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Steyn-gate: SARU closer to the truth

To paraphrase Neil Armstrong: "One small step for Frans Steyn, one giant leap for the South African Rugby Union."

Yes, we took a giant leap towards the truth that lies behind the reasons for Frans Steyn's abrupt and kenspeckle departure from the Springbok team this week.

On Tuesday SARU revealed that Steyn was released from the Bok squad "at his own request".

That sparked a media frenzy, with wide-ranging reports and opinions – some close to the bone and other articles being somewhat economical with the truth.

However, the reports caused more than just the proverbial 'flutter' at SARU headquarters.

It forced a very brutal bit of honesty out of the national controlling body.

While SARU denied reports that it had reneged on a contractual promise made to Steyn, which led to his walk-out from the Bok camp in Durban this week, SARU Chief Executive Jurie Roux admitted money is at the heart of the matter.

That reality was contained in an opinion piece done by rugby365 earlier this week.

"I can confirm that there was a dispute over mechanisms by which one element of Frans' Springbok remuneration was to be paid," Roux said in a very carefully-worded statement on Thursday.

Roux continued tiptoeing his way through the minefield that Steyn-gate has become, speaking about some "minor details" that remain to be sorted out.

And while the SARU boss feels they are not of such a scale as to be a cause for a major upheaval, it still leaves several other questions unanswered.

Given that Steyn was, in August last year, listed among Springboks who were awarded "long-term national contracts" – which will supposedly see them remain in South Africa until the end of 2015 – I would like to pose a few questions to SARU:

1. Does there exist a written contract between Frans Steyn and SARU, and if so, is either side in breach of this contract at present?

2. Were there indeed any (verbal or written) undertakings made to Frans Steyn by any member of the SARU or the Bok team management when he was lured back from France in 2012? (Steyn's father, Piet, was quoted in media reports claiming that SARU reneged on promises. SARU, of course deny this. My information suggests the former is closer to the truth than the latter)

3. What is the situation with Steyn's image rights, being held by a third party in France? Is payments (or SARU's failure to honour them) perhaps at the heart of (or part of) the breakdown in trust ?

4. Is there a dispute over which Tests Steyn will/can play before and after he heads to Japan in August?

Given that SARU stated on Thursday they have an agreement with players in respect of the rights of both employer and employee not to publicly discuss any contractual situation, I don't expect any answers soon.

However, it we keep asking questions, then maybe we can force SARU to take another giant leap and let us deeper into the sanctum sanctorum of South African rugby before the sorry saga derails the Springbok campaign entirely.

Given Bok coach Heyneke Meyer's public support for Steyn, and the backing he has of his teammates, this off-the-field sideshow certainly has the potential to inhibit their performances.

For the record, here are the SARU statements on Steyn-gate – in full:

Part One:

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Frans Steyn released from Springbok camp    

Frans Steyn was released from the Springbok squad at his own request on Tuesday and will not appear in Saturday's match against Wales at Kings Park, Durban.

The player advised SARU officials that he did not wish to be considered for the June Tests.

"The environment in the Springbok squad is fantastic and I would like to state categorically that my relationship with Heyneke Meyer, the rest of the management and my team-mates is very good," said Steyn.

Steyn – who is expected to take up a contract in Japan at the end of Super Rugby Series – said that he wished for time to reflect on his Springbok future. He indicated he would be available for the Sharks once the June internationals are completed.

"I have spoken at length to Frans and we are happy to accede to his request," said Jurie Roux, CEO of the South African Rugby Union (SARU).

"He has asked for some time to consider his international playing future and we must respect that. Let me make it clear that he has not retired from international rugby, but he has requested a break from it."

Roux added that Steyn had asked for privacy at this time.

"This is not an ideal situation, but, in other instances, sudden player absences through injury are not uncommon and I'm sure Heyneke and the selectors will adapt to his unavailability. Frans is now out of the squad and team management will respect his wish for privacy by not speculating on his decision or his likely return."

Part Two:

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Statement from SARU on Frans Steyn's withdrawal from the Springbok squad

Jurie Roux, CEO of the South African Rugby Union, said: "In light of media coverage following Frans' request to leave the Springbok squad, we have been placed in a very difficult position.

"We have an agreement with players in respect of the rights of both employer and employee not to publicly discuss any contractual situation and I will not breach that. However, allegations have been made that affect the reputation of the South African Rugby Union and Frans Steyn as an employee and person and they cannot go unchallenged.

"It is alleged that SARU breached a promise to Frans in terms of his contract. I can confirm that there was a dispute over mechanisms by which one element of Frans' Springbok remuneration was to be paid. That issue was addressed. Some minor details remain to be sorted out, but they are not of such a scale as to be a cause for a major upheaval.

"Out of respect for Frans' wishes, whatever other considerations may have been on his mind are not for me to discuss.

"I look forward to his return to playing in the near future in Super Rugby as he has been a good servant to the Springboks and his franchise"

By Jan de Koning


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