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Ken Borland

Things have obviously changed in KZN rugby 0

Posted on July 18, 2016 by Ken


I can remember well covering Natal Sharks rugby in the 1990s – they were the team of the decade with four Currie Cup titles – and how we used to tut-tut at teams like the Lions because down in Durban we were the best both on and off the field, in terms of administration and brand marketing.

Things have obviously changed and the Lions are leading the way for South African rugby, while the Sharks don’t look like adding to their 2010 and 2013 Currie Cup crowns any time soon, never mind claiming that elusive Super Rugby title. And they are embroiled in the unseemliest of off-field squabbles, one that is straight out of the Louis Luyt book of skulduggery.

The actions of KZN Rugby Union president Graham Mackenzie would appear to be obvious grounds for his removal from his post. This week it was revealed that he was involved in a dirty tricks campaign that included trying to get journalists to publish a prepared article he or someone close to him had written discrediting former CEO and major critic Brian van Zyl under their own bylines. Unfortunately a blogger eventually took the bait and has subsequently been exposed and disgraced.

It would be premature to suggest Mackenzie is another Cheeky Watson waiting to happen because there is no proof of any financial impropriety. Then again, we can’t be entirely sure because for the first time in the KZNRU’s history the financial statements were not ready to be presented to the board or the clubs at the AGMs in April.

But that sort of maladministration inevitably gives birth to speculation and rumours, one just doesn’t expect the president of the union to be involved in spreading misinformation.

The Sharks have been hit by the economic downturn just like all the other franchises, but they have not been helped by the new broom that was wielded by John Smit when he replaced Van Zyl as CEO in 2013 when Mackenzie and chairman of the board Stephen Saad took over control of the Sharks in the boardroom. Some leading Natal rugby figures are apparently still nursing the knife wounds in the back.

While Smit secured several lucrative sponsorships for the Sharks, by getting rid of so many experienced staff members, people who have made an immense contribution to KZN rugby, he caused turmoil in the Kings Park offices. Never mind sacking coach John Plumtree, who it must be remembered had failed to win Super Rugby despite having a powerhouse side full of Springboks, it was the clear-out of people like Piet Strydom, Hans Scriba, Garth Giles and Rudolf Straeuli which raised eyebrows. And inevitably led to allegations Smit was just bringing in his old buddies both on and off the field.

Straeuli was the commercial manager and, ironically, it is the Lions who have now been reinvigorated by his acumen as CEO.

Transparency is the only way to avoid Sharks rugby being plunged into a hole like Eastern Province currently find themselves in, or a scandal like Cricket South Africa found themselves embroiled in during the Gerald Majola days.

SuperSport, as a major player on the Sharks board, have a vital role to play. But so do the clubs, who have a right to hold Mackenzie to account for his actions.

Van Zyl has made a disturbing allegation, however, that Mackenzie has built a devoted power base for himself by adding a raft of smaller clubs to the leagues, leading to a number of mismatches.

Either way, it is time a bright light was shone on the affairs of KwaZulu-Natal rugby to ensure that they can return to being a powerhouse of the South African game.

Remembering the base of the triangle 0

Posted on November 19, 2014 by Ken

Currie Cup rugby players, franchise cricketers and Premiership footballers will dominate the sporting headlines this weekend, but some of them will take time to think back and remember the largely anonymous people operating at amateur level who made such a big difference to their careers.

Similarly, I will remember this last week for the two reminders it gave me of the many people toiling out of love for the game rather than money. In the sports journalists’ industry, we tend to focus on the small elite triangle at the top of the pyramid, while the thousands of amateur and social players and administrators that are the base – the very foundation – are largely ignored.

Take David Bagg, Gordon Brews and Mike Klatz.

At great personal expense and effort, they have restored Huddle Park, the famous Johannesburg municipal golf course, to its former glory; how successful they have been is borne out by the Sunshine Tour hosting their annual – and hugely popular – Media Challenge there this week.

In the last two years they have taken a derelict, overgrown property that had been abandoned by the City of Johannesburg and turned it into a friendly, first-class facility. They had to remove numerous squatters to do so, but they have employed over 80 people and are providing training in greenskeeping and hospitality, as well as once again providing a cheap pay-and-play option (R190pm membership, as little as R90 for a midweek round) for the public who want to get into golf but cannot afford the exorbitant membership fees of the established clubs.

Apart from restoring one of the most popular courses in Johannesburg – between 150 000 and 200 000 rounds of golf were played at Huddle Park annually in the 1970s – to its rightful place, the trio have also developed a mashie course, a floodlit driving range, a coaching academy, restaurant and sports bar, function venues, walking trails and even a trout-fishing dam as tie-ins.

Future plans include a mountain bike trail, cycle track, zip-lining facility, eco park, gym, beer and food festivals and arts and crafts expos as the Public Private Partnership provides a fun space for the community.

Many Johannesburg golfers learnt the game on the spacious fairways of Huddle Park and it is great news that the 75-year-old parkland green lung will continue for many more years.

Bad news I received this week was the passing on of Dave Edmondson, a legendary figure in KwaZulu-Natal sport who played an important part in setting me on my path to sports journalism as a career.

In 1992, when I was on the University of Natal Pietermaritzburg sports executive, I approached Dave, who was the head of sport, to find out what careers were available in sport (sadly, actually making it on the field wasn’t going to be an option!).

He suggested writing about sport and he approached another legend, John Bishop, at The Natal Witness and six months later my career was launched.

The University of Natal sports department did not have nearly as many resources as the likes of Tuks, Maties or UCT, but Dave gathered together some tremendous sportsmen and women during his time – Jonty Rhodes, Mark Andrews and Greg Nicol being amongst the most famous of them.

During his own playing days, Dave represented Natal and South African Universities as a hockey goalkeeper, played Natal U19 rugby and was a premier league cricketer. He went on to become a Natal cricket selector, the president of the Maritzburg Cricket Association and an honorary life president of KZN cricket.

But the mark of the man was the time he was willing to spend – for little material reward – enhancing the careers of others. A nicer man you couldn’t hope to meet and the encouragement and assistance he gave many future stars as a coach, schoolmaster and administrator is the point of sport, even if his name was not at the top of the triangle.

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