NEWS

The Springboks Are In Free Fall And There's No Plan To Save Them

We shouldn't be surprised that Springbok rugby is in free fall. What do you expect from an organisation who's CEO is under investigation by the Hawks?

21/11/2016 21:46 SAST | Updated 22/11/2016 07:41 SAST
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Losers: Springbok rugby players after their humiliating loss against Italy. Even though the players are hurting, the rugby gravy train is chugging along merrily.

COMMENT AND ANALYSIS

The headquarters of the South African Rugby Union (Saru) will be a largely sombre place this week after the Springboks' utterly humiliating loss against Italy on Saturday.

"Largely" because in the oak-panelled, richly carpeted inner-offices, where the organisation's CEO and president are ensconced, it will be business as usual.

Jurie Roux, CEO, and Mark Alexander, president, are presiding over a sport in free fall. Shameful record-losses against Japan, Argentina, Ireland, New Zealand and now Italy have seriously dented the team's prestige here and abroad.

The misery is compounded by a succession of sponsors who have fled Saru (bluechip headline-sponsors like Absa have been replaced with B-league sponsor Blue Label Telecoms), viewing figures on broadcasting partner SuperSport that are said to be dropping and provincial unions which are almost all in strife.

Shameful record-losses against Japan, Argentina, Ireland, New Zealand and now Italy have seriously dented the team's prestige here and abroad.

These are however symptoms of much larger, systemic problems which those that profess to love the game are loathe to tackle. Union presidents (and very often, their wives) still enjoy freebies to overseas test matches and luxury hotels, while the rugby media consistently refuses to engage with verifiable facts lest Saru denies them press access.

All are pretty much beholden to Roux and Alexander.

Roux will be appearing in the High Court in Cape Town in August next year to oppose a damages claim of R35 million by the University of Stellenbosch. According to a forensic investigation by the auditor KPMG, instituted by the university's risk and audit committee, Roux used his position as chief director of finances to misappropriate millions of rands from the university reserves. He joined Saru as CEO after leaving Stellenbosch in 2010.

According to a forensic investigation by the auditor KPMG . . . Roux used his position as chief director of finances to misappropriate millions of rands from the university reserves.

The details in the comprehensive KPMG report – that are now the subject of an investigation by the Hawks in terms of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act and which have been all but ignored by Saru's leadership – is truly astounding.

Roux, in cahoots with a friend, Chris de Beer, channeled money to the university's rugby club even though it was strictly against generally accepted accounting practices, KPMG says.

These transfers can only be done with the consent of the university's council, which of course can decide to rather use those millions for bursaries, new laboratories or academic fellowships.

Roux – in charge of upholding the highest standards of accounting practice and good corporate governance at Saru – tried to erase traces of his nefarious activities by using a computer programme that wipes out the digital footprint, KPMG said.

The money that was transferred to the rugby club, without the knowledge and consent of university management but because Roux felt he could, was used for golf days, clothing, wine, events and the cancelling of rugby players' bursaries.

The casual way in which Roux, tasked with the wellbeing of Saru's finances and future, went about accessing university coffers is also astonishing: he referred to the reserves as "sparries", Afrikaans slang for pocket money.

Alexander, a businessman with various interests, was the beneficiary of the palace coup visited on forrmer president Regan Hoskins earlier this year, who resigned after a protracted boardroom battle with Roux. He was elected unopposed and, according to insiders at Saru's headquarters on the slopes of Tygerberg Hills outside of Cape Town, won't do anything to rock his mate Roux's boat.

The casual way in which Roux, tasked with the wellbeing of Saru's finances and future, went about accessing university coffers is also astonishing: he referred to the reserves as "sparries", Afrikaans slang for pocket money.

Roux has a lock on the President's Council, Saru's highest body – much like President Jacob Zuma has on the African National Congress' National Executive Committee.

Nothing will change unless the President's Council steps in – and they won't, because it's Roux who effectively decides which provinces host money-spinning test matches. More importantly: 70% of unions are dependent on Saru for 100% of their income. They aren't about to bite the hand that feeds them over minor ethical queries at a university with no direct bearing on Saru's wellbeing.

But here's the catch: revenues are dwindling, sponsors have left and SuperSport is apparently worried by depressed viewing figures. That means one thing: less gravy for Roux to dish out, which make the unions restless and friendships tenuous.

This, however, means nothing to the average Springbok supporter, who week in and week out banks on the emotion and exhilaration of a Bok win.

Then again, it seems clear the average Springbok supporter doesn't mean a lot to Roux, Alexander and the other so-called custodians of rugby.