Election of WP boss shakes SA rugby’s pillars of power
Zelt Marais's win is a sign that the institutional power is being broken down, some believe
The result of the Western Province Rugby Football Union’s (WPRFU) presidential election a few days ago is likely to reverberate north of the Hex River Valley.
It would appear Zelt Marais’s election win over Peter Jooste for the position vacated by Thelo Wakefield has stirred a bigger cause.
“This is very much the start of a movement,” said a respected member of the Western Province rugby fraternity who did not want to be named.
“For too long decisions were taken and people – and here I mean the clubs – were left in the dark. That institutional power is being broken down. It will happen elsewhere too,” he said forebodingly.
The corridor chat in the build-up to the elections seemed to suggest Marais would be a president determined to disrupt the status quo, while Jooste has often been described as a candidate unlikely to rock the boat.
Marais certainly committed himself to a rolling-up-the-sleeves approach in a pre-election promise to cut the salaries of those who earn more than R20,000 at the union by up to 25%.
That is going to be a hard sell, and he will have to disentangle a fair amount of red tape to get it done. He also has to tackle the union’s parlous finances.
WPRFU still owes former equity partner Remgro R40m, while erstwhile commercial partner Aerios continues to lay claim to R250m from the union. That dispute is ongoing.
He will now also have to oversee a potentially emotionally draining transition from Newlands to Cape Town Stadium.
In the early days of his term, instead of availing himself for interviews, Marais is acquainting himself with the scale of the task facing him, while weighing up how exactly pre-election promises can be acted upon. He is likely to find obstacles.
Jooste had considerable support. He is a stalwart of the Cape rugby community, having served two clubs and five unions over 48 years. He is also a longtime national selector.
He has come a long way but ultimately was not seen as the vehicle to help drive WPRFU out of the mire.
Jooste’s campaign, Times Select understands, enjoyed the support, tacitly or otherwise, of key figures in SA Rugby. Rightly or wrongly, he would have been more pliable to the prevailing tide in SA Rugby.
SA Rugby, for obvious reasons, needs its provincial affiliates closely aligned.
It is tied at the hip with its joint contracting model for the country’s top players, and it also needs the provinces to play ball in implementing a survival strategy that will see the number of professional players in the country radically reduced.
Rugby in SA is at a crucial juncture and only close co-operation will steel it for its many challenges. The sentiment that helped get Marais elected, however, may well be a shot across the bow of other provincial bosses and indeed those in high office at SA Rugby.
What happened in the Cape may not represent local rugby’s Arab Spring but it has given those who felt marginalised and stuck on the fringes a spring in their step.