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Is SARU an unwilling partner?

The problem is not a secret. Very few players will be able to sustain a living after they stop playing. However, the solution seems to be a lot more problematic.

In this, the third and final part of our exclusive interview with Ross van Reenen – following his startling revelations in his recently released book 'FROM LOCKER ROOM TO BOARDROOM' – we take a look at possible solutions to a looming crisis in SA rugby.

The prevailing theme seems to be that the various provincial unions and the South African Rugby Union should play a far more active role in setting up systems to assist the players.

Van Reenen said the current structures in South Africa make it very difficult for players to gain a post-school education or alternative qualifications – which is why they will have problems finding a steady income after they stop playing.

"The biggest problem in SA is not so much that guys don't want to study, because research showed they do want to study," Van Reenen told this website.

"There are no structures in place in South Africa," the former Cheetahs lock said, adding: "That is one of the main reasons why 70 percent of the guys don't study at all and 81 percent of them have no idea what they will do once they stop playing rugby … that is a very big problem."

He is backed up in his view by a number of respected former players.

"It is critical that the provincial unions and SA Rugby [SARU] take responsibility for preparing the players for life after rugby, especially now that guys are contracted straight from school," record-breaking former Springbok captain Gary Teichmann said in the book.

"They [the players] have very little understanding of business and how to manage their income, and programmes should be put in place to address those problems," Teichmann added.

Another player who has a strong opinion about what SARU's role should be is legendary Bok hard man Andre Venter.

"I think where SA Rugby [SARU] is greatly lacking is in advising our professional players how to prepare for and manage their lives once they have stopped playing," Venter is quoted as saying in the book.

"They should teach them about financial planning, make them begin to understand business principles and how to managed a business."

Former Bok prop Ockie Oosthuizen suggested SARU have players sign, as part of their contracts, an addendum committing them to study for some suitable qualification.

Van Reenen revealed that, in conjunction with the South African Rugby Players Association, they are working on a forming a Section 21 company to ensure there are structures in place to look after players.

The Deputy Minister of Sport, Gert Oosthuizen, advised them to rather consider a Trust, but they are still in the infancy stages of planning.

"We do know what the problem is and how enormous the problem is," Van Reenen told this website.

"What we are looking at now is the solution and that is where the SARPA foundation comes into the picture.

"I do believe we must bring the universities and the rugby unions closer together.

"I know that the Bulls have some interaction with Tukkies [University of Pretoria] and some other universities and unions as well, but there has to be much closer co-operation."

In this regard Australasian teams are again the leading light.

The Brumbies are sponsored by the University of Canberra and the players have easy access to getting a better education while playing.

There is a similar set-up with the Crusaders and the University of Canterbury.

"They work very closely together," Van Reenen said, adding: "That is our biggest problem, not so much the unwillingness of players to study, but almost an unwillingness to put structures in place in South Africa.

"I would go as far as saying that SARU and the unions should take responsibility for putting in place the structures to help these players."

Asked if there is some co-operation between SARU, the unions, SARPA and the players, Van Reenen said it remains a major problem.

"I feel that the attitude of unions is lopsidedly aimed at the future. They are too focussed on new talent, the next great flyhalf, or the next big lock, and the guys who are there but approaching the end of their careers are under enormous pressure.

"What came to the fore from our survey is that about 70 percent of all the players who were asked: 'If you get a contract to go abroad now, will you?' They all answered 'yes'.

"That tells me the players don't feel comfortable that in the current situation in SA they can stop playing.

"There is a very small group that gets [the cream] and we know who they are – that is the reality."

Asked if the departure of established Springboks like Jaque Fourie and Fourie du Preez – who turned down offers to play for the Boks – is an indication of how big the problem is, Van Reenen admitted that a lack of security in South Africa played a major role.

"Jaque Fourie and Fourie du Preez are highly inelegant people and they said goodbye to SA, because they have to go earn as much as possible. They knew they would have problems when they retire."

He said even some of the top Springboks are at risk if they have not had good advice from their managers.

"The biggest risk is, how intelligently did they invest their money?

"That is where the idea of mentorship and coaching comes in while they play. There are some very good and highly qualified guys available in South Africa [that can advise these guys].

"There are so many fly-by-nights out there – in many cases agents walk away with the money and the players is left with the mess. That is why it is important how intelligently that player invests his money.

"If he invested well, and he was managed well, he can extend that period.

"However, he also needs financial expertise. He must be able to see, whether he runs a restaurant, or whatever, that he can see when there is a problem. He must understand the financial ratios, that he has a problem with his top line, his profits are not what it should be and what can be done about those.

"The best part of this is that these players have a name, an identity … people know you and you have a high profile – people like doing business with high-profile players, but then those players need to know what they talk about.

"That is why I said there is a very small percentage that can look after themselves after rugby, the rest have enormous problems.

"It has been worked out by the financial experts that if a player wants to not work again after he quits rugby – with the average retirement age for players being 28.35 years – then he needs R30-million [in the bank or invested] to see him through to age 60 or 65.

"Tell me, which player retires with R30-million? Even the top guys don't have that. If you look at the statistic that I mentioned earlier, of the 4.78 percent of players, maybe their money will last some five years, others 10 years. That is why they have to secure additional income.

"I want to use the phrase 'compulsory obsolescence' … the players gets to the stage where he knows, this is the end of the road for me [as a player]. In my thesis, about a second career, I used the phrase: 'It is not to earn a living, but to learn a living'.

"That, learn a living' must become the mantra in South African rugby."

By Jan de Koning

* EDITOR'S FOOTNOTE: To say that this book was an 'eye-opener' would be an understatement. The plight facing professional players is far more dire than the flashy headlines that proclaim their accomplishments on the field. However, I feel this could be a valuable tool to all players, even those at international level, as it could be used as a manual for life. With sage advice from 30 of the country's foremost former players – all high-profile figures that have gone on to establish themselves in the business world after rugby – there is enough for even non players to take from the book. In my opinion, a MUST READ!


Converting rugby talent into business success

Ross van Reenen

Zebra Press/Random House Struik


ISBN 978-177022-331-8


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