Johannesburg - South African rugby is facing a huge financial blow because of the impending loss of Absa’s sponsorship of the Currie Cup interprovincial tournament.
Three highly placed sources, respectively in the rugby fraternity, sports marketing and advertising industry, say the bank will not renew one of the country’s oldest sports sponsorships when the current contract - said to be worth about R20m - expires in December.
Absa, previously under the guise of Santam Bank and Bankfin, has backed the Currie Cup, one of the oldest competitions in world sport, since 1985.
The competition started in 1892 and was won by Western Province, who are coincidentally the current holders of the title.
Already reeling from a lawsuit against their CEO, Jurie Roux, by Stellenbosch University and the shock dismissal of referees boss Andre Watson, the loss of Absa’s sponsorship will deal a severe blow to the SA Rugby Union (SARU) and its affiliates.
Unions rely on their share of the money that is put up by the bank and, recently, a prize money windfall was added to spur on provinces that reached the finals.
This year’s edition of the Currie Cup kicks off on August 7.
Absa also sponsors the Springboks - its logo appears on their jerseys. It is believed it will retain this sponsorship but replace it with the logo of its British principal, Barclays.
Although rugby unions and Absa’s business partners have been informed that the Currie Cup sponsorship is likely to end, confirmation of the bank’s decision could not be obtained.
Barclays Africa Group head of marketing David Wingfield said: “We are still in discussions with the SA Rugby Union regarding our rugby portfolio. An announcement will be made in due course.”
He discounted rumours that other Absa sponsorships,such as football’s Absa Premiership and the Cape Epic, the mountain bike race, might also be in jeopardy.
“Our current sponsorship of the Absa Premiership runs until the end of the 2016/17 season and the Absa Cape Epic until the 2018 edition.
“We evaluate them constantly to make sure we get better value and leverage but are in no way relooking either of these in so far as pulling out,” he said.
Finding a new sponsor for the Currie Cup will be a difficult task for SARU.
In recent years, the tournament for Sir Donald Currie’s golden cup has been overshadowed by Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship.
The exodus of local players going overseas - particularly those heading to Japan - has further devalued it.