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Coronavirus | How will it impact SA’s rugby economy?

As the global coronavirus crisis rages on, South Africa’s rugby leadership continues to pull together in an effort to navigate the way forward.

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With Super Rugby currently suspended until further notice and with the Currie Cup, June internationals and the Rugby Championship all scheduled for later this year, there is a lot of uncertainty hovering over how 2020 will unfold.

There is also next year’s British & Irish Lions tour, a naturally lucrative period for SA Rugby.

What makes the current situation so complicated is the uncertainty over exactly where the crisis is heading and how long it will take for sport to return to normal, and the SA Rugby leadership will effectively need to calculate the financial implications of worst case and best case scenarios to try plan for any outcome. 

The loss of Super Rugby matches has obviously impacted massively on advertising revenue as well as match-day gate takings at the country’s four main stadiums, while New Zealand Rugby has already announced plans to cut salaries across the board with that country’s five franchises now under pressure. Australian and England, too, have announced cuts. 

South Africa, meanwhile, would be in an even more challenging position had the Springbok contracting model not changed significantly mid-way through last year.

In June 2019 it was announced that SA Rugby would no longer directly contract its players and that the unions and franchises would have a cap on the amount of professional players they could contract. It was part of a cost-cutting measure that is bearing fruit in these times of economic uncertainty. 

Some of South Africa’s biggest names – Handre Pollard, Eben Etzebeth, Cheslin Kolbe, Duane Vermeulen, Willie le Roux, Malcolm Marx, Lood de Jager and Faf de Klerk – are based overseas and off the SA Rugby books in terms of contracting. Their salaries are now fully paid by their clubs, and it alleviates a massive financial pressure on SA Rugby. 

Closer to home, the Bulls have the financial clout of billionaires Johan Rupert and Patrice Motsepe as combined major shareholders while even the Stormers, who have had their own well-documented financial struggles in recent times, are stable for the time being. 

“Our leadership has done incredibly well. The guys are feeling safe, there are no job security issues and we are being communicated well with,” Stormers head coach John Dobson said on Wednesday.

“I think if it goes on for a very long time, one can expect to see some sort of adjustment around the world and cuts. We’ve been in touch with MyPlayers.”

MyPlayers, the South African rugby players’ representative arm, has been working with SA Rugby closely to come up with solutions.

“I think SA Rugby has been proactive in the way they structured the way they’ve not offered Springbok contracts,” new Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White said.

“There has probably been a blessing there, but I have no doubt that there will be an impact. I’m sure that everyone understands that.”

In terms of the impact on the ground, White believes the loss of capital at the highest level will have a trickle-down effect. 

“I’m chatting to agents now and the market value of certain players has diminished incredibly,” he said.

“In the old days boys were contracted at school and junior level for huge amounts of money in South Africa. That seems to have diminished and I’ve got no doubt that it’s going to diminish even more now.

“The fact that senior players are not going to earn as much means the juniors are going to earn less.”

Dobson, meanwhile, believes that there could be a silver lining.

“I don’t want to sound like a vulture picking at the carcass, but I think you’re going to see less options overseas and that could help our local market correct,” he said.

“If a player comes with an offer from Northampton, I’m not sure that offer is there anymore, and we don’t have to get into those wars.

“I think you’re going to see some guys returning because society is going to be different. There is going to be an increased supply in the local market, which will obviously impact on prices.

“It could help our local domestic economies adjust a bit once we’re through this hiccup.”

The SA Rugby leadership, meanwhile, is set to meet on Friday.


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