Tit-for-tat unfavourable behaviour from SANZAAR partners

Tit-for-tat unfavourable behaviour from SANZAAR partners
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Recent Tit-for-tat behaviour and reporting of SANZAAR partners internal squabbling have been unfavourable, and to be honest, unsettling to all stakeholders.

Like a trial separation where the parents are accusing the other of using the children for their own purposes, the relationship is at a low ebb. Something that has bubbled away for some time, it is degrading to worsening levels after revelations of New Zealand Rugby actions, the extreme reactions, and contrary statements.

Accusations and at times, misrepresentation of facts, is debasing the four nations’ relationship just as the 2020 Rugby Championship is on the horizon.

Actions and tactics by all sides is a rugby scandal – one that from the other side of the globe – is being enjoyed a little too much by their rivals. The sense that it will get out of hand means that ‘cool heads must prevail’ soon before further damage is made to the association.

Although, is it too late for that? Has the damage between SANZAAR partners been done and/or, can relations be mended before the four nations hit rock bottom?

Tit-for-tat unfavourable behaviour from SANZAAR partners

It has not been pretty. Even if a few have enjoyed it more than they really should have, daggers and jibes have moved from ‘abrasive requests for letters of intent’ to statements that “we didn’t agree to this”. That escalated quickly to rebukes, to allegations of strong-arming tactics, and the appearance that South Africa was ejected so quickly, it could have been seen as more one of convenience rather than fiscal reality.

The apparent aggressor [to begin with] was New Zealand (NZ) Rugby and now they are being called everything from victim, to pariah, or scapegoat – name-calling and tit-for-tat actions that are hindering any early repairing of the divisions.

One that shifts quickly too, with revelations seemingly adding to the daily-drama which is unfavourable behaviour from stakeholders in The Rugby Championship.

Announcements from three out of four SANZAAR partners have all stoked the fire. One that might not have been solely based on a Super Rugby decision solely. Why? Because over the time that individuals and administrations have been driving the SANZAAR conversation, it has eroded to the point where four South African franchises have ‘pivoted’ their focus from the Southern Hemisphere, northward.

‘How did it get to this point?’ is a question some will ask. Not always a ‘who said it’ argument yet, to be honest, several names will figure strongly in a chronology that can be tracked. One that many of the outbursts can be related against.

Tensions bubbling to the surface after long fermenting

Everyone from Oregan Hoskins, to Brent Impey, Jurie Roux to former NZ Rugby chief Steve Tew have all participated in a long played out battle of conscience. They have all said their piece over time, which has contributed to the formed intent that South Africa have pined to join the Northern hemisphere competition.

While that seemed to begin as far back as October 2013, when Hoskins went on the offensive.  “People didn’t believe us when we said how serious it was until we had to forsake one of our provinces out of the Super Rugby,” the former SARU president said.

President of the South African Rugby Union (SARU) Oregan Hoskins and Chief Executive of the SARU Jurie Roux at Newlands on August 16, 2012 to announce the inclusion of the Southern Kings within the Vodacom Super Rugby competition. (Photo by Grant Pitcher / Gallo Images)

“We have to do everything it takes to ensure our teams play in whatever competition. If it is not SANZAR then we have to look north.”

While the many incarnations, expansion, and contraction have seen two ex-Super Rugby teams play in the Celtic League, the tensions have always been there. Rosey when the cameras required, yet always bubbling away. Fermenting so that when a global pandemic halted the immediate option to travel, the likelihood of Super Rugby 2021 outside of Australia and New Zealand, would not include SA teams.

The fact was indisputable. The way it was referenced publicly was not. It was obtuse, included issuing ultimatums rather than olive branches. And South Africa and Argentina were left with few to no options.

“We would not have been making this decision but for actions elsewhere”. A blunt statement from South African Rugby last week. And one that is entirely correct.

Disruption to Super Rugby expedited by Coronavirus

The poor relations had begun well before the global pandemic yet Coronavirus has expedited the manifestation of feelings. Times before current global circumstances existed yet, the sentiment of change has been purported to by all nations – to a lesser degree Argentina.

In fact, some might call the Pumas an innocent bystander yet each time a vote was called for, the South Americans will have found their voice. Who is to say that favours asked of Argentina won’t be one day ‘called on’ – just as any politician might.

So how true were the comments from NZ Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern? She made the intimation back in early September that “Sanzaar politics” was to blame for the decision. Denied outright by SANZAAR boss Andy Marinos. The catalyst that is the Coronavirus is a huge factor, which no one will deny. The timeline and the consequences are not in question.

SANZAAR Headshots Session

However, September isn’t the exact timeline for discontent. It might be traced back to before the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Agitated by many groups, whose interests now come to a head. Andy Marinos has always appeared to attempt to placate each side. He wishes to maintain the status quo yet where Super Rugby is concerned, his tone and intentions have at times stoked relations.

In April 2018, the PRO14 chief executive Martin Anayi stoked the fire when he said South African team participation could be “Even longer term than that. There is an option then in the future to look at more. [When discussing the Cheetahs and Southern Kings].

“It has not been decided [if other teams will join], those two teams are set. But obviously, if other teams are willing to come in, that will be looked at.”

And International rugby has been used too as lobbying tools towards improved rewards. Many times, SA Rugby has on multiple occasions suggested that the Springboks could look towards other competitions to maximize their interests. That might be one idea though, the broadcasting agreement is in place until 2025.

Will the SANZAAR partnership survive next season?

Questions now on the next season are difficult to say with any certainty. The key players are still to decide on their respective domestic season formats; NZ Rugby is still causing consternation within their own borders. The lack of a Pasifika side in plans for a 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa format, is upsetting stakeholders and appears to be undermining the administration of Brett Impey (see main picture).

Jurie Roux himself still has to put in place a domestic season plan to incorporate the Super franchises. Some suspect that negotiating a 2021/22 PRO16 competition will dictate any local competition. One that might be a hybrid of the Currie Cup, along with the five professional franchises, inclusive of the Cheetahs.

Rugby Australia must confirm their plans and receive a favourable broadcast contract, that aligns best with their 2021 season and beyond. That would enable the union to be sustainable, recalling the World Rugby grant that might yet need to be repaid. International rugby competitions might need to take a backseat, as the domestic competition settles all party’s needs.

The actions of SANZAAR partnership might be in the headlines now but, in 2021 it is not the key driver of competitions. Andy Marinos might still make public statements however, he cannot influence the dialogue of domestic franchise partners. Private investors will all want a return, and the proposed Pasifika group could yet find still a home in Sydney, rather than Auckland.

All those individual competitions in 2021 will be as a result of the current climate.

The boardroom conflicts felt today could highlight how poor relations of Rugby Championship partners affect the makeup of the future Super Rugby storyline. Who is to say that the name itself, the entire organization, is not broken up and put into the ‘too hard basket’.

Any further extreme corporate reactions now might boil over into a more nationalized rugby future. Many would find that intolerable, and as Tony Johnson suggested on Newstalk ZB. “Can you guys just find a room, and sit down. And sort this out for the betterment of the game”, because it might create a very muddy situation for future generations to have to accept.

Not what the SANZAAR partnership was originally intended to be.

 

“Main photo credit”
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