Outgoing SA Rugby president Regan Hoskins failed to deliver on his promises during his 10-year tenure and his resignation is long overdue, writes JON CARDINELLI.
On Wednesday, SA Rugby confirmed that Hoskins had resigned from his post. The news won’t come as a shock to rugby people who have been following Hoskins’ career over the past decade.
Indeed, the only surprise is that this resignation did not come sooner. Many felt that the president’s council would push their leader out at the general council meeting on 1 April. Four months later, and Hoskins has finally walked the plank.
Like any politician, Hoskins should be judged by the promises he made and failed to keep. When he was first appointed in February 2006, he said that he wanted the South African Rugby Union to become synonymous with integrity, transparency, and unity. It’s plain to see that’s not the case in 2016.
There have been far more disappointments than successes during Hoskins’ decade-long tenure, and public opinion of the governing body is at an all-time low. To say change is overdue is an understatement.
In 2006, Hoskins assured us that the development of the Eastern Cape region, a hotbed of black rugby talent, remained a top priority for SA Rugby. At that stage, the Southern Spears were vying for a position in Super Rugby despite the lack of adequate resources, infrastructure and administration.
Hoskins declared as much after heading up an investigation into the Spears franchise. He made a tough but necessary call to delay the region’s entry into Super Rugby.
‘The Spears don’t work because the unions that make up the Spears don’t work,’ Hoskins told me in an interview in 2006. ‘We want to improve the situation at Eastern Province, Border and South Western Districts. We don’t want the Spears to contract players from other regions and live in a make-believe world.
‘It won’t take more than a few years to get those structures right. With the previous administration, it was a bit like the cart pulling the horse. We are working with a far more efficient system in place now, and I’m positive about the future.’
Three years later, the region was still beset by problems. The unions remained at loggerheads. This time, however, Hoskins was less honest and less forthcoming with practical solutions.
The Southern Kings were given the green light to form a franchise and play a match against the touring British & Irish Lions. Many wondered why the team featured so few players contracted to the unions that made up the franchise.
In an interview with SA Rugby magazine in April 2009, Hoskins spoke about the Kings joining Super Rugby. He refused to entertain the idea of promotion and relegation. He agreed that a system which forced one of South Africa’s six franchises to spend a year in the wilderness was not the answer.
‘We’re not interested in that at all,’ he repeated for effect.
And yet, that is exactly what came to pass. The Kings made their Super Rugby debut in 2013. They were given one season to prove their worth. The Lions, who had finished last in the South African conference in 2012, had to bide their time in the Vodacom Cup.
The Kings broke several records in their debut season, but still finished last in the South African conference. They were forced to play the Lions in a promotion-relegation series to determine which of the two teams would feature in the 2014 Super Rugby tournament. The Lions won the series on points difference to regain their Super Rugby status. The Kings were cast out into the wilderness. It wasn’t fair.
Lions president Kevin de Klerk told me as much in a frank interview in 2013. De Klerk lamented the Lions’ significant financial and personnel losses in the wake of the franchise’s relegation in 2012. He took aim at the leadership at SA Rugby for putting the Lions, and subsequently the Kings, in such a desperate position.
The Lions franchise has recovered since the team’s return to Super Rugby in 2014. They progressed all the way to the final of the 2016 tournament. By contrast, the Kings have regressed in the wake of the 2013 relegation in every sense.
It may be many years yet before the Eastern Cape franchise is spoken about with the same optimism. It will take time, and a sincere investment by the leadership at SA Rugby, to get the franchise back on track.
Hoskins and his sympathisers claim that much has been done on the transformation front over the past 10 years. They will point to the advent of the Community Cup in 2013, a club competition that has encouraged the selection of players of colour and provided said players with valuable exposure.
They will say that SA Rugby has reached out to fans of every colour in recent times, and will hold up the home Test matches at Soccer City, a multipurpose stadium situated close to Soweto, as an example.
Hoskins and company are also particularly proud of the Strategic Transformation Plan that was ratified by SA Rugby’s general council in late 2014. They are confident that the goals of the STP will be realised over the next four years and that come the 2019 World Cup, the Boks will be in a position to field a team that is 50% white, 30% ethnic black and 20% coloured.
One has to question that confidence when one reflects on the lack of transformation at national level over the past 10 years.
In the wake of the 2015 World Cup, Hoskins slammed the slow rate of transformation. He spoke the truth when he said that the national coach cannot be expected to include more players of colour in his squad if relatively few are featuring at Super Rugby level.
Hoskins spoke with passion and conviction. The words, however, were all too familiar. It was a speech the South African rugby community had heard in the wake of every World Cup tournament.
That speech only served to show Hoskins’ weakness as a leader. He may blame the big unions, but as the president, the buck stops with him. If Hoskins hasn’t convinced those presidents to embrace transformation over the past 10 years, can we believe that those same presidents will suddenly take his words to heart and make a change in the next four?
In 2006, Hoskins promised to restore integrity to the brand. Ten years later, and there are still too many stories in the media about mismanagement and infighting at SA Rugby.
In 2016, we’re still reading about the plight of the organisation of the front pages of newspapers. There’s very little to shout about on the back pages regarding the form of the South African Super Rugby sides and the Boks.
Mark Alexander will serve as the acting president in the wake of Hoskins’ resignation. Whoever is named as a permanent replacement will, in all likelihood, make the same promise to restore integrity to SA Rugby.
Needless to say, members of the public have every right to be wary of such promises. There needs to be some honesty from the outset. There needs to be an admission from the powers that be that the current structures require drastic revision. What’s in place at present is clearly not working.
Photo: Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images