Rugby: Paying the price of corona

Franchises are struggling to count the cost

29 March 2020 - 00:53 By LIAM DEL CARME
Western Province Rugby Football Union president Zelt Marais.
Western Province Rugby Football Union president Zelt Marais.
Image: Shaun Roy

Some of SA's rugby franchises are preparing for unpalatable, but necessary, conversations as the sport languishes in limbo.

Uncertainty continues to enshroud the sport and the franchises are struggling to count the cost of the time spent on the sidelines. As the country went into a 21-day lockdown as a result of the coronavirus, they did not know when players will get the all-clear to pull out of their garages, let alone return to the playing field.

Some are desperate to cut their losses.

"We run like a normal company. We are not a union," said Lions chair and equity partner Altmann Allers.

"You have to look at this like any business entity would. Tough decisions will have to be taken to ensure that we protect the business and in fact the industry," said Allers.

Western Province president Zelt Marais also used a sobering tone.

"I think if we take our cue from the European clubs, their players have bought into the fact that we are living in an abnormal time. We might have to apply abnormal or exceptional measures," said Marais after some English clubs' decision to slash their players' salaries by 25%. The cuts however cannot be legally enforced unless the players agree.

On the home front, the Sharks CEO Eduard Coetzee cut a more benign tone. "We all have to stay one step back and say: 'This is not an ideal situation. Let's deal with the pandemic at hand and we'll find a way afterwards'.

"There will be a financial impact, the extent of it we don't know. It will put us under pressure. It is difficult to come up with an answer if we don't have all the facts.

"The moment people start giving answers without the facts then it is speculation, and speculation creates fear, then anxiety and then it becomes just a negative spiral," said Coetzee.

Blue Bulls president Willem Strauss doesn't know what the eventual impact will be and said they are not about to make hasty decisions, even after two revenue streams dried up. 

"We have a relationship with Sundowns so no soccer matches can take place at Loftus either," Strauss pointed out.

"It has had a huge impact. We haven't hosted a derby match yet. Our match against the Lions is usually a big draw-card. We can't meet the terms of our agreements with suit holders and sponsors."

He said that the amateur arm of the Blue Bulls is also suffering. "In March and April during the holidays a lot of schools tour or play in tournaments. Parents have literally paid millions of rands for their kids to be on these tours."

Although they are no longer part of the Super Rugby landscape, the suspension of the Pro 14 will have a huge effect on the Cheetahs' revenue streams, according to their MD Harold Verster.

"We already slashed our budget so there isn't a lot of room to manoeuvre. When it comes to cutting wages you are dealing with people and their livelihood. That is something that will have to involve serious discussions with MyPlayers but we are not there yet."

Eugene Henning, CEO of MyPlayers, did not respond to the Sunday Times' calls.

Allers insisted it won't be business as usual when competitions resume. "The world has come to a standstill," said Allers. "It is as if earth has stopped turning. When it starts again it will turn slowly.

"We are trying to save everyone's job. But we also have to understand that decisions will be made that won't suit everyone. We will be irresponsible if we don't look at all the options. The president has said it will have an impact on the economy," said Allers before delivering a stark warning.

"It won't just be players. We are talking coaches, support staff, the bloke who mows the grass."

delcarmel@sundaytimes.co.za

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