Now I realise many folks could not give a hoot about what happens in America, but reflection is never a bad thing in my books. But rather than politics, it had me reflecting on ‘Imagine if South African rugby…’
Imagine if South African rugby could not only productively tap into but also develop the vast talent pool and infrastructure of schoolboy and club rugby this country possess? * Every weekend across South Africa, around 885 clubs affiliated to one of the 14 provincial unions field one or more teams in scores of different leagues. But this isn’t the full picture, for this figure excludes those hundreds of passionate players who play “Sunday league” rugby in places such as the Eastern Cape and North West provinces. That is a minimum of 19 470 players that play the beautiful game on rugby fields of South Africa. This figure excludes the tens of thousands of schoolboys that play in their respective leagues, rugby festivals and national tournaments.
* (Statistics from SA Rugby’s website)
Imagine if South African rugby could make the game available to all South Africans and not just a select, elite few? SABC viewers outnumbered that of DSTV by quite some margin during the Rugby World Cup of 2011 in games where South Africa played. In the Rugby Championship of 2012, a delayed broadcast late at night of the opening game of South Africa vs. Argentina at Newlands SABC recorded a viewership of 1.7 million compared to the 914 000 of SuperSport1 which was showed live. The average Currie Cup television audience per game for 2012 was higher than the average audience for Super Rugby 2012 – not one game of the domestic Currie Cup competition was aired on SABC.
Imagine if South African rugby could tackle the challenge of transformation as something more than a numbers game to score political BEE points with government but rather as a focused, concerted effort to market, develop, and drive programmes in black and coloured communities? It took SA Rugby 7 years to finally get the Eastern Cape into Super Rugby, and even after seven years there is not one shred of evidence that the ‘hotspot of black rugby’ in South Africa has, or will change or assist the racial make-up of the game. After seven years there is close to zero local, black representation for the franchise who is in the process of contracting mercenaries to give them a fighting chance for the competition in a couple of months’ time.
Imagine if South African rugby had the foresight to re-invest in the intellectual property they spent millions of Rands on developing to ensure continuity at national level? Since winning the Rugby World Cup in 1995 South Africa had 7 national coaches 4 of them fired outright with the remaining 3 ‘diplomatically’ told to #$%^ off – including a World Cup winning coach. Not only were the coaches fired, none of their assistants were ever kept on in any capacity.
Imagine if South African rugby had the leadership to guide its 14 unions rather than have the unions dictate matters of national interest to the governing body. South African rugby relies on a voting system not much different from how the ANC president will be voted into power in Mangaung later this year. Those who vote are elected (voted) officials from each of the 14 unions. They then go through a process of politicking to align themselves with partners that best serve their own cause, or from whom they would benefit most. Those who did not support them or helped them (read financed) are usually the ones will end up voting against. Backhands, backstabbing, power, greed are in the order of the day basically where votes are ‘bought’ for ‘favours’. I am forever surprised how so many South Africans can criticize corruption, backroom deals and cadre appointments at national level but simply accept it in our rugby structures which is no different.
Imagine if South African rugby had the business acumen to realise that we drive the sport of rugby in the Southern Hemisphere from a commercial point of view? Rugby as a professional sport is like any company in a money-driven market – it is survival of the fittest or in this case, the richest and most powerful. How the South African rugby administration could not only concede our commercial value on an equal profit split basis with the smaller partners but also be dictated to on how the game is structured and marketed to the world defies belief.
Finally, imagine the day South African rugby elects a leader whose will and drive is not only to keep the peace between the political power mongers but actively drives change and inspires those around him. A leader who is not scared to make the tough decisions and accepts responsibility for his actions and those of his staff. A leader who realises from the outset that his only role is to serve the game of rugby which will always be bigger than those who manage it from time-to-time. A leader who takes rugby forward in this country and is not only happy not to stuff anything up and leave with a clean slate.