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The vehicle will run out of fuel

The perception is that South African rugby is littered with cash-flush millionaires. It is a delusion perpetuated by the hype surrounding a few top players.

That income stream can reduce to a trickle or even dry up altogether very quickly.

As one former player so aptly put it: "It is a vehicle that could run out of fuel."

Ross van Reenen, the author of the recently released book 'FROM LOCKER ROOM TO BOARDROOM', said not even all the top unions are financially stable.

While the five Super Rugby franchises will pay most of their players decent salaries, the picture is not so rosy for the rest.

There are some who literally live from month to month.

Van Reenen, a Currie Cup winner and veteran of more than 60 games for the Free State in the amateur era, told this website in an exclusive interview that it is not just the smaller unions that have financial problems.

And this situation affects the income potential of many players.

"There is this perception that all rugby players earn millions and nothing could be further from the truth," Van Reenen said.

"I would go as far as saying that as many as 75 percent of South Africa's players earn less than R25,000 a month.

"That is why such a high percentage of players will have a major problem when they stop playing."

There are well documented cases of smaller unions, such as the SWD Eagles, where players were threatening to go on strike after their salaries weren't paid, while costly litigation in the High Court between officials were further depleting the organisation's financial resources. As a result they lost the services of senior players like Bevan Fortuin, Shaun Raubenheimer, Jacques Engelbrecht, Henry Grimes, Sinethemba Zweni, Bobby Joubert, Wikus Harmse and Jandré Blom.

They struggled along with amateurs and semi-professional players, most of whom had to hold down day-time jobs to pay their bills.

Another prime example is the Border Bulldogs, who in 2005 operated on a monthly budget of R420,000. However, by 2009 that had already dropped to a mere R200,000.

The most high-profile example is the Golden Lions Rugby Union, who under the guidance of President Kevin de Klerk, instituted a painful procedure of administrative restoration and rightsizing. This followed their public fall-out with an equity partner, Guma TAC.

"It is no secret that the smaller unions in South Africa have enormous financial problems," Van Reenen told this website.

"Even at a few of the bigger unions the financial situation is not as sound as it should be.

"For me it is about what happens with these young guys, what happens once he retires.

"That is why I feel they have to get some qualification … you don't have to become a doctor or lawyer, but do something.

"[You can do] a marketing degree, or something."

He said most players have some idea of what they want to do.

"[In a recent survey by SARPA] 45 percent of the players said they want some entrepreneurs qualification, 36 percent said they want some marketing qualification.

"It is not that difficult to get some basic qualification behind your name, so that you know you can go to a company with some marketing qualifications or basic financial expertise … or basic computer programme.

"These are not courses that takes five, six years – they are readily available."

Many former players also offer handy advice to the current crop in Van Reenen's book.

Francois Pienaar, captain of the World Cup-winning 1995 Springbok team, said players can get some valuable lessons from the game that they can apply to life after rugby.

"For me the university of life has been the university of rugby, and it has taught me many valuable lessons, because the values so inherent within the game apply equally to every walk of life," Pienaar said.

"Rugby has shown me that you only take out of any situation whatever you have put in. Take my word for it. That's the fact."

More sage advice come from former Springbok prop Eddie Andrews, who warned players about how short their shelve-life can be in the game.

"Rugby is played for only a small period of your life," Andrews said.

"It was never intended to define you as an individual. It is best used as catalyst to improve your quality of life socially, emotionally and financially.

"I strongly encourage you to use it just for what it is – a vehicle that could run out of fuel, need repairs and eventually be beyond repair."

Another former player worth listening to is Andre Vos.

He feels modern players are "sort of forced to keep on playing; they are afraid to stop".

"All they know is rugby. And when they hang up their boots, it is a huge shock to the system. Now they have to start all over."

By Jan de Koning

* In Part Three of our exclusive interview with Ross van Reenen, and the ongoing review if his book, we look at what the experts suggest what solutions there are and what the role of SARU and the provincial unions should be.

* 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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