The South African Rugby Players Association (Sarpa), which represents all the country's professional players, has declared a dispute with SA Rugby, saying that the leaders of the sport were "two-faced", had "no integrity", and pursued a policy of trying to fool the public.
Sarpa gave Sarfu (the South African Rugby Football Union) seven days to respond to their letter of dispute, sent to Theunie Lategan, SA Rugby board chairperson, on Wednesday.
The spectre of a players' strike is a distinct possibility The letter reiterated the players' demand for representation on the SA Rugby board.
Should SA Rugby, the commercial arm of Sarfu, choose to ignore the letter, then Sarpa will take the case to the CCMA (Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration).
Thereafter, the spectre of a players' strike is a distinct possibility.Piet Heymans, the Sarpa chief executive officer, said it was understood that the presidents of the 14 provincial unions were trying to set up their own players' association, which, he agreed, would be akin to Anglo-American setting up a mineworkers' union."We have a written mandate from the players to take this dispute as far as we need to," Heymans said, holding up a copy of a signed agreement from the current Springbok team.
'If the players went on strike they couldn't be fired and couldn't be victimised. Should SA Rugby not respond and should we go to the CCMA, it would probably issue us with a certificate saying that the dispute was unresolved, so that if the players went on strike they couldn't be fired and couldn't be victimised."
The stand-off between Sarpa and SA Rugby came to a head this week when the players' association spoke of declaring a dispute after SA Rugby failed to meet a June 1 deadline to address their grievances. Two letters to SA Rugby - the second a formal ultimatum to respond by June 1 - did not elicit a reply.
Subsequent talk of declaring a dispute reached the ears of the rugby hierarchy, who summoned Sarpa to an emergency meeting in Cape Town on Friday afternoon. Five members of the Sarpa executive, led by chairman Rob van der Valk and Heymans, attended the meeting. They were ranged against four officials representing Sarfu and SA Rugby, led by Sarfu chairperson Lategan and Keith Parkinson, Sarfu's deputy president.
Sarpa's main grievances are that its members do not have representation on the Sarfu board and do not receive funding from the national body, as is the case with other rugby nations like France and Australia. In addition, they are concerned with the new system of non-contractual payments to the Springboks, which they claim are not market-related and lack security.
Sarpa said they met a brick wall from the SA Rugby delegation. Brian van Rooyen, the Sarfu president, did not attend the meeting.Sarpa's Hennie le Roux, the former Springbok, said that the association had backed the appointment of Van Rooyen as he had told them that he would heed their demands. "We backed Van Rooyen on his commitment that he wanted player representation on the board and would give funding for the association. It was promised to me on three occasions by Van Rooyen. He told me that it would be ratified at a board meeting on April 23. The 14 unions signed a letter recognising us as the players' representatives in 1999."
Van Rooyen said: "They cannot declare a dispute with Sarfu because we don't employ the players. They are employed by their provincial unions. We simply pay them a fee when we select them [for national duty]."
Not true, Heymans said. The contracts the players had with the provinces stated that when a player was called up to the Springboks, he was an employee of SA Rugby.Van Rooyen said his decision not to grant contracts to players in the national squad had been fully justified by recent developments. "Of Jake White's original Springbok squad, how many do you think are injured? There are nine of them, and if they had been given contracts we would have wasted R4,5-million on players who are sidelined."
He pointed out, however, that if an injured player like Ashwin Willemse required surgery, Sarfu would pay for it because he was injured as part of the national squad.
According to Heymans, Willemse will receive R1 000 a day, to a maximum of R25 000 a month, from SA Rugby as compensation for the injury. Thereafter he will receive money from Sarpa's injury insurance. "We had to fight for that compensation for the players," Heymans said.
Van Rooyen said a meeting of his full executive committee had not found any need for Sarpa to be represented on the Sarfu board.
The Sunday Independent.