OPINION: Rugby 365 columnist and two-time World Rugby Junior Championship winner Eugene Eloff pleads for South African rugby not to cannibalise itself for the sake of pushing political agendas.

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I want to appeal, no plead, for all the interested parties that we build this beautiful game, not destroy it.

The COVID-19 pandemic has already been cataclysmal for sport all over the world – including the game of rugby. It has had a huge impact on the financial sustainability and the survival of national unions, franchises and clubs.

It is well-documented that some unions are battling financially, with the Falcons the latest to file for liquidation.

Kevin de Klerk, the former Lions President and a man I respect immensely, recently wrote an article about the “crisis” rugby finds itself in. He alluded to the financial challenges and the concomitant harm it can do to the game if these issues are not resolved.

When we contextualise the financial repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic with the prevailing zeitgeist of the Black Lives Matter movement, we see that rugby is facing its very own winter of discontent.

Rugby in South Africa has always been a political playball.

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We remember all too well the isolation years – when sweeping sanctions during apartheid prevented South Africa from competing in the global arena.

The world-wide abhorrence towards apartheid was justifiable and merited, while rugby in South Africa suffered the consequences of the politicising of the game locally and abroad.

Fast forward to 1995, when our boys in Green and Gold won the World Cup – with Francois Pienaar proudly proclaiming that the win was not just for the 62,000 fans at Ellis Park, but for all 43 million South Africans.

The game of rugby was seen as a vehicle of reconciliation and forged a sense of pride for all South Africans – regardless of race, creed or colour.

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The Springboks have since won the Webb Ellis Cup twice more, 2007 and 2019.

These events (read World Cup victories) succeeded in uniting our nation – especially the rugby communities – and made us all proud to be South African.

We need to build on those successes, not break it down and cause more polarization in rugby.

The BLM movement is currently gathering momentum around the world. However, people are of the opinion that there are other forces, with sinister agendas, piggybacking on this movement and in the process ripping the heart out of the movement and the ideology emanating from the tragic circumstances upon which it was built.

Here in SA the BLM has given impetus to disgruntlement among a group of non-white coaches and former players.

For rugby in South Africa it is indeed our Winter of Discontent.

Some coaches are of the opinion that they have been ignored and passed over for strategic coaching positions, despite them having the expertise, skills and qualifications for said assignments.

They argue that these positions have been assigned to favoured white coaches.

While there are indeed merit in some of these arguments, we must caution against throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater and destroying the game we all love so much.

Make no mistake, there has indeed been discrimination – with all coaches not always being given the opportunity to apply for certain positions. In some instances, there were those that were given positions purely as ‘window-dressing’.

However, there are individuals and organizations that thrive on conflict, disruptions, discontent and gleefully derive pleasure from the failure of those who are genuinely trying to drive the game forward.

Using a political platform as a point of departure gives rugby a militant flavour and immediately creates a sense of distrust, offence and may actually defeat the purpose well-meant intentions of others.

We have great coaches of all races and they should all be given the same opportunities and access to apply for professional positions.

So how do we do this?

I would suggest we have objective independent bodies – watchdog committees – to ensure that coaches of all races will have the same platform to air their grievances, as well as being given a level playing field and equal access to coaching positions based on merit.

These bodies (watchdogs) will also ensure that the correct protocols are followed in this process.

So, with the euphoria still in our hearts of our recent World Cup win, we should be reminded that rugby again is an example of a shining star that will pave the way forward – guidance for future generations of talented rugby players in this country, who want to play purely for the love of the game.

Stop with the distractions and politicising and get back to the game.

For the love of the game let us build and not destroy. Preserve it for future generations.

This article was first published in Rugby 365 and appears her with permission. 

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