Tackling Elitism in SA Rugby

By: Sarah Boomgaard 

Transformation has always been a contentious issue in South African Rugby. It was once again the centre of conversation in April when the Minister Mbalula suspended SARU and other national sports bodies’ right to host or bid for international events. This was followed by an immediate outcry from the public. The usual debates regarding quotas, transformation and racism ensued. This is the nature of the rugby watching public of South Africa. It’s a never ending cycle of “players of colour need to be better represented at national level”, “players should be picked on merit”, “quotas are racist.” The debate has stagnated.  Everyone has grown tired of it, yet nobody wants to provide a solution – better still, nobody wants to discuss the underlying causes.

People are very quick to say that politics should not be involved in sports. Yet the very reason we are in this positon today is because politics had corrupted our sports for decades. It is well known that South Africans of colour were not legally allowed to represent the Springboks. However, people are quick to forget that inability to represent one’s country was not the only manner in which sports were affected by the Apartheid regime. Due to legislation like the Group Areas Act, coloured and black people interested in furthering their skills in rugby and other sports, were unable to access top level facilities and training grounds that would enable them to become truly competitive in their sport. The laws have been repealed but twenty years of “democracy” does not undo centuries of exclusion and negation.   

The aftermath of Apartheid continues to be felt. Players of colour are still severely underrepresented at Springbok level. The majority of people of colour still live in impoverished regions of South Africa, subsequently still do not have the infrastructure to compete with predominantly white areas. South African Rugby still has strong ties to the Afrikaaner identity, alienating the majority of the population.   

There are so many hurdles, it’s difficult to know where to begin. The anti-quota group love to throw around the word “grassroots”: we need transformation to take place at a grassroots level, we need to tackle problems at a grassroots level. Nobody is particularly clear on what that entails. To some it means building better training facilities in underprivileged areas. To others it means strengthening rugby teams in traditionally black and coloured communities. I propose that it needs to go beyond that. 

Rugby is an elitist sport and in South Africa and because of our history, the vast majority of the elites are white. To deny that is to deny simple facts of our history. Apartheid created vacuums for poverty, trapping millions of people of colour in a position that is next to impossible to escape from. Yet, there are too many who treat poverty as an accusation, not as a deep, horrendous and systemic condition. They are “poor because they are lazy”, and not the victims of a system designed to debase them. How is a child from the township supposed to compete with another from Grey College or Paarl Boys? How is someone who does not have untethered access to food supposed to compete with someone who not only is well nourished but has been on supplements for years? It’s an impossible ask. There are a few children who earn scholarships to the well-known rugby schools and are looked after, but they are the exceptions. Individuals and companies need to step up. It is of no use to build better sports fields for children who do not have the energy to use them. I propose that we work towards providing every school child breakfast and lunch not only on weekdays, but weekends as well. Companies and civil society could work with government to sponsor this. More children will attend school and participate in various sports. Subsequently, children would perform better academically and on the sports ground. Additionally, this will provide great publicity for companies who are willing to participate.  

We also need to strengthen the rugby culture in our poorer communities. To increase interest in rugby, it needs to be made more available to the general public. To be able to watch a rugby match on TV, one must have DSTV. Moreover, rugby is only available on a channel that requires DSTV Premium – the most expensive DSTV package at R759 p/m. SuperSport’s efforts to include Xhosa commentary for rugby should be commended. However their efforts fall flat as the majority of Xhosa speakers cannot afford the package the channel comes on.

One could argue, attending a rugby match may prove more cost effective. However, the price of the ticket alone is a deterrent. A Currie Cup ticket at DHL Newlands costs R70-R100, Super Rugby R110-R150. However, a ticket for an Ajax Football match has a flat rate of R80. The price for a season ticket to Newlands ranges from R1500 to R2510, while an Ajax season ticket only costs R500. A Rugby Championship ticket can cost up to R650, but to see Bafana Bafana it only costs R100. One could argue that the Springboks generally remain among the top five countries in the world and Bafana tends to languish in the bottom half of the top one hundred. That’s a fair argument. But I ask you, could the next Springbok to hold the record for the most tries, or the most caps be sitting in a classroom in Lukhanyo Primary School in Zwelihle right now? If we continue to ostracise him, we will never know.     

NEW BLOG POST TOMORROW

Hello blogosphere!

It has been far too long since I’ve logged in (so much so, that I had to obtain a new password). Much has changed in our time apart; I now have a cat, a new university and a new career path. However, my passion for rugby and writing has not changed. Tomorrow, 29/08/2016 at 09:00, I will post my first article in two years! Exciting times. As always, I aim to make you think about South African rugby in a different light. If you disagree, feel free to tell me! If you agree, you can tell me that too. As announced on Twitter and Facebook, the title of the new article is Tackling Elitism in SA Rugby so it promises to evoke some interesting responses.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Enjoy what remains of your weekend and I’ll hopefully see you back here tomorrow morning.

Sarah

Currie Cup Weekly Report

Hello all 

I know it’s been a while but I am writing again. Taking a break from my controversial topics, I am writing a weekly (WP focused) Currie Cup report for the WP Supporters Club run by Julian Rod. It’s uncharted territory for me but if you want to follow it, please drop him an email (address below). It is completely free. 

Julian RodHave an epic week! 

Sarah

 

Saving the Stormers

By: Sarah Boomgaard

We’ve watched the Stormers struggle in the opening weeks of Super Rugby. Consequently we’ve seen a substantial amount of criticism from fans and the media – many of whom are calling for management to give the coaching staff the boot. But before Allister Coetzee and his men are shown the door, some perspective is needed.

The Stormers have suffered a number of injuries including the likes of Juan de Jongh, Rynhardt Elstadt, De Kock Steenkamp and Scarra Ntubeni. While these players are relatively young, they have added physicality and innovation – even as youngsters – to the Stormers’ game plan. Perhaps this has added to the team’s troubles. But is it the root cause of the Stormers’ tragic log standing? No.

What is more alarming is not the fact that the Stormers have suffered so many defeats at such an early stage of the competition, but the manner in which they have earned them. The Stormers have played with no vigour, no passion and seemingly, no inspiration. The Stormers are infamous for their lack of attacking capabilities but this year we saw their previously rock solid defence crumble. Is this a fault on a coaching level or does the problem lie with the players? Barring a few exceptions, due to injuries and a handful of players who have sought to continue their careers elsewhere, this is more or less the same Stormers team we’ve become accustomed to. It’s the same coaching staff, applying the same previously successful techniques. So what’s no longer working?

It seems that too many players have forgotten that wearing the Stormers jersey – or any team’s jersey for that matter – is a privilege and never a right. Regardless of whether you are playing your first or your hundredth Super Rugby match, it is your honour to play for the team and you are entitled to nothing. Senior players who believe that they have paid their dues and believe that they have earned the right to their position in the team are nothing but detrimental to the squad’s success. Unfortunately there are a few big heads belonging to big “rugby families” floating around the Stormers squad, who are adamant on stagnating the Stormers’ talent pool. These individuals need to deflate their egos, and perhaps their pay checks, or else they need to find other teams who are willing to put up with them. Senior players are not merely players; they are mentors to the younger members of the squad. Should a senior player be selfish enough to not accept this additional role, there should not be a space for him in the team. When mentored correctly, youngsters will receive advice from veterans, not only making them better players but creating cohesion within the team that we are just not seeing from the Stormers.

Western Province Rugby Union (WPRU) has the privilege of being able to pluck talented youngsters from promising local rugby clubs such as UCT, who have enjoyed a successful Varsity Cup campaign, and Maties Rugby, one of the largest rugby clubs in the world. But WPRU is squandering its resources. Not enough young players that come through the ranks make it to Super Rugby level and the blame sits squarely on the union’s shoulders.

Each year we witness an exodus of players who have either been plucked at U19 or U21 level by other franchises or who have gone on to represent the Stormers who get fed up and bail. We have heard too many stories of young players who were either promised contracts or starting positions only to have WPRU renege on those promises. Management should not make promises that they have no intention to fulfill.

Transparency is key to creating trust amongst management and players. If a player is only third in line to receive a contract or will be playing the majority of his rugby off the bench then he has the right to know. Not only does it give the individual an opportunity to either improve his game or make alternative arrangements but it lets him know exactly where he stands. Every year fans ask why WPRU lose so many players and why players just can’t seem to stay loyal to the union. It’s simple: it’s impossible to be loyal to people you cannot trust.

WPRU in its entirety needs a makeover; they are in desperate need of innovation. They need somebody ruthless who can set personal feelings aside and weed out the problematic individuals starting from CEO, Rob Wagner, right down to the youngest player. They need fresh eyes to give perspective, they need people who are determined to restoring integrity to a once a great union. They need to rid themselves of men in suits who are more concerned with filling their wallets than their trophy cabinet. Does that include Coetzee? Possibly. But the problems at the Stormers run much deeper than their coach and saving their union is going to take a lot more hiring and firing. They may need a few years to rebuild but a powerful skyscraper is far better than a rickety Wendy house. They have the potential, they just need to trust and invest in it.

New blog post coming soon!

Hello all

It’s been a very long time since I’ve written something that I have wanted to publish and that I have felt was worth publishing. I have something that I am very excited to share. It may not be a popular opinion, but I feel it’s one that needs to be expressed. As soon as all the kinks have been ironed out, I’ll post it as soon as possible.  

Seeing as it has been such a long time, I have included a little preview  that will hopefully get you as excited as I am. Enjoy! 

The Stormers are infamous for their lack of attacking capabilities but this year we saw their previously rock solid defence crumble. Is this a fault on a coaching level or does the problem lie with the players? 

– Saving The Stormers, by Sarah Boomgaard

Less is more

Super_Rugby_Main_CMYK_LOGOBy: Sarah Boomgaard 

Too much of a good thing is bad for you – the current Super Rugby set up is proof of this. There is just too much rugby being played and the players and their fans are suffering.

The duration of the rugby season in the Southern Hemisphere has increased quite radically over the last decade. Subsequently we have seen an increase in injuries and the number of players taking their careers north. The shorter season and the bulging bank balances that the north offers made the migration appealing to older players looking to wind down their careers. What is more disturbing is the number of young players joining the northern exodus. Players of a lower age bracket have been enticed and have made the move north, such as Francois Louw and Joe Pietersen. Another interesting trend, sparked by Peter Grant’s contract with the Kobelco Steelers in Japan, offers the best of both worlds for players wanting to play Super Rugby but opting to not endure the rest of the Southern Hemisphere’s drawn out rugby season.

The top South African players, on average, will only receive five to six weeks of rest per year. After their Super Rugby season – depending on whether their team has made the playoff stages or not – players receive a week’s rest before the Currie Cup tournament is in full swing.  Super Rugby is arguably one of the most difficult tournaments in the world that is below test level, due to its intensity and its long duration – one week is not enough to recover from this brutal tournament. Teams who reach the playoff stages of the Currie Cup receive two to three weeks off before Super Rugby preseason training starts, with an additional two weeks off in December.

Over the last two years, the amount of injuries suffered by South African players has increased from 12 – 23% across the various franchises. Injury rates and the seriousness thereof will continue to rise if we keep on pushing our players beyond their limits. Professor Tim Noakes and his team have conducted studies that prove the link between fatigue and injury. Noakes argues that two months of solid rest (with no training) and three months of preseason training should prelude a seven-month season. A measly week or two off here and there is not enough. We are overplaying our players, subsequently shortening their careers

Francois Louw

Admittedly, I found the Northern Hemisphere schedule confusing and somewhat frustrating at first – since they participate in two tournaments which overlap – I now see benefits. Amongst South Africans reaping the benefits is ex-Stormer, Francois Louw who is currently playing for Bath. Bath wrapped up their season in early May and will play their next match on August 17th. This means that Louw had five weeks of uninterrupted rest before joining the Springboks for the Quadrangular tournament in June and a further two weeks rest thereafter.  While this does not equate to Noakes’ ideal, it is far more beneficial to what players, at the Stormers for example, are expected to endure.

Players are not the only ones suffering. Crowd attendance and even television viewership has experienced a decline. Even the most diehard supporters are losing interest in the long season and have found themselves watching fewer games, both live and on TV, than in recent years. It goes without saying that if crowd attendance plummets so will the franchise’s revenue.

The current season structure does not work. There are too many games and everybody is suffering, yet there is talk to add even more teams. If SANZAR is seriously considering this, they will have no choice but to adopt a pool structure similar to that of the World Cup or the Heineken Cup, or risk severe burnout from players and sheer boredom from the spectators.

The amount of games played throughout the year needs to be decreased dramatically or we shall see more players fleeing overseas in a desperate attempt to prolong their careers – and perhaps we may even see their fans go with them.

 

New article coming MONDAY!

Hi Guys

It has been six months since I’ve written something that I’ve wanted to publish. While I have written a few pieces this holiday, they didn’t seem to measure up to my Keep calm… and support the Kings! article. I was fortunate enough for it to appear as the winning article in SA Rugby magazine but the pressure was on to write something that would top that. However I think I’ve finally got something that will be able to compare to it.

So Monday, 22 July I will commemorate my return to varsity with a new article. It’s a topic that I’ve wanted to cover for months but I’ve added a new dimension which I am hoping will give it the edge it needs. The article will probably go up before lunch, so fight the Monday Blues during your lunch break and stop by😉

A special thanks to Stormers wing, Gio Aplon and Bath Captain Francois Louw for their help with my research. However it must be noted, the article will not reflect their views in any way.

On a side note, best of luck to the Cheetahs for their playoff against the Brumbies! They’ve made South Africa proud and deserve our support, so let’s get behind them! 

 

Sarah