Rugby's return to training amid Covid-19 cuts is a triumph of unity

Barend van Graan (CEO of SAREO), Rassie Erasmus (SA Rugbys Director of Rugby) and Eugene Henning (CEO of MyPlayers) during the SA Rugby major contracting announcement at SARU House last year.
Barend van Graan (CEO of SAREO), Rassie Erasmus (SA Rugbys Director of Rugby) and Eugene Henning (CEO of MyPlayers) during the SA Rugby major contracting announcement at SARU House last year.
Grant Pitcher
  • South African rugby isn't known for consistent shows of unity but, as the players steadily return to training, many have been reminded of the passion that exists for the game.
  • SA Rugby's Industry Financial Impact Plan, which will save R1.2 billion in the Covid-19 ravaged economy, is a perfect example of the local game's ability to stand together.
  • Within a month, a collective agreement between all parties was signed and currently 1 500 people still have a job within the industry, a triumph. 

A prominent rugby insider, who shall remain anonymous, recently quipped that a glance at the majority of the sport's headlines in the media would invariably make one lament that the local game is a circus.

By all accounts South African rugby is a strange animal, rife with self-interest, posturing, moments of brilliance and iffy management.

At heart though it remains thoroughly romantic, with a myriad players, coaches and administrators still genuinely loving what they do.

It's that unbridled affection for the game that Eduard Coetzee, the Sharks' chief executive, has been reminded of again as professional rugby steadily builds up to a return to play.

"Hell, it's nice to be back, seeing the guys training again," he told Sport24.

"The players have come back in better shape than we expected. They clearly used lockdown's extra downtime to good use. You can really see how they've missed the game. We've done so too. The game means a lot to everyone."

Making that sentiment even more heartening is the fact that local rugby's men and women are carrying on their duties while absorbing significant pay cuts until at least December, all part of SA Rugby's Industry Financial Impact Plan.

That initiative - a collaborative effort between the federation, MyPlayers, Sport Employees Unite and the South African Rugby Employers' Organisation - was designed to save R1.2 billion in a Covid-19 ravaged economy.

Its magnitude is, frankly, staggering.

On 27 March, the four parties came together to establish their working group to deal with the virus crisis.

Six days later, the group announced that the Industry Plan had been completed and would go through its approval phase.

By 21 April, it had been ratified.

Within a month, South Africa's professional rugby community had come together to swiftly mitigate a threat that, while still enormously challenging currently, seemed insurmountable at the time.

There was the drama of Western Province having to prove that they didn't break the collective agreement with the Pieter-Steph du Toit contract saga and the Lions subsequently exploring their options with regards to Malcolm Marx, but overall the process was a triumph.

A recent study found that South Africa's job losses related to Covid-19 tallied between 2.5 million and 3.6 million, vividly illustrating the devastating economic effects of the pandemic.

From 1 May to the end of December, none of rugby's approximately 1 500 employees would've lost their jobs.

Some will point to a slice of luck.

Others will highlight the game's canny organisational ability.

But what it should really tell us is that if South African rugby puts its sideshows aside, it can achieve significant unity.

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