Who is responsible for the Kings' chaos?
OPINION: @rugby365 columnist and two-time World Rugby Junior Championship winner Eugene Eloff takes a look at how officials in the Eastern, Southern and Western Cape let the game down.
What happened at the Southern Kings this year – their total collapse – was foreseen in a Nostradamus-like revelation a few years ago.
However, nothing was done about the red flags.
The steps taken by SA Rugby – assuming ‘management control’ in June and recently withdrawing them out of all rugby for the rest of 2020 – had a catastrophic impact on players, coaches and administrators alike.
It was sad to see that the players required counselling and psychological assistance as a result of the trauma and depression in the wake of the announcement last month.
It is discomforting and my sympathy goes out to the players and management.
It begs the question: Who is responsible for and will be accountable for this situation?
There were some sound proposals on the table a few years ago, but the Kings executives ignored and rejected those recommendations.
It could have seen the Kings reclaim their rightful place at the top table in South African rugby.
Sadly, it all came to nought.
Recently a high-profile contingent of former players – including the legend Danie Gerber, China Bell, Elandre van den Berg, Andre Gerber and Andre Ferreira – met with Eastern Province Rugby Union President Andre Rademan.
They shared their concerns about the future of rugby in Port Elizabeth.
This illustrates the passion and love they have for the game and future of rugby in Eastern Cape.
LET’S STEP BACK FOR A MOMENT
It is vital that we don’t allow the breeding ground of young talent in places like the Eastern Cape, Southern Cape and Boland go to waste.
This is where I want to take a step back, to when transformation became the buzzword in the mid-’90s.
The intention of the transformation drive was to ensure all players get equal opportunities and are treated the same.
There is no doubt in my mind that SA Rugby’s brains trust had honourable intentions when they set out those transformation ‘goals’ – now referred to as ‘targets’.
However, despite the ‘measurable goals’, it is questionable that it was a success.
It was an era that gave birth to pernicious terminology such as ‘quota players’ and ‘players of colour’.
As the years rolled by, there was even differentiation between black and coloured players.
Transformation was always unavoidable and essential.
However, until recently, can it truly be described as a success?
When I started coaching at a professional level in 1998, it was a dream come true.
From the outset, I knew it was imperative for me to be part of the transformation and development process for all players.
Personally, I never saw colour. They were great players doing what they do best, playing the game.
We had to adhere to the so-called prescribed ‘quotas’. I saw that as an opportunity and not a threat.
It was easy, because great players were already coming through – with most of them coming from the Eastern Cape and Boland.
It must have been humiliating for players that made teams on merit to be called ‘quota players’, because that fitted into the transformation process and gave certain individuals power.
Looking back at the past 20-odd years, transformation was only partially successful and now, even more so, is failing the players from those regions.
The flip side of the coin is that there were unions that did the bare minimum to adhere to SA Rugby’s prescribed quotas/targets.
This column is not about the politics of the game.
I feel it is time for administrators and leaders to find a solution to the problem.
As we are well aware, unions like Eastern Province, Border, South Western Districts and the Boland are either on the verge or (in some cases) already bankrupt.
It is easy to sling mud and shift blame every time SA Rugby has to bail out a failed union. There is a well-documented pattern repeating itself.
It is not difficult to find the reasons for these failures.
I have come to the conclusion that questionable leadership is at the heart of those collapses.
I am sure there are individuals that can be held accountable.
However, dwelling in the past is not going to solve the problem.
We need a workable solution and fast.
The reality is that we simply can’t afford to lose provinces like EP, Border, SWD and Boland – more importantly, the players that come from those unions and regions.
The majority of the so-called ‘players of colour’ come from those unions.
I am talking about brilliant players that do not necessarily come from big rugby schools. This includes players from smaller schools and rural areas.
There are loads of talent.
We simply can not afford to lose such a quality pool of players.
We need to create a platform and system where they can be identified, developed and have a crack at a professional rugby career or study bursaries post-rugby.
I don’t have all the answers, but maybe now is the time to seriously look at privatising those unions and let them be run like a business by businessmen with rugby knowledge and strong rugby advisory committees.
Alternatively, they should become semi-professional with smaller contract groups.
It also allows for amateur rugby to flourish again. Club rugby is important in a province.
There should be a platform where talented players can be identified and given an opportunity in a semi-professional or professional setup
Let’s fix RUGBY in the Eastern Cape, Southern Cape and Boland.
By Eugene Eloff
* Eugene Eloff is also the Managing Director of Elite Sport Mentorship
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