Saru’s several stumbling blocks

The South African Rugby Union (Saru) is in the throes of a major restructure. Last week it sacked Jonathan Stones, the managing director, and Mpumelelo Tshume, the chairman, and the focus now is on metamorphosing the game’s governing body into a Section 21 company.

Section 21 of the Companies Act provides for the incorporation of ‘associations not for gain”, commonly referred to as Section 21 companies. These companies do not have a share capital. In other words a Section 21 company cannot issue shares and cannot pay dividends to its members. Instead it is ‘limited by guarantee”, which means that its members undertake to pay a purely nominal amount (usually only a few rand) in the event of the company failing or being placed in liquidation.

Importantly, it does not preclude the making or the distribution of profits and may reward its members (in Saru’s case, the provincial unions and, by extension, the players) with ‘reasonable remuneration”.

Since the game went professional at the end of the 1995 Rugby World Cup the South African governing body has searched in vain for a sensible vehicle for itself. After bundling and unbundling its professional and amateur arms, Saru has taken it under advisement that Section 21 is the way to go.

The money made and invested during the Louis Luyt era of the mid-1990s ensured that even in lean times Saru had a large nest egg to fall back on. And the safety net attached to Section 21 with regard to failing or liquidation has an important rugby precedent.

A decade ago the Argentinian Rugby Union teetered on the precipice when the nation’s currency collapsed. It was pushed over the edge by a court case brought by a former player who was crippled in a scrum. It has subsequently recovered, but it could be argued that the reason Argentina remains a poor relation in international rugby despite the success of its national side is that its governing body doesn’t have any money.

It would be a foolish South African administrator who chose to ignore the moral of that particular story. For one thing the rand is a volatile and vulnerable currency and for another this country has a disturbing number of catastrophic accidents, particularly in the lower levels of rugby, every year.

Saru president Oregan Hoskins, being a legal man, is no doubt in the vanguard of those in the organisation calling for the restructure. The trouble is that it all smacks of political expediency rather than a decision made in the best interests of the game.

The dismissal of Stones, for instance, comes about 18 months after his appointment. Stones had little rugby experience, but had impressive stints at Goodyear and Engen. He was widely regarded as precisely the kind of ‘outsider” who could bring sanity and direction to an organisation that had so recently suffered at the capricious whims of its former president, Brian van Rooyen.

A few months ago Hoskins described Saru’s relationship with Stones as having had a ‘serious breakdown” and that was that.

Tshume’s horse was apparently too entangled with Stones’s for him to survive and so there are now no black Africans at all in the higher echelons of Saru. In 2007 there were three: Tshume, vice-president Mike Stofile and Springbok team manager Zola Yeye.

Stofile left the organisation when he failed to unseat Hoskins in the presidential race, but Yeye’s case is an interesting one.

Yeye was the Springbok manager in 2007 and his continuation in the role was expected to be rubber-stamped in April this year, ahead of the international season. But Hoskins said at the time: ‘There’s a dispute about the Springbok manager’s position. From Saru’s viewpoint Zola did not reapply for the position he held last year. He may say something else, but he didn’t make himself available for the interviews last week. It’s actually ironic that Jake [White] had the same argument that he was the incumbent [as Springbok coach] and didn’t need to reapply.”

Andy Marinos, the former Western Province centre who was among the early departures to Europe in the mid-1990s and ended up playing for Wales, took on Yeye’s role. With the departure of Stones, Marinos has been shunted upstairs to the position of acting managing director.

Tshume’s position has gone, also on an acting basis, to Keith Parkinson, a long-term member of Sarfu, the body that morphed into Saru under the presidency of Van Rooyen. Parkinson was one of the first to recognise the venal attributes of Van Rooyen and stepped down from office about four years ago. His return will be welcomed for his wide knowledge and acumen gained from more than 30 years in office.

In the same week that Parkinson returned to the fold Springbok media officer Chris Hewitt tendered his resignation. Hewitt was scheduled to appear before a Saru disciplinary board the following day over his links to the Peter de Villiers ‘sex-tape” episode. Unlike the compromising audiotape that sank Andre Markgraaff a decade ago, it seems that this tape was a figment of the imagination and Hewitt chose to fall on his sword.

As the year draws to a close there are far too many positions vacant or filled by acting officers for Saru to feel comfortable. These are not the best circumstances under which to embark on a radical restructure, but it seems that the train is rolling with the brakes still on the platform. Under the circumstances, De Villiers’s lack of success with the national side is on the back burner and he will survive to fight again in 2009.

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