If ever there was a problem with no solution it is the Super Rugby poser which on Saturday week will lead to the sporting equivalent of civil war.
On July 21 and August 3 the Lions and the Kings will clash over the course of two matches to decide which of them will be South Africa’s fifth side in next year’s Super 15 competition.
The outcome will be decided by applying the rules of Super Rugby.
If one of the teams wins both matches it will qualify, but if each of them wins a match it will go to the team with the highest aggregate-points difference, followed by the most tries, followed by the highest aggregate of tries-for versus tries-against and, if the deadlock remains, a toss of the coin.
Yes, the toss of a coin. A decision involving millions of rands, the jobs of support staff and the careers of any number of players could come down to this toss.
Another season would have passed and, yet again, the SA Rugby Union (Saru) would have come no closer to solving the six-into-five-doesn’t-go conundrum they have been wrestling with since 2005.
Whichever side goes through will struggle to be competitive and the losers will be pushed closer to ruin, both financially and as a sporting entity.
It really is an unholy mess, which is costing an inordinate amount of money.
Taking costs into account, of which player salaries is the biggest, the minimum requirement to run a team in Super Rugby is in the region of R50 million to R60 million and SA Rugby has managed to create a situation in which this expenditure is doubled up.
The Kings had to be financed on entering the competition, while the Lions continued to receive their share of the television rights fees paid by SuperSport and continued to try to operate at the level required to win back promotion.
The Kings did better than most predicted, but the undeniable fact is that they ended up last on the log, as the Lions were in two of the three previous years.
It is evident from the woes of the Lions, and now the Kings, that South Africa does not have the playing power to field a fifth team, and yet Saru have not stood up to their Sanzar partners to insist on a different format – in fact, insulated behind the impregnable stone wall of their sprawling PR department, they have not even come up with any thought-provoking proposals.
Amalgamation of the Kings and the Lions has been volunteered as a possible solution and my information is that, in spite of denials by both parties, “informal” talks did take place, but clearly the impediments were just too great.
Previous attempts at merging have not worked, while there was no way around the realities such as whether a single team could generate enough funds to sustain two stadiums and also the fact that many “staff members”, which obviously includes players, would have been left in the lurch.
Amalgamation might satisfy political needs in the short term but satisfy no one in the long run.
Many questions remain unanswered: Who has been funding the Kings (Saru perhaps)? Is it true that astronomical salaries are being paid to certain individuals at the Kings? What funds have been generated by the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium and who does it
accrue to? And, more worryingly, what of the constant rumours that the Lions face financial ruin?
It is totally unacceptable, but administrators, like the generals in World War 1, sit untouched and unaccountable in their glass houses while they send their troops, the players, charging out of the trenches and into a conflict they don’t want and don’t need.
An entirely new model is required, but that would take imagination and leadership . . . commodities Saru does not have.
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