Southern Kings

SA Rugby speaks out on Spears player welfare



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The SA Rugby Union has noted with dismay recent reports in a Port Elizabeth newspaper insinuating that SA Rugby Union has failed in its duties to look after the welfare of the players in the Southern Spears franchise. The report cited unnamed players who were complaining that they had not been paid their salaries at the end of the month of March.

It is not in the culture of SA Rugby to deal with internal issues in the media, but due to the seriousness of the allegation, we found it appropriate to set the record straight, as the allegations have far-reaching effects on processes that are currently in progress regarding the Southern Spears issue. Be that as it may, the last thing you need as a rugby organisation is a group of players and staff who are unhappy because their salaries had not been paid. We seriously take into account that the players and staff are adults who have personal and family responsibilities.

The major allegation in the newspaper report is that the players and staff at the franchise had not been paid their monthly salaries at the end of the March, due to the failure of SA Rugby Union to provide the Southern Spears with the necessary funds. We wish to repeat that staff – especially players – are the fulcrum around which our organisation revolves. Players are the nucleus of SA Rugby, so we cannot neglect them at any point in our operations. The welfare of players is paramount to our continued existence as an entity, and it is a national duty for us. Neglecting players is, therefore, not in the DNA of how we operate our system. Let us now look at the facts, as they were not espoused in the article.

1.      The normal day-to-day planning of the Southern Spears operations is the responsibility of the CEO of the franchise, not SA Rugby. How the CEO chooses to run the business is entirely in his hands and his Board of Directors, taking into account the fiduciary duties that come with such key positions. Their ultimate duty, of course, is to report on the use of the funds to SA Rugby, as SA Rugby has been the body financing Southern Spears for the last five months of its existence.

2.      SA Rugby had originally advanced an amount of R3 million to the franchise, to help it get off the ground, with the expectation that the CEO and the Board would make the necessary budgeting. This, of course, would naturally take into account the monthly payment of staff and players.

3.      As at end of March, the Southern Spears franchise had spent in excess of R4,6 million, funds that came directly from SA Rugby ‘ way beyond the allocated amount.

4.      As part of its investigation into the franchise, SA Rugby is still trying to establish how the funds have been spent so far. No commendable account of expenditure was given during a fact-finding meeting in March.

5.      Further, the investigation has not been provided with tangible proof of acquired/promised sponsorship of more than R100 million that the Southern Spears CEO informed the media and the public about. If such a sponsorship existed, the question of an overdraft from SA Rugby would not have been an issue, in the first place. In short, that sponsorship agreement would have been implemented, by now. SA Rugby, the media and the public deserve an explanation on this key matter in the operations of the Southern Spears. What we have been hearing, so far, is an unfortunate catalogue of vague statements on promised sponsorships. That is a matter of grave concern, when it comes to good corporate governance of the franchise.

6.      As a result of the above, SA Rugby has, over the months of the existence of the franchise, been reduced to a banking facility, without the necessary accountability. We are now at a point where we are asking the franchise to advise us fully on the state of its financial affairs, and how it has spent funds advanced to it by SA Rugby. At this point, it is important to note that the funds forwarded to the Southern Spears belong to the whole of the rugby fraternity in the country, and it is, ultimately, SA Rugby that is held  accountable. 

7.      Following our meeting with the Southern Spears Board of Directors in March, we are not in a position to pronounce on our full findings yet, as we do not want to prejudice the views of the full Board of Directors of SA Rugby when they take a decision on the immediate future of the Southern Spears on 18 April.

8.      Of immediate importance for SA Rugby is that funds were advanced to the Southern Spears account on 7 April, to cover such commitments as payment of staff and players salaries. This is not taking into account that we have not even been provided an explanation of how the original R3 million, and the R1,6 million over-expenditure, had been utilised. The move was purely an emergency  measure to help remedy the situation as we are all trying to find a lasting solution to the unfortunate management problem at the Southern Spears.

9.      We wish to reiterate that SA Rugby will never overlook its responsibility to take care of the interests of such stakeholders as the players. The correct questions should, perhaps, be asked of the relevant persons. It is the Southern Spears management that must explain how they did not budget for staff and players salaries from the R4,6 million they have received from SA Rugby to date.

In conclusion, we wish to state it clearly that we will not be making any comments on the Southern Spears issue before the April 18 Board meeting, where we will discuss the findings of the fact-finding mission. We believe it is not in the interests of SA Rugby to resolve its issues through media engagements with its stakeholders. However, we reserve the right to correct misleading reports on how we conduct our business.

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