Unfortunately I don’t think so. History (as Rassie touched on when he chatted to Gavin Rich) at this union suggests that nothing will change where on-field results will take a backseat to political agendas being pushed from inside the corridors of WP Rugby HQ.
In speaking out, Erasmus said that the top brass at WP would be best served to re-evaluate their criteria for appointing the next top coaching boss at Newlands, because as things stand what is required is not a person employed on his rugby and coaching ability, but rather someone who can deal efficiently with politics.
The statement itself is a shocking indictment of the state of affairs in South Africa’s biggest union and just how badly matters have deteriorated over the last decade.
Any professional organization at any level has to create a culture of excellence amongst all its members if it has any hope to succeed. Even if you only have one or two disruptive figures in such an environment you stand a chance to derail any possible measure of success you hope to achieve.
Not only did Erasmus state this quite clearly to be the case, but understanding the inner workings of WP Rugby one can easily see how this situation is amplified ten-fold.
In an ‘open letter to fans’ WP Rugby went to great lengths to explain the structure of the union.
“The Western Province Rugby Football Union is governed by an eleven member executive council and the CEO of the WPRFU. This council is elected biennially by the 90 clubs which make up the constituents of the WPRFU union.
“To give further clarity to this structure it is important to note that the WPRFU has two arms, the one being the amateur arm and the other the professional arm. The professional arm is a division of WPRFU and is defined as WP Rugby (Pty.ltd). This is a separate company of which the WPRFU is a 75% shareholder.
“The WP Rugby (Pty.ltd) is responsible for the contracting and administration of the professional players and the commercialisation of the game.”
What the above basically illustrates is that the professional arm – which contracts players, coaches and support staff like Erasmus – is 75% owned by the amateur arm made up of 11 executive council members and a CEO which the 90-odd clubs within the union elects into power.
As is the case with any election process, candidates try to gain support for themselves be embarking on political campaigns in which there can be no doubt that a lot of promises are being made to clubs to secure their votes.
Where this game becomes dangerous is when the influence of the elected officials is of such a nature that it has a direct effect on the professional matters of the organization in delivering those promises – as is the case within WP Rugby.
This is not to say that clubs should not have any influence within the union because their survival and contribution to the professional structures of the organization is vital, but you simply cannot have a situation where unqualified club officials are contracted professionally to the union as coaching and support staff ahead of experienced individuals – and in Erasmus’ case, against his will and even knowledge!
The situation within WP Rugby union probably best illustrates how the game of rugby is struggling to come to terms with professionalism. If the professional arm of a union is responsible for the commercialisation of the game and brand of the union (according to the open letter from WP Rugby), which no doubt includes on-field success and trophies, then you cannot entertain any thoughts of favouritism or nepotism, but only allow the best qualified individuals to run matters. In short, it is not a place for amateurs with personal, political agendas.
In his parting words Erasmus also offered some very sage advice not only to the union, but to its fans. As much as people blame coaches for not selecting local club players they also need to understand that players these days are contracted at school level on junior contracts to the highest bidder, where the geographical location of that school has little to do where that individual may end up. This makes the contracting of club players to professional ranks the exception rather than the rule.
This all begs the question that if clubs, in the professional era contributes very little directly the to the professional structures of the union, how do they end up owning, and basically running, 75% of the professional arm?
This is possibly the best quote to end this column and it comes from Rassie Erasmus;
“When I took the job my predecessor Nick Mallett wished me luck and said I would need it. I didn’t know what he meant by that, but I do now.”
I can only conclude the same thing many has mentioned before, it is about time stakeholders and specifically supporters of the game catch a wake-up and realize how professionalism has changed the game of rugby because if they don’t, nothing will change.