By Bobby Londt
An interesting development has transpired regarding overseas Boks, more specifically the “Toulon” Boks, over the last few weeks. If you have not read about it – it basically relates to the “Club versus Country” debate, something soccer has been confronted with for years in the top paying leagues across the world.
Effectively Toulon boss, Mourad Boudjellal (featured above), last week demanded that Brian Habana and Bakkies Botha quit the Rugby Championship and return for club duty in France. He feels it’s unfair that the players defend the colours of their country and are then paid rather comfortably by Toulon. He insisted that he is not there to fund South African rugby.
Firstly, Mr Boudjellal would have known of the possible consequences before he signed these players, so I don’t have much sympathy or worries in the short term. It does however leave concern for the medium to long term future. It made me wonder about the origin of this kind of “loyalty” problem we experienced lately now that we have loads of talent plying their trade abroad.
How did we get here?
What got lost, apart from the financial benefit of playing overseas, that makes it so much easier for players to choose this option? I am great believer in the saying: Money does not motivate, but a lack of money demotivates.
Take the All Blacks for instance; the major difference between them and the Boks is, in my view, the passion for the jersey, national pride and the way the New Zealand Rugby Union operates.
Passion? Loyalty? Call it what you want – it has been diluted
Do the Boks have a passion for the jersey? Yes, definitely, but not as much as it was 15 years ago. It has been diluted by the policy changes SARU implemented in this time in junior structures. The harmful effect of quotas on South African sport is significant and players have become disillusioned with SARU from a very young age.
We have become the “Cheetahs” of International Club Rugby. The Cheetahs always had loads of talent in recent years and have become a feeding school to other provinces for various reasons. The same is happening with the South African Franchises now; we are basically feeding prominent club leagues throughout the world.
It’s all about Culture, and Passion. Culture is where Passion is bred, and with the introduction of quotas, passion for provincial teams at schools level was diluted due to talented players missing out due to quota selections. With the implementation of such policies, South African rugby, and more the specifically SARU, the gatekeepers of the game in SA, have lost credibility amongst all races. In other words the passion for South African based rugby is lost.
Thus the choice to move has become easier
Now, effectively, SA born players who choose rugby as a career need to make use of limited opportunities, and are confronted with a choice:
- do I play for the South African franchises, which is a passion-driven decision with less monetary gain, and coincidently managed by an organisation with “little” credibility due to the factors above, Or
- Do I take my chances abroad where I can seek lucrative compensation for my services, and where the selection is based on merit?
Perhaps this is a reason why we are now forced to select players from abroad to be able to remain competitive.
In a perfect world
I would scrap quotas and develop talent – all talent. The elite are not distinguished by their ethnic origin, but by their ability and skills. Mend the culture and the passion, credibility and love will return.
Although entertaining, Super Rugby is harming SA rugby. It has had its place and served its purpose. We need to link with the European leagues – it will benefit SA time zones and the TV rights will benefit SA rugby at all levels.
Finally, I would like to have only SA-based players eligible for the Bok jersey, but for this to happen, there should not be a top down decision, but a bottom up one.
How do we create and drive passion from the bottom up? By implementing the changes suggested above.