Saru on back foot
South African rugby faces a torrid 2016 as legal wrangles, possible on-field embarrassment and the fallout from last year’s disappointing World Cup threaten to engulf the game. Revelations contained in a report by auditing firm KPMG that SA Rugby Union (Saru) CEO Jurie Roux is allegedly being sued for R32 million by Stellenbosch University have driven president Oregan Hoskins and other executives into a corner.
It is claimed Roux unlawfully diverted R35 million worth of Stellenbosch University funds to the institution’s rugby club while he was a financial officer at the university.
In addition, legal action against two Eastern Province rugby entities, the Eastern Province Rugby Union and Eastern Province Rugby, who operate under the auspices of Saru, could have a knock-on effect that might prevent the Southern Kings from competing in the forthcoming Super Rugby competition.
Rugby players contracted by the Kings but subsequently not favoured with contracts when Saru was forced to step in to bail out EP Rugby (when it became apparent that continued claims of sponsorship by president Cheeky Watson were nonexistent) are taking legal action.
A group of players has already won reparation from the EP Rugby Union [EPRU] while the SA Rugby Players’ Association has brought an application for the liquidation of EP Rugby (the union’s professional arm) in an effort to get what’s owing to them.
Craig Jessop of Port Elizabeth attorneys Brown, Braude & Vlok, who has been representing a group of 18 disaffected players since December, said: “[Because of] the inability of the players to get assurances [with regard to their wages] and a guarantee that they would play Super Rugby, we brought legal action to mitigate the loss of their cancelled contracts as well as the financial losses they suffered.
“The matter was referred to arbitration before retired Judge Frank Kroon. The total claim was about R18 million and the players were awarded R12 million.
“This was divided into R5 million in arrears due on January 31 [today] and R7 million for damages payable in monthly instalments. If the payment date is missed, the next step will be to seek liquidation of the EP Rugby Union.”
The union has not indicated whether it has the funds to avoid the liquidation of its assets.
In an effort to rescue the region’s participation in Super Rugby, Saru hived off the franchise into a new body, the Southern Kings, and took over the appointment of coaches and the contracting of players.
However, players who have not received contracts believe this was done to evade the EPRU’s debts and void contracts entered into with players. This may turn out to be illegal.
Although as yet not on the table, players may well decide to indict Saru, which could prevent the Southern Kings from participating in the new 18-team Super Rugby competition that kicks off on February 26.
The Roux issue has been placed on the agenda for Saru’s executive committee on Friday, and the mother union’s responses will be closely watched.
Hoskins released a statement on Friday that Roux’s original appointment in 2010 had been handled by a recruitment agency, but there is evidence to suggest that when the CEO’s contract was extended in 2014, the president and other members of the executive were aware of the allegations about his time at Stellenbosch University.
Against the backdrop of a poor World Cup last year because of Heyneke Meyer’s coaching inadequacy and lack of appreciation for the imperatives of transformation, Saru is running into further stormy water.
There is the nettle of appointing a universally acceptable new Springbok coach (in March) and getting the public to accept a complicated Super Rugby structure that places South African sides at a disadvantage.
On top of this, thanks to the feats of Kagiso Rabada and Temba Bavuma, cricket has moved well ahead in the duel to win the hearts and minds of the people.
Eastern Province rugby has been put under Saru’s administration
Saru president Oregan Hoskins
FINGERED Saru chief executive Jurie Roux