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Ken Borland

Rugby players put through the mill, trade union steps in 0

Posted on September 28, 2020 by Ken

The poor rugby players of the Eastern Cape have been put through the mill by their administrators, which is particularly sad because this is the hotbed, the nursery of Black African rugby in this country.

As we have discovered in cricket, a players’ union has an important role to play in safeguarding the interests of the sport’s major assets, so it was pleasing to see MyPlayers issue a strongly-worded statement in defence of those Southern Kings players who have been left high-and-dry by the decision to liquidate the franchise.

The South African Cricketers’ Association have demonstrated that they can bring self-serving administrators to book and force them to honour their contracts with the players, and now it is time for rugby’s players’ trade union to follow suit. The success of SACA is largely due to the unity displayed by the players in getting behind their union, and the excellent work of president Omphile Ramela and the two CEOs of recent times, Tony Irish and Andrew Breetzke.

The players put their faith in their union once they see it achieving palpable successes and hopefully the strong stance taken by MyPlayers earlier this week in condemning the administrators of unions which just liquidate their commercial entities, leaving their creditors (which includes the players) out of pocket and simply carrying on like normal, continuing to enjoy their seat on the gravy train, will see the players’ union develop into an even more powerful stakeholder in rugby.

When the Kings just closed operations, the administrators responsible just sailed on with no consequences, but it was hell for the players, who were told just six days before they were due to get their salaries that there would be nothing paid to them.

“It is just not good enough for a union to shift all the financial blame to the commercial entity that was set-up and co-managed by the union. It is an easy buck to pass when you suffer no consequences for the failings of your commercial entity. Come Monday, it will be life as normal for the union. It will still enjoy its voting rights on the SARU General Council and be allowed to make important commercial strategic decisions on the direction of the professional game even though their own commercial entity failed.

“They will still receive their normal financial distributions from the professional game from SARU and be allowed to participate on the field in the professional game although their own commercial entity was liquidated. However unthinkable, they will be allowed to immediately set-up a new commercial entity like the one they had just voluntarily liquidated. There is thus a clear incentive for unions to liquidate commercial entities and walk away from financial obligations to get a clean second bite at the cherry while creditors and employees are left in the dust to pick up the pieces,” MyPlayers CEO Eugene Henning said in the statement.

Given that our cricketers have not yet gone on strike despite all the damage done to the game and their livelihoods by Cricket South Africa, rugby will carry on but it is a dangerous game with limited earnings time for the players and we can expect them to flex their muscles even more now that they have broken the ice.

Much like when former CSA chief executive Thabang Moroe mobilised against SACA, we can expect pushback from the dinosaurs amongst our amateur administrators who probably don’t want trade unions in rugby. Especially when they quite rightly start wanting to have a say in how rugby is run, no longer limiting themselves solely to wage negotiations.

Now that MyPlayers have started digging into maladministration at the unions – the Valke have also liquidated their commercial entity, while Western Province and Border have followed the same route – we can expect more and more holes in the governance of rugby to become apparent.

And MyPlayers have also suggested certain tools to ensure fairer treatment for the unfortunate players who are shafted by these delinquent unions.

After the liquidation of a commercial entity, the union should not be allowed to participate in professional rugby until such time that they have demonstrated their capacity to adequately manage a commercial entity. During this time, unions will receive substantially smaller distributions from SARU; they will forfeit their voting rights on SARU’s General Council on any matters pertaining to professional rugby and their directors will have to undergo a professional rehabilitation process and only be allowed to operate a company and participate in professional rugby competitions again once they have demonstrated that they are capable of running a successful and sustainable commercial entity.

The seeds of a much more professional game in this country are right there in the MyPlayers’ proposal, hopefully SA Rugby will not dibble around and delay implementing these much-needed changes, especially with all the unions fishing around for equity partners.

With rugby being such a global game now and South African rugby set to expand its footprint into Europe, our unions must remember that from a sponsor’s viewpoint, there are plenty of other fish in the sea.

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    Philemon 1:7 – “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.”

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