never believed in the Eastern Cape as anything but an irritation to professional rugby but also a corporate cash cow in the name of development.
If any within the current administration refutes this then I challenge them to publicly apologise to the region for the way in which entry to Super Rugby was finalised and to apologise for making the Kings hated among a certain sector of provincial South African fan because they replaced a South African team, in the form of the Lions.
Saru’s apathy to the Eastern Cape needs to consistently be challenged. It has always been this way since professionalism in 1996. Saru, when convenient, uses the Eastern Cape as the missing link to a rugby rainbow nation but those with the responsibility within Saru have never had the heart and intent to make it the link. Instead all love for the Eastern Cape has been commercially and politically motivated.
It is disgusting. It has always been disgusting. It won’t easily change.
The Kings, on Super Rugby entry, should have been the good-news story of unity. It should have been fully endorsed because in a united rainbow nation it is very necessary to have a team from within the Eastern Cape in Super Rugby’s biggest southern hemisphere tournament. The Kings, representative of rugby in the Eastern Cape, should have been the missing link to show the game has finally transformed, not in black playing numbers, but by way of the thinking among administrators, supporters and the media in South Africa.
The backlash, resentment and resistance to the Kings suggests there is more than one link missing in a united South Africa and a united South African rugby structure.
Equally disturbing is how so many supporters refuse to see the significance of the Eastern Cape within the context of a healthy professional South African rugby international presence.
The administration has never surprised me. They have neither the intellectual capital nor the charisma (as individuals or a collective) to inspire. The game’s growth needs pioneers and instead the conveyer belt only produces pensioners, if not by age then certainly by way of enthusiasm and aspiration.
The administration of South African rugby has allowed for an emotional distaste for the Kings among supporters that is misplaced.
The Kings have not replaced the Lions in Super Rugby. They were given introduction to the tournament in place of the South African team that has been the worst performer in Super Rugby in 2012. Not historically, but only this year.
The Lions supporters really have to blame their players, coaches and the Lions administration that the Lions were the ones to make way. The Lions were the architects of their own demise, however temporary it may be.
Saru’s leadership, throughout the last year, have allowed for the resentment from those supporters to fester into something ugly. Not once has a voice within Saru preached perspective and done it with conviction. The platitudes have been that the Kings would play Super Rugby because it was best for South African rugby; that the decision was about transformation and had to be made.
What a cop out.
Transformation is in the way we should be thinking, not in how many black friends we have or how many black players the provincial or regional or national coach selects.
Transformation should be about the right kind of change and not change for the sake of change.
The Kings, as an entity, should have reflected the change of thinking in South African rugby but it has only reinforced how little has changed in the thinking within the game in this country.
Alan Solomons, formerly as EP head coach and now director of rugby, has done an unrivalled job with the EP Kings when you unemotionally consider what he has transformed about Eastern Province rugby in the last four years.
Those who disagree with me will do so on emotion and by way of not having been privy to the transformation, as a rugby entity, from four years ago.
Before you rant and accuse me of being on the Kings payroll, take a drive or get on bus, train or plane and sit with Solomons and do your own analysis of what has been achieved over the last four years.
There is so much vitriol aimed at the Kings because of Saru’s refusal to endorse change and absolute conviction that Sanzar would accommodate a sixth South African team.
The vitriol should be at those who govern our game, not the Kings, who on Saturday won the Currie Cup First Division in a titanic struggle against the Pumas.
To borrow from an American president, those within South African rugby should ask not what the Kings can do for them but more what Saru, as the custodians of the game in this country, could have done for the Kings.
Currently they have done nothing but set them up for Super Rugby failure and sadly they’ve hoodwinked so many supporters to embrace the prospect of this failure because they’ve made the Kings the bad guy, the Lions the fall guy and stood tall as the good guy.
Think about it …