'Stable' Cheetahs navigating way through coronavirus crisis

Harold Verster (Gallo)
Harold Verster (Gallo)

The Cheetahs, like every rugby union in South Africa, have implemented pay cuts across the board but remain "stable" in the financial uncertainty that has come as a result of the crippling fight against the coronavirus crisis. 

The Bloemfontein-based union will almost certainly be unable to re-join the PRO14 when that competition returns this year - tournament organisers are understood to be eyeing a return as soon as August 22 - but they remain committed to the competition's future. 

If the 2020/21 PRO14 starts towards the end of this year, then the Cheetahs and Kings might have to delay their participation until early 2021 if they are involved in the 2020 Currie Cup, which could be pushed back in 2020. 

CEO Harold Verster, however, has reiterated that the franchise is still very much part of the PRO14's future plans and he says that, for now, the union is surviving in this climate of uncertainty. 

"The financial impact on rugby is massive. We don't play rugby so there are no turnstiles rolling," he told Sport24 on Wednesday. 

"The sponsors are waiting to see what will happen so there is no advertising and even the broadcasting income, while it hasn't been affected yet, that will come if there is nothing on the table soon.

"We have a fantastic sponsor in Toyota who stick with us. Secondly, we've also got shareholders like SuperSport who support us. Our cash flow is a challenge, but we are stable, and we will make it."

The Cheetahs were also able to hold onto all of their players during the recently completed 21-day window that allowed all professional players in South Africa the opportunity to exit their existing contracts. 

They have lost hooker Joseph Dweba (Bordeaux-Begles) and lock Walt Steenkamp (Bulls) in recent days, but those deals were concluded outside of the 21-day window while they have also welcomed two-time World Cup winning Springbok Frans Steyn. 

"In principal, we and the Sharks were against the window, but it's a democratic system so we abide by that. We haven't been affected. Not one of our players took the option," Verster said. 

"It's a challenge for all the unions, cash-flow wise. Even the banks are getting jittery because they aren't sure what's going to happen.

"But I'm positive we'll get through this."

While this could present a time of unity in South African rugby where the franchises and unions work together for a common cause, Verster is somewhat sceptical. 

"I think it brought us closer, but I've worked in rugby for 50 years and I've never really seen the unions united," he said.

"It's about 'me' not about 'us'. In the PRO14 they really stick together and sort it out. It's a wonderful spot to be in. South Africa is more challenging.

"We have to work together and be kind to each other, but then suddenly they (bigger SA unions) buy six of our top players and you feel the punch. The they buy our doctor, then our fitness trainer, then our captain and then another captain ... it never stops.

"We must work together, but it must go both ways."

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