Smit leaves Sharks for family, but admits his job wasn’t for sissies

2016-05-27 11:16
After serving as Sharks’ CEO for three years, John Smit has announced he will stand down after the 2016 season.

After serving as Sharks’ CEO for three years, John Smit has announced he will stand down after the 2016 season. (Gallo Images )

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Pietermaritzburg - Celebrated former Springbok ­rugby captain John Smit on Thursday ­sensationally quit as the Sharks’ chief executive.

Smit, citing family reasons, will stand down at the end of the 2016 ­season after three years in the job.

“This decision to resign was not an easy one,” Smit said in making his ­sudden announcement yesterday, “and it is based primarily on me wanting to focus more of my time on my young family.”

Sharks chairperson Stephen Saad said that the board of directors was grateful for Smit’s contribution “in guiding the Sharks through a period of transition over the past three years”.

“I am pleased to say he will remain closely associated with the ­organisation, maintaining a series of key relationships.”

Smit’s brief tenure was punctuated by controversy and financial problems as gate takings and the sale of season tickets and suites declined alarmingly.

A former colleague of Smit’s at King’s Park said that the financial ­pressures were intense and alleged that the Sharks were many millions of rand in debt. “No one seems to know exactly how much they have lost because for the first time that I can remember the annual financials for 2015 were not ­presented for approval at the annual meetings of both the Sharks board of directors and the KZN Rugby Union in April,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Sharks said last night that the reason for Smit’s ­resignation “were as in the statement we released”.

“John’s reason for resigning is based primarily on the fact that he wants to spend more time with his young family. Naturally people will want to speculate on other perceived reasons. We, ­however, will not be drawn into speculation that is totally false,” she said.

Smit, who led the Springboks to their 2007 Rugby World Cup triumph, said “it had been an honour to represent the Sharks on the field, and it has been an honour for me to work for the Sharks off the field.”

He said he had enjoyed the last three years and greatly appreciated the continuing support of Sharks chair ­Stephen Saad, KZN Rugby Union ­president Graham Mackenzie, Supersport and the rest of the board.

“I look forward both to the next ­challenge in my career and to remaining a frequent visitor to King’s Park, my home from home since I was 18 years old.”

Saad said that the process leading to the appointment of a new CEO had started. Ironically, Smit’s announcement has come at a time when the young Sharks team — under head coach Gary Gold — have started to ­flourish and on a day when three of their brightest young talents (the Du Preez twins and Garth April) extended their contracts by two years.

Smit, who took over from Brian van Zyl as the Sharks CEO in 2013, picked his way through a minefield of explosive issues during his tenure. “You have a totally different idea of administrators when you are a player. This is not a job for sissies. I have to regularly make tough, unpopular decisions. Not easy,” he told The Witness in reflecting on those controversial moments.

His very first decision — to ­terminate coach John Plumtree’s contract and made before he had even left London to join the Sharks — had been his most difficult he admitted later.

He said that the Sharks had made a brave call in appointing him. “I was an administrator without any experience, a rugby player. They wanted a CEO who would make rugby decisions and fix problems. And that was what tried to do at all times. It was nothing personal. It was for rugby reasons.”

Coaches, among them Jake White, and senior Springbok players came and went and the Sharks battled with both their style of rugby and producing ­results. And, as the crowds at King’s Park have dwindled, so the pressures on Smit have increased as he attempted to balance a high profile, time-consuming job with his family life.

And yesterday the 38-year-old Smit abruptly ended his fledgling career as a rugby administrator.

Read more on:    john smit  |  pietermaritzburg  |  sharks  |  rugby

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