Compulsory reading for SARU
In a hard-hitting article published in the local Sunday newspaper, Rapport, dated February 12, 2012, former SARU captain and presently vice-rector at Stellenbosch University, professor Julian Smith, accused SARU (and sections of “the rugby media”) of leading South African rugby into what he calls “an unrealistic future”.
Ordinarily accusations like this will not draw much attention. However, coming from an esteemed academic, executive manager, leader and someone that played and excelled in rugby during the harsh Apartheid years, it requires closer interpretation.
In the article Smith compares the appointment processes used to appoint the previous Springbok coach Peter de Villiers and current coach Heyneke Meyer. He is ideally placed to comment on these since he was the chairperson of the selection committee which SARU appointed in 2007 to interview the shortlisted candidates for the Springbok coaching position and which committee subsequently recommended the appointment of De Villiers.
In reading through his article, three critical messages attracted my attention. He uses the two vastly different appointment processes to illustrate his points.
Firstly, he states his disappointment in what he considers to be a retreat back into exclusivity and secrecy by SARU. In 2007 he chaired a selection committee which consisted of a team of experts on various aspects ranging from the technical aspects of the game, strategic management, human resources, transformation, etc. This open, transparent (fair) process signaled a significant shift away from the paranoid and isolated way SARU (read SARB/SARFU) used to operate in years gone by. It was also a recognition that sound corporate governance should be extended to the appointment process of the number one employee of the organisation, the Springbok coach.
However, he suggests that the almost secretive manner in which the latest appointment was made reflects a retreat back to the “laager mentality of yester-year". This is a very serious allegation and is significant since it was under the present leadership of rugby that sound governance took centre stage at SARU since 2006. This shift back to “the old ways” is thus very disturbing and indeed a cause for concern.
Smith lambasts the media for perpetuating the misconception that Meyer was the number one candidate for the Springbok coaching position in 2007 and that it was political considerations that led to De Villiers’s appointment. As the chairperson of the selection committee he states unmistakably that the committee unanimously recommended De Villiers as the number one candidate based on the extensive and thorough appraisal of all the candidates on the shortlist.
He goes on to lament the sloppy manner in which the announcement of De Villiers’s appointment was handled by the president of SARU, Oregan Hoskins. The fact is the Presidents Council endorsed the recommendation of the selection panel to appoint De Villiers. He argues that certain sections of the media, who according to him, represent specific sectarian interests, latched onto Hoskins’s gaffe and the rest is history.
I took time to read some of the responses to the professor’s article in this past weekend’s Rapport and I must say I was astounded by the ignorance on display and it once again illustrated how far apart we still are when it comes to the fundamental issues in sport.
Further on in his article, Smith warns South Africans about the dualistic nature of sport. While we eagerly grab onto the romanticised view of sport (for example that rugby and the Springbok will somehow magically draw us together to make one happy nation), namely, that it builds character and facilitates social cohesion and nation building, we rarely consider the reverse that especially in historically divided societies (like South Africa) sport can also be the source of major divisions and a catalyst for conflict between diverse interest groups.
Smith goes on to say that while we all would like to see sport work for the greater good of society, we need to ensure that the governance of sport reflects the values of transparency, honesty, openness and that it will seek to advance the ideals of the majority of South Africans and not only that of those who hold sway at any particular time.
It is therefore incumbent upon the leaders of rugby (in particular) to take heed of this admonition from one of the very few principled leaders still concerned with the state of the game.
His article should be compulsory reading for the decision-makers at SARU.
Gary Boshoff is a former SARU player and current Afrikaans rugby commentator on SuperSport.
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