Kings: The 'residuals' who were betrayed
You can call them the undesirable discards or 'residuals', for the lack of a better vignette.
On November 16, with great fanfare, the Eastern Province Rugby Union – then supposedly still in control of the Southern Kings franchise – announced that they had signed nine players from outside the Eastern Cape region. It included a former Australian age-group star James Hilterbrand.
Then, just a day later, it was revealed that the South African Rugby Union had taken control of the entire franchise (the Southern Kings) – the decision actioned as a result of the on-going cash flow problems at the EPRU, after the President Cheeky Watson contacted SARU boss Oregan Hoskins to ask him to assist.
Then the paw-paw hit the fan. There were meetings, protests, announcements of court action (one player, Michael van Vuuren, went public with his decision), and finally an announcement (this past Sunday, December 13) that 20 players had signed with SARU's new franchise, the Southern Kings South African Rugby (Pty) Ltd.
Only two of the players lured to Port Elizabeth a month earlier were signed by SKSAR/SARU/SARPA – former Pumas and Lions centre Stefan Watermeyer and Bulls flyhalf Louis Fouché.
The other seven were simply left to find their own livelihood, given that their current employer – the EPRU – is effectively bankrupt and has not been able to pay any staff or players their salaries for three months now.
The Kings' supporters club – the EP Kings Army and #red&blackarmy – have started a fund to support players and staff. They have managed to raise over R100,000 so far, including food vouchers.
However, that does not help the 'residuals', the seven players who were lured away from other franchises – in Hilterbrand's case from Edinburgh in Scotland – with promises of a 'bright future' in PE.
There is no doubt these players feel "betrayed", given they made an important decision based on promises made by the administrators of a union (EPRU) and franchise (Kings) that already knew of their dire financial situation.
No doubt they must have been aware how unlikely it was for the 'record sponsorship' to materialise, despite EPRU President Cheeky Watson's public declarations.
How were these players to know they were about to make a move that would leave them unemployed and virtually unemployable, given that all other teams and franchises have already done their recruiting for 2016.
Despite knowing the desperate state of affairs, the Kings' management (the EPRU) kept promising them that all was well and the situation would be resolved.
We all know now it was one big fat lie.
Why unveil the players one day and just a day later announce the SARU bailout? The EPRU brains trust knew exactly what was happening, as it has been confirmed that the 'takeover talks' happened before the EPRU unveiled their 'imports'.
And SARU does not come out of this smelling like roses either.
It is obvious that SARU's concern – given their use of the players' union, SARPA, to do all their 'negotiations' for them – was always to save their own bacon. All that matters for SARU is that a team from the Eastern Cape, or rather based in the Eastern Cape, runs out on February 27.
They made sure they do this in the most cost-effective (read cheapest) way and ensure there is not a breach of contract with SANZAR – which could have resulted in SARU facing a law suit of millions.
The players, the residual imports, have been left, literally, broke and on the street, relying on hand-outs and desperately searching for future employment. There are newly married players among them, with shattered dreams and no idea what the future holds.
No matter what the promises were that lured them to PE, those doors have now been firmly shut in their faces.
Keep in mind these players relocated to Port Elizabeth at great cost – up to ZAR30,000. They have had to fork out monthly rent, about ZAR8,000. In fact in once case a player ran up costs of over ZAR100,000 – which include arrears for a bond on a house, relocation costs and a bank overdraft.
As stated before, it is impossible for these players to secure a livelihood elsewhere. Recruiting for next year has been done and they can only hope for a small opening somewhere when there are long-term injuries or some unforeseen development.
Their contracts, from their previous employers, finished in October and they have no means of an income for the next three months at least.
They are also not being helped by SARPA, despite having paid their membership fees for contract insurance religiously. You can't blame the players if they feel SARPA is just 'covering' for the mess created by SARU's desire to protect themselves.
They have effectively been discarded like broken toys, not worthy of a second-hand shop.
If this all sounds melodramatic, put yourself in their position.
You are lured away from your current employer with promises of a great salary and an opportunity of being part of a new company in one of the biggest industries in your field. You have barely arrived at your new office when you are told the company can't pay you and you have to find your own means of a livelihood.
It is one almighty mess and those in the boardrooms of the EPRU and SARU seem to have no sympathy for the players – as depicted a letter sent to staff and players on Tuesday, December 15.
By Jan de Koning