Cape Town – A swiftly-assembled, particularly assertive challenge from left field will be required if Mark Alexander, now interim president of the South African Rugby Union, is to be denied full ascension to the role.
Elections have to be held for a new holder of the hot seat, following Wednesday’s announcement that Oregan Hoskins had resigned after 10 years in the post.
The successor, by constitutional stipulation, has to come from the 12-strong SARU Executive Council or be an executive member of one of the provincial unions.
Charismatic Western Province Rugby Union president Thelo Wakefield has been touted in some media as a possible contender; a big presence, the often outspoken Wakefield almost inevitably fronts their press or public relations requirements ahead of the low-profile chief executive Paul Zacks.
Wakefield is not averse to putting his foot in it: he narrowly escaped formal SANZAAR sanction when he took to Facebook to criticise Stuart Berry’s handling of the Lions v Stormers match in Johannesburg earlier this year, and also told a journalist that referees were “better protected than the rhino”.
But Sport24 understands that Alexander - who may not even be opposed - has a solid head start on any possible rivals anyway.
The vast majority of South Africa’s 14 provincial unions, including the all-important major ones, had reportedly turned against Hoskins, whilst he admitted in a media interview upon his exit that his relationship with SARU’s executive had become “too difficult” to manage.
Hoskins came across as administratively solid and often suitably democratic - not always a hallmark of past presidents of South African rugby, either post-democracy or before - but he also seemed to shy away at times, when the crunch came, from making critical or profound decisions.
That may have been at least partly down to near-constant uncertainty over the depth of his support; in the end paranoia over whether, or from which sources, knives were whistling his way could have been the key catalyst for his resignation.
He may simply have found it all too wearying.
Deputy president Alexander, by contrast, is likely to find much more widespread approval from the people who matter for assuming the reins.
At least part of that advantage will be down to his longevity at top level with the national rugby body; he has been the number two for some nine years and, in 2010, had already amassed sufficient backing to first challenge Hoskins for the presidency - although the incumbent eventually earned a further four-year term then.
Hoskins was later not opposed for a fourth stint - supposedly to 2018 - in 2014, with Alexander patiently remaining in the deputy presidency.
Now it appears his ducks are suitably in a row for an irresistible assault on the top seat at the table.
Alexander’s provincial affiliations with the Golden Lions certainly do him no harm; his expected formal candidacy for the presidency comes at a time when the once under-achieving union – based in the economic powerhouse of Johannesburg -- is back on a northward curve as Currie Cup 2015 champions and South Africa’s most successful franchise finishers in the 2016 Super Rugby competition.
Sources say that Alexander is well liked within World Rugby, the game’s global governing body.
But he is also a veteran Olympic sports administrator in the country, having served on Nocsa (National Olympic Committee of South Africa) since 1994, and into its rebirth as SASCOC (South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee) where he still sits on its Board.
That also helps to place him on a sound footing with the Sports Ministry and particularly Minister of Sport and Recreation Fikile Mbalula, who is currently holding SARU and other major domestic sports bodies to “ransom” over their perceived tardy transformation.
They are precluded from bidding for the staging of international tournaments on our shores until review of transformation progress from Mbabula – although it is believed SARU are delicately pressing forward anyway with a bid (South Africa may very well get it, if given the governmental green light) for the 2023 World Cup.
SARU are unlikely to wish for some sort of major tree-shaker in the presidency, especially considering the issues that constantly swirl around them in the volatile political landscape in South Africa, meaning that deft damage-limitation is a near-constant requirement.
In recent months, there had also been a deepening power struggle in SARU’s corridors between Hoskins and the CEO Jurie Roux; in early March the latter significantly entrenched his position when he got the unconditional support of his employers, plus a SASCOC nod, despite ongoing publicity surrounding allegations of funds mismanagement during Roux’s time in administration at Stellenbosch University.
Alexander is not without his own stormy waters in the public eye – he has been accused by former Sport24 columnist and SuperSport and CNN presenter Graeme Joffe of having received kickbacks for the landing of a SARU commercial contract renewal.
Joffe also wrote earlier this year, even while Hoskins was still at SARU’s helm: “Alexander is close to Mbalula through his SASCOC and Lottery links and was chairman of the Durban 2022 Commonwealth (Games) bid on SARU time … and is now angling for the SARU presidency.”
That suggested ambition appears a whole lot closer with Hoskins’ quitting; Alexander’s is a safe cap in the ring for the mantle as things stand, ticking many of the boxes SARU would wish for, including being fourth president of colour in a row if he is appointed.
There may be some rumblings for a black African SARU president – the last was Silas Nkanunu from 1998 to 2003 – especially after the much-publicised words of Mike Stofile, when he narrowly failed to unseat Hoskins in 2008: “There is no place for blacks in South African rugby … black people are not trusted.”
Stofile died of illness in Port Elizabeth last year, aged 57.
But no really obvious candidate in that regard springs to mind; the SARU Executive Council, for example, only has one black African representative – an independent – in the shape of East London-based Border Rugby administrator Monde Tabata.
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