Rucks, Mauls and Freedom

It’s time to privatise rugby in South Africa.  Nothing has been more frustrating in the so-called “professional era” of rugby union since 1995 than to watch the sport turn into the epitome of crony corporatism.  In many ways, rugby union in South Africa is a great illustration of what’s wrong with the so-called “capitalist” system:  It has the guise of a free market, but in reality is riddled with government intervention, corporate back-slaps, and forced enterprise.

Rugby’s “governing body” SARU represents everything that’s wrong with the sport in South Africa today.  SARU determines how many players are allowed to be “professional”, subsidises failing unions like the Pumas, Leopards, Eagles, Elephants, and Boland Cavaliers, dictates selection policies, and siphons off huge revenues in the process.

Ask yourself, why does the Mpumalanga Pumas play their rugby in Witbank instead of the provincial capital Nelspruit?  Simple.  Witbank is near to the major city of Pretoria, where all the players want to live and pursue bigger careers and the chance of making it into the Blue Bulls.  The Pumas is basically a feeder system for the Bulls, propped up by SARU who derives is main revenues from teams like the Bulls.

It is a fake, centrally planned system.  In a free market, the best players would play in areas where it would be commercially viable to sustain a good team.  Those areas would generally be the large cities, such as Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and Bloemfontein.  But why just have one team per city?  The Johannesburg/Pretoria metro area could probably sustain 3 or 4 strong clubs.  Instead of just having the Lions, Johannesburg may also have, say, the Randburg Rhinos.

Cape Town might have a team based in the city and one or two based elsewhere, all buying top players and being highly competitive.  Who knows, maybe a city like Port Elizabeth manages to get a strong competitive professional team?  Maybe not.  But the point is the market should decide.

We should get rid of the terms union and provinces and just use the term clubs.  Professional club rugby in South Africa would see the game progress in leaps and bounds.  There would be more money available and a proper league structure that clubs could agree to adhere to.  This way SA would have a proper divisional structure of promotion and relegation, creating a feeder system for the top league.

Nelspruit could have a team, but it might just be in the 2nd or 3rd or 4th division.  Would those Nelspruit Nightingales players get paid?  Doesn’t really matter, the market would decide.  Half the team might get paid, the other half not.  Some would be paid more than others.  Others might get paid a half-salary and work another job part time.

The development of new young players would not have to be overseen by SARU.  Clubs would be sending scouts into the rural areas to spot talented youngsters, give bursaries or contracts, and conduct free training camps etc.

Racism in rugby would not have to be ‘monitored’ by SARU.  Clubs would make the best commercial decisions as to who to pick and who not to pick.  A management team of a club could discriminate as they saw fit.  If they reject highly skilful black players on racist grounds, non-racist teams would snap them up and win trophies as a result.

Abolishing SARU and deregulating the sport would be the healthiest development ever in SA rugby.  New exciting teams, higher profits, and excellent entertainment would follow.  Racism in rugby would diminish not increase, and the Springboks would be even better.

The Springboks, South Africa’s national team, could also be privatised.  Supporters, clubs, investors could take shareholding in the Springboks.  The team would have to abide by IRB rules when it comes to playing internationals, but could otherwise be wholly privately owned and run.  Once private ownership is established, shareholders could privately and freely decide to limit shareholding only to SA citizens or companies if they so wished.  Selection of the board, CEO and coaching staff would be done by shareholders.  Profits for the Springboks could be reinvested in community development, used to build stadia, used to pay players better salaries, and distributed among shareholders.

Political interference is ruining SA rugby.  SA is the reigning World Champion in spite of, not because of, SARU’s administration and regulation of the game.  The politicians are so intent on regulating rugby because, just like with most other areas of economic regulation, it is a viable and profitable business that makes a lot of money. If the government is really so interested in developing sport for the benefit of the people, why is a game like waterpolo ignored?

Enough of this crony corporatism.  It’s time to privatise rugby in South Africa.

Long live the greatest game on Planet Earth!

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