Thoughts 4 Everything’s Broken

Isn’t the mindset produced by a holiday an amazing thing? You always come back to the mundane existence of everyday life thinking positive thoughts and expecting the world to have changed while you are away.

After two weeks away from my trusty PC, the TV set and my PVR – a total break from the game of rugby except for infrequent text updates on my misbegotten mobile phone and the odd moment watching fleeting highlights packages on someone else’s TV, I come back thinking every thing will be roses.

Nope, it is not, everything is pretty much as broken as it was before I left. The country’s politicians continue to squabble and spout fountains of hot air and opprobrium over the actions of a “misguided and misunderstood” president. (His words, not mine!) The garbage collectors are still on strike, the uncollected heaps of rotting waste are just bigger than they were two weeks ago. The economy is still at a standstill, and everybody blames everybody else for everything that happens in their lives. (Once again, our president!)

More to the point, South African Rugby is still a mess, a complete  Buggers’ Muddle. There can be no other way of describing the administrative and political chaos that is South African Rugby. Rugby suffers from the same malaise that infects every other aspect of South African life – a maze of intrigue, self-interest, jealousy, personal agendas, misguided aggression, and a total lack of commitment to the good of the game itself.

Is there any other country in the world where the national team faces an incoming tour by one of the top rugby sides from the northern hemisphere, and the team still does not have a national coach?? The hunt for a new Bok coach has been a process shrouded in mystery and all manner of official obfuscation, to say the least.

We were told the new coach would be announced in December 2015. That date was then postponed to early in 2016. It is now April 2016 and just a few short weeks away from an incoming tour by the Irish and then the Rugby Championships loom – and still no Bok coach. What is going on at the top of our game?

We were told that Rassie Erasmus, our national director of rugby,  has decided to leave South Africa to coach abroad. We are told that Erasmus made the decision after becoming disillusioned with the political infighting between the various provincial union presidents, and the tug of war between SARU president Oregan Hoskins and CEO Jurie Roux.

Eminent rugby brains Nick Mallett and Brendan Venter have both indicated that they are no longer available to act as selectors for the national team. Whatever their public reasons there can be no doubt that they must also have been aware of, and influenced by the rugby politics involved in any job with a national profile.

The President of the South African Rugby Union, Oregan Hoskins is at odds with his CEO, Jurie Roux, who is facing some fairly serious legal issues resulting from financial irregularities at his previous place of employment. We are told by Mr Hoskins that Roux was appointed into the most senior full time, paid position in South African Rugby, without any member of the SARU board actually having interviewed him!

Something very serious is broken at the very top level of rugby administration in South Africa. The wheels have come off and nobody seems to have any idea how to replace them. Even more worrying, nobody seems to care! The national agenda is completely subservient to a plethora of personal agendas.

Let’s dig a little deeper.

South Africa is, without the shadow of a doubt, one of the world’s powerhouse nurseries for rugby players. The country seems to have a production line that pumps out superb rugby talent. Big ones, little ones, fast ones, slow ones, they just keep on coming.

With that kind of raw material this country should be unstoppable on the rugby field. The Springboks should be the most feared opponents of every rugby nation, the team they least want to see in their pool at a Rugby World Cup.

Sadly, South African Rugby is often, at best, the Number Two side in the world, frequently dropping even lower in the rankings. The conveyor belt spews out talented youngsters; the hugely competitive and increasingly professional schools’ rugby system nurtures them and grows them. Youth rugby structures improve the quality of the players even further, and then they step up into the senior leagues.

This is where it all seems to go wrong. We can discuss this issue at some other time, it is purely a rugby issue and not related to today’s discussion about rugby’s politics. Suffice to say that there are some 650 South African rugby players playing professional rugby outside the borders of the country. These players are playing at a fairly senior level too – these are not simply youngsters touring the world with a back-pack and a pair of rugby boots looking for a game on Saturday. These are all players who are being paid to play the game.

Imagine, if you can, the strength of South African rugby if those 650 players were back in this country playing club, varsity, provincial, and franchise level rugby!

Based purely on the production line of talent that South Africa produces, the country should be riding the crest of the rugby wave. The South African rugby world should be a bed of roses.

Yet, South African Rugby is a fractured mess. The entire management structure of the game is a squabbling, fractious, muddle of private agendas. The in-fighting and backstabbing, the private agendas and vendettas within the game are legendary. The famous Dallas TV soapie was built on the identical theme we find in South Africa rugby. The difference is that one was a fantasy, the other is not!

Let me emphasize that this fractious mess is not the fault of the players. There are many who play the game for the love of rugby. Talented youngsters continue to pour into the system. Some get lost in the vastness of the big franchises, hooked by a seemingly lucrative contract and then buried in the development structures and teams. Natural talent is suppressed as youngsters are remodeled to suit the franchise style of play. Some might fight their way through the system, but a huge proportion of them promptly leave the country to ply their professional trade elsewhere. These are purely rugby issues and need to be addressed in a different forum.

It is the administrators and rugby politicians who are at the root of the mess that is South African rugby.

Those with the agendas are to be found amongst the administrative classes. The 14 directors of SARU are as disunited and dysfunctional as the Republicans and Democrats in US politics.

The SARU President, Oregan Hoskins seems invisible and hugely indecisive at a time when rugby is crying out for a strong leader with a vision and a mission. He initially supported his CEO, Jurie Roux, when the rumour of financial mismanagement at Stellenbosch University first reared it’s ugly head. Latterly he has turned against Roux and wants him suspended until the issue with Stellenbosch has been resolved.

One would suggest that Mr Roux’s position as CEO must be under threat and that his hold on the job is tenuous at best. Not so, he has not even hinted at stepping aside, even temporarily, and seems to have garnered a lot of support from some of South Africa’s provincial unions. They want him to stay. We are not told why! Private agendas at play, perhaps?

How very similar to the position of a certain discredited and corrupt state president and a number of high profile politicians we could name! If our national leaders do not step aside when caught with their fingers in the till, lying about academic qualifications and abusing public funds, or when misleading their employers (the voting public) why should anybody in a paid position in the corporate world feel the need to resign if they have followed the example of our leaders?

Mr Hoskins is not secure in his job either – we are told that the knives have been sharpened amongst a number of the smaller unions who want to depose him at the earliest opportunity. Yet more private agendas at play.

Let me hasten to add that this fractious civil war we call South African Rugby is nothing new. It has been an historical mess.

If we look back to the time when rugby was a political football used by the politicians of the old National Party to bolster the myth of South African invincibility while refusing to allow players of any colour other than lily white to represent the country. Nothing has changed! Those politicians of yore even attempted to influence the sports selection policies of visiting countries, from preventing Maoris playing for New Zealand to questioning the selection of Basil D’Olivera for England cricket and suggesting that his inclusion in the team was a deliberate attempt to embarrass the South African Government.

Numerous attempts were made to unseat the Grand Old Man of South African rugby, Dr Danie Craven, simply because he was not a member of the Broederbond and thus politically unreliable.

Those days might be consigned to history, but the fractious nature of rugby politics endured.

Subsequent to Danie Craven’s death in 1992 Mr Ebrahim Patel took over as acting President of SARFU. He was succeeded by one of the more notorious proponents of self-interest and dispensers of patronage in the history of sport, Dr Louis Luyt.

Louis Luyt is best known as the boorishly feisty and divisive South African rugby boss who fell out with the rest of the rugby world, his own players and with Nelson Mandela, yet somehow retained the support of most of the smaller rugby unions! Dr Luyt, as the president of the South African Rugby Football Union, did not exactly have what could be described as an inclusive leadership style. He did have close ties with the ruling National Party and, allegedly, the Broederbond.

He was no stranger to controversy in his private, business, and sporting life. We will focus only on his sporting activities.

Elected to head up SARFU in 1994, he immediately became mired in controversy as he fired the springbok coach, Ian MacIntosh and attempted to fire the team manager, Jannie Engelbrecht. (Englebrecht eventually left of his own accord.)

When he took over the old Transvaal Rugby Union after the demise of Jannie le Roux, Luyt set about restructuring the union and the way it did business. Patronage became the watchword. Nepotism was not far behind. His son was appointed Marketing Manager of the union and earned a good salary as well as a finder’s fee on all sponsorships he brought in, in addition he earned a commission on all advertising he sold. Luyt’s daughter somehow won the bid for the restaurant overlooking the southern goal posts at Ellis Park, and his wife apparently obtained a concession to supply liquor to the private suites around Ellis Park.

The union’s constitution was amended to include a provision that nobody could become president of the union until they had served a specified number of consecutive years as a vice president. With the assistance of a number of the junior clubs he then ensured that anyone who was reaching the required number of years to be able to oppose him for election would be voted out for a year, and thus being disqualified from opposing him because of the “consecutive years of service” clause! The junior clubs were firmly in his pocket as he ensured that they would receive ample financial assistance from the union if they danced to his pipes.

When he took over as the President of the South African Rugby Football Union, he made similar arrangements with many of the smaller unions, ensuring that no opponent from any of the big unions would have a chance to unseat him. He was the absolute master of the “divide and rule” system of governance.

Controversy continued to reign supreme whilst Luyt was in charge. After the 1995 World Cup victory he became embroiled in a fight with the Springbok team about money. He dumped Morne du Plessis as team manager and in 1996 his new coach Andre Markgraaf promptly dumped the iconic skipper of the World Cup winning team, Francois Pienaar, from the Bok squad. Pienaar had stood on Dr Luyt’s sensitive toes during contract negotiations for the Bok team. Not a good idea when a vindictive man was involved!

At the end of 1995 some decisions were taken at SARFU level, prompted by Dr Luyt, that still ruffle the feathers of some of those who were involved. The first such decision was to autocratically reduce the number of rugby playing provinces from 22 to 14. 8 provinces were unceremoniously dumped from the SARFU roster and excluded from competitions. The likes of Stellaland, Far Northern Transvaal, and others were simply wiped from the history books.

This was not the first time Dr Luyt had summarily disposed of rugby entities. Back in the Transvaal he had also swept away some of the 1st and 2nd division clubs in similarly dictatorial manner. Old clubs such as Union and Jeppe were simply wiped off the books.

Dr Luyt and his acolytes had their merry way with South African Rugby. One of Luyt’s ardent supporters, Springbok coach, André Markgraaff was forced to resign after damaging tapes were released in which he was recorded making remarks of a racist nature.

Carel du Plessis was appointed coach in Markgraaf’s place. Du Plessis had no previous experience as a rugby coach. He had not even coached a school rugby team!  He did not last a full year before he was replaced by Nick Mallett.

And so it continued. Coaches were fired by fax message, the Springbok PRO was fired by fax, coaching assistants were unceremoniously dumped, and anyone who dared argue found themselves in a whole heap of trouble.

In October of 1997 Dr Luyt went too far.  Under his leadership SARFU challenged the validity of the government’s inquiry into rugby. The straw the broke the camel’s back was Dr Luyt’s insistence that President Nelson Mandela be summonsed to court to explain his thinking in sanctioning the inquiry. It was a truly horrible time for rugby.

Louis Luyt and SARFU might have won the case, but it signaled the end of Louis Luyt as President of SARFU. A motion of no-confidence in him was tabled at the next SARFU general meeting and he was badly mauled. He resigned on 10 May 1998, to be replaced as president by Silas Nkanunu.

The departure of Dr Luyt from the throne of rugby power did not change things much.

Although SARFU, under the leadership of Silas Nkanunu did not get involved in too many accusations of corruption and nepotism, it simply bumbled along until 2003, when a fellow named Brian van Rooyen decided to stand for President. He had a history of back-room dealings and was known for having taken on Dr Luyt in a challenge for the Transvaal Rugby Union presidency in 1996, losing badly. He was only able to garner 3 out of a possible 55 votes as Dr Luyt showed his worth as an astute politician and hard man, holding clubs to ransom and calling in favours left right and centre.

Van Rooyen had learned from his encounter with Luyt and was far better prepared for the 2003 SARFU presidential election. He had spent much time, effort, and money lobbying the smaller provincial unions and had secured the backing of 11 of the 14 unions represented at the meeting. Nkanunu read the writing on the wall, stepped aside, and Van Rooyen took over as President unopposed.

The shenanigans started almost immediately. Within weeks of assuming office in 2004 Van Rooyen emerged as a highly polarising figure in South African rugby, with accusations of financial irregularities, favouritism, and general mismanagement. His management style was also widely perceived as autocratic. Another Louis Luyt in the making.

By 2006 South African Rugby had enough of Brian van Rooyen and he was deposed, replaced by Oregan Hoskins, the current President.

Van Rooyen was charged with 11 counts of contravention of the South African Rugby Union’s Code of Conduct. Mr Justice Joos Hefer presided at the hearing and found that Van Rooyen was guilty as charged on 6 of the 11 counts.

He was barred from serving in any capacity on the general council or committees of the renamed South African Rugby Union (Saru).

Van Rooyen has gone, and now we have Oregan Hoskins in charge.

And the mess continues.

Hoskins himself has been involved in a number of controversies.

Soon after being appointed as President of SARU, he commented that there was an anti-South African bias in world rugby. He specifically accused Australian and New Zealand referees saying “Australia and New Zealand need to look at their referees when it comes to games involving South Africa. There is a genuine bias against South African teams.” This did not endear him to his fellow directors of SANZAR.

Hoskins and his administrators also constantly clashed with the national coach, Jake White.

White was famously summonsed back to South Africa from a tour in the northern hemisphere to explain the team’s poor performances.  After having led South Africa to the country’s second world cup victory, White was informed by the administration that he was expected to apply to retain his position as coach. White did not need to reapply as it was clearly stated in his contract that he need not reapply.

Hoskins commented on the dispute, saying that “Jake was seen as someone who was never prepared to give the whole story and relied on public sentiment after the World Cup to support his cause as a martyr… The unfortunate thing is that Jake is now portrayed as the victim and the council as a bunch of idiots who just did not like him after we won the World Cup.”

There is truth in the fact that a number of rugby administrators wanted White out, despite his victory at the World Cup, and it appears that Hoskins himself was one of those administrators. This was personal, and had nothing to do with rugby itself.

Yet another controversy involving Hoskins was the selection of Luke Watson for the 2007 World Cup team. The Bok selectors (Jake White, Peter Jooste and former Bok coach Ian Macintosh), had submitted a list of 45 players to the South African Rugby Union for approval. Without the selectors being consulted and without their knowledge, Watson was added to the list as a 46th player by SARU President Hoskins, fellow SARU executive council member Koos Basson, and Springbok team manager Zola Yeye.

It was later revealed that Hoskins and other members of SARU’s Board had approached White and his selectors a week earlier and attempted to influence the make-up of the 2007 RWC squad.

Hoskins was also criticized for his failure to attend the homecoming of the 2007 World Cup winning team when it arrived home bearing the trophy, as well as his decision not to appear on the field and podium when his team received the trophy after the final. It has been suggested that these two noted absences were due to Hoskins’ rift with coach Jack White.

We can gloss over most of Mr Hoskins time as President except to highlight a few of the major controversies he has been involved in.

The Eastern Cape based Super Kings is the glaring example. First they were promised a spot in the Super 15 competition, regardless of merit or financial support, and at the expense of one of the bigger franchises. Then they were told that they would have to wait, they squealed and then they were in again, at the expense of the Lions from Johannesburg. One of the richest franchises was dumped from the competition and replaced by one of the minnows, all to satisfy certain rugby administrators and a couple of politicians.

The Kings only lasted a year before the Lions took back their rightful slot in the competition.

The Super Kings have been mired in controversy since day one. Accusations and evidence of financial mismanagement are in the public record. The treatment of contracted players is a disgrace to South African rugby as a whole. The promises and undertakings that were made, and then broken are legion. Nepotism has again reared it’s ugly head. The national political card is played with aplomb, and the race card is often flashed from the sleeve

Most recently Mr Hoskins has been seen to be dithering over what to do about Jurie Roux.

Under Hoskins’ watch we have lost a couple of premier coaches too. John Mitchell is coaching in the USA after what he described as “a vendetta” against him in South Africa when both Oregan Hoskins and the Lion’s Kevin de Klerk allegedly intervened when he was short-listed as a candidate for the Stormers coaching spot.

John Plumtree was unceremoniously dumped by the Sharks in the early days after John Smit took over, noone knows whether Hsoins had any input in this saga.

Back to the Jurie Roux case – it has been revealed that Roux’s lawyer in the misappropriation case, a certain Frikkie Erasmus, is also pocketing cash through a merchandising deal done with SARU. Erasmus is the director of a company which is selling sports nutrition products to SARU. These products – called BokPulse – are used by a number of the Springbok teams is also sold in gyms and health stores. The products bear the Springbok logo on the labeling, a privilege for which licensees pay a pretty penny, Erasmus however, has to date not paid a cent for the use of the logo. According to SARU, that licensing fee will only be paid when Erasmus’ company starts turning a profit!

This is a Gupta-like arrangement if ever there was one.

Interesting too that Mr Erasmus has also represented SARU as well as its head of rugby Rassie Erasmus in legal matters. Cronyism or not?

Think on some more rugby scandals:

We have had Rudolf Straueli and Kamp Staaldraad, as well as the Geo Cronje/Quinton Davids affair.

Nick Mallett was fired for having the temerity to suggest ticket prices for test matches were too high.

It is deeply concerning that South African rugby and South African sport is in the hands of people who have done little to show any sort of integrity.

There is more. Mr Hoskins and his fellow Board members do not think they are answerable to the public at large. In this whole sordid saga involving Roux, SARU seem to have completely forgotten that, as a public organisation, they are accountable not just to those in their organisation, but to all South Africans.

SARU have treated its stakeholders with contempt and continue to get off scot-free.

South African rugby is a multi-million rand business and cannot afford the sort of nepotism and favouritism that is a traditional “strength” of our administrators. We are severely constrained because of the structural weakness in South African rugby that sees the 14 directors from all the provinces, some of them dinosaurs from the Luyt era, running the game, rather than an executive of professional experts.

The game of rugby is sacrificed on the altar of personal egos and agendas.

None more so than our Currie Cup competition.


A Glittering Prize – Broken:

The South African Currie Cup used to be the world’s premier domestic rugby competition. A glittering example of the best of the best of provincial rugby. The prestige of a Currie Cup winner’s medal counted almost as much as selection for a national representative side. Currie Cup rugby was the stuff of legends.

And now?

Sadly, it is broken!

The sponsor-less, re-formatted competition starts this week amidst yet more confusion and obfuscation by our rugby administrators.

Instead of the country’s premier rugby competition featuring the best against the best, we have a revamped competition that has been sacrificed to the rugby political power of the smaller unions.

The first phase of the tournament sees all 14 unions plus Namibia participating in the “new” Currie Cup. The top unions, those with Super Rugby franchises and thus still have Super Rugby commitments, are forced to participate with, in essence, their “second” teams.  (In reality their fourth teams. Skim off the 45 or so layers contracted to Super Rugby, and you are looking at the fourth or fifth level of players representing the province.)

There is no doubt that this year’s Currie Cup has not been thought through properly and it has resulted in the denigration of this once prestigious tournament.

To say that this year’s Currie Cup is watered down is a dramatic understatement. A glittering prize, sacrificed to the political expedience of smaller union votes.

Once again, the administrators have shown themselves to be as spineless as a jellyfish!