Sharks: sudden switch at the top ill-timed

2013-04-11 00:00

THERE is blood in the water at the Shark Tank and chief executive Brian van Zyl has been sacrificed for Springbok captain John Smit.

Sharks officials and board members were diving for cover yesterday, refusing to confirm a lengthy report that the 35-year-old Smit, who is playing for Saracens in London, will soon be on his way back to Durban to succeed Van Zyl as the Sharks’ CEO.

Stephen Saad, chairperson of the Sharks board of directors, said he would not comment on the report.

“The board will be convening on Monday (April 15) and a media release will be issued on Tuesday. We are unable to comment further on the report at this stage.”

While a number of Sharks’ leading administrators and officials pleaded ignorance (“I know nothing”), staff members in the offices at King’s Park appeared better informed and said the report in the Mercury yesterday was entirely accurate.

They said that Van Zyl had only been told of the decision hours before the newpaper report appeared. “We are all shaken,” said one. “The staff can’t believe that BJ has been dumped so suddenly and in the middle of the Super Rugby season.

“Why the rush? He was up for retirement soon anyway.”

Van Zyl had reached his retirement age and was due to leave his job in February.

It is not know when Smit will take over, but it is thought that it could be as early as July.

Van Zyl was criticised recently for the way the Sharks management had handled the tragic killing of former Royal Marine Brett Williams at King’s Park on March 23. But the unfavourable publicity played no part in the decision to replace Van Zyl as negotiations with Smit have been going on for months.

Van Zyl has for years been the most admired rugby CEO in the country and is respected worldwide.

In the 20 years he has been CEO he transformed the Sharks from an amateur body of 1994 into a slickly run professional outfit that was one of the most successful in world rugby and the envy of every province in the country.

The involvement of Smit, the most capped Springbok in history, will be widely welcomed by Sharks supporters. He is an intelligent and popular rugby man, but he faces major challenges in suddenly taking over a multi-

million rand business. And that is as unfair on him as it is on Van Zyl.

What should have been a major announcement to launch a bright, new era in Sharks rugby has instead been leaked in secret and against a backdrop of bitterness and disloyalty.

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