SA Rugby President speaks on return of rugby and World Rugby elections

South Africa Rugby President Mark Alexander looks on following a press briefing for the announcement of a new sponsorship by South African Breweries (SAB) for the National Springbok Sevens and Springbok Women's Sevens teams on February 28, in Johannesburg. / AFP PHOTO / GULSHAN KHAN (Photo credit should read GULSHAN KHAN/AFP via Getty Images)
FILE PHOTO: South Africa Rugby President Mark Alexander. / AFP PHOTO / GULSHAN KHAN

The South African Rugby Union (SA Rugby) President Mark Alexander said that a return to regular competition in the near future will take time given the disruptions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alexander, who spoke to CGTN Africa, said resuming play will be especially difficult as South African teams are currently playing in two tournaments that involve several countries.

South Africa has four teams that compete in Super Rugby and another two in the Guinness PRO14.

“So we play in four countries in Europe, two in Australasia, in Argentina and Japan, so any decision we make or anything about getting back into the game has to be aligned with all those countries so it is very difficult for us as an organization,” Alexander said.

Recent local media reports have suggested that the four teams could quit Super Rugby and join the PRO14 as the uncertainty over the competition’s future persists.

The lack of competitive action and uncertainty of the competition’s future are not the only things SA Rugby has had to contend with during this period.

Last month, South African rugby stakeholders confirmed an Industry Salary Plan (ISP) which included a range of cost-cutting measures, among them huge wage cuts, to save 1.2 billion Rand in expenses. As part of the ISP, South Africa’s professional rugby players were given a 21-day period in which to request contract termination and leave their franchises and provinces immediately.

While a number of players exercised this option and terminated their contracts, the highest-profile player being Springbok Rugby World Cup winner Malcolm Marx, Alexander said that he expected people to see a lot of players coming back home.

“What COVID has done is that people want to go back to their homes where they live. Because of the pandemic, there is so much uncertainty that you feel more comfortable to be back home. We also know of a lot of players wanting to come back to South Africa,” he said.

Alexander’s statement bears truth as some South Africans who were plying their trade outside the continent returned. Travis Ismaiel and Arno Botha joined the Vodacom Bulls from English Premiership side Harlequins and Irish PRO14 side Munster respectively. Springbok utility back Gio Aplon also joined the three-time Super Rugby champions from Japanese Top League outfit Toyota Verblitz.

Additionally, World Rugby Player of the Year and World Cup winner Pieter-Steph du Toit, who withdrew his notice of contract termination, committed his future to Western Province Rugby until at least August 2021.

Alexander also spoke about the fallout from the divisive election for the World Rugby chairmanship last month. Alexander said that South Africa was disappointed that former Argentina Agustin Pichot did not win the election for the World Rugby chairmanship.

Pichot narrowly lost to incumbent Sir Bill Beaumont by 28 votes to 23. Pichot’s late surprise candidacy saw him garner the support of SANZAAR, South America, and Asia as he pledged to lead the sport into a revolution.

Alexander, however, said that SA Rugby was more than willing to support Beaumont over the course of his second term.

“Both candidates were very formidable strategic intents for this year. I know that from the South they were punting Gus Pichot. Unfortunately, he never came in. It is like a rugby game, once the final whistle is blown we have to go on and just continue with doing the best we can.”

Alexander said that despite South Africa (through SANZAAR) and Rugby Africa backing different candidates, South Africa remains committed to the development of the sport on the continent.

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