Currie Cup

Coach 'will choose' players


Johannesburg - Does he know something that no one else knows, or is he simply a naïve investor?

This is what many business people and Lions supporters were asking earlier in the week following the news that billionaire Robert Gumede, chairperson of the Guma Group, and a business partner had bought a 49% stake in the Golden Lions Rugby Union.

Was this simply a whim?

It's a combination of things, said Gumede.

Ivor Ichikowitz and Gumede are entrepreneurs with a social conscience. They are philanthropists, but always entrepreneurs. Their aim is to make businesses work.

This involves the 47-year-old IT magnate and the arms dealer combining their business
skills with the Lions administrators' rugby knowledge, ultimately to build the most successful rugby enterprise.

Should it become a good business, it will make a profit – and to make a profit quality players are required.

Does this mean that Gumede will choose players in future?

No, no he said. The coach decides who he wants in the team. Their role is the injection of capital.

If the coaching team wants to buy a player, they don't need to go knocking on doors. Gumede and Ichikowitz are committed to getting what is necessary to make the enterprise work.

He will even be looking further, to the other red team, for inspiration: their objective was to realise a dream.

They hoped to make the Lions a team in the league of Manchester United, and one that becomes rich.

But still one wonders: why this particular red-and-white team? Isn't soccer flavour of the times?

Gumede in fact had a soccer team in the 1980s named – appropriately? – the Dangerous Darkies.

As a child in Nelspruit Gumede himself played soccer, but his son played in the first rugby team at the private school St John’s College in Houghton, thus exposing his father to the sport.

At the Super14 semi-final and final Gumede came to see the role that rugby could play in transforming the country.

He wondered why a team from Tshwane should have been the first to play in Soweto? That should have been the Lions.

That's when he knew he wanted to be involved.

He was aware that as a black man he had been fortunate to be able to make money – through hard work.

Now he had an opportunity to break down barriers.

He wanted the people of Soweto to learn to love rugby.

Everyone supported the Springboks, but that was to do with patriotism.

Gumede now wants both blacks and whites to support the provincial team, but they can do so only if they understand the game.

The biggest mistake that can be made is not to promote rugby as a school sport.

The only black players come from the Eastern and Western Cape. The others come from private schools. These are children from wealthy black families.

How can you shout for transformation at top level if there's nothing to feed through to it?

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