SA rugby players stick together in salary-cut negotiations

South Africa’s professional rugby players have voted for collective representation in Covid-19 cost-saving talks.

This follows the announcement by the industry (SA Rugby, MyPlayers, the South African Rugby Employers Organisation and Sport Employees Unite) that a jointly developed Covid-19 cost saving plan has in principle been formulated.

The player representatives were presented with an overview of impact the coronavirus is having on the rugby industry - both locally and abroad - including the implications it has and might have for South Africa’s professional players. The industry cost saving plan includes various measures to help mitigate that impact and were discussed in detail.

“We have two options,” said Stormers representative and Currie Cup-winning captain, Chris van Zyl.

“We can either let individual players negotiate about salary cuts with their respective employers. By doing so, we risk exploitation at the individual and group level; it will be time consuming, and, ultimately, this could force unions and franchises into a financial position they may not recover from.

"Our second option is to have a collective voice at the table fighting our case while keeping the longer-term sustainability of the industry in mind. Given that, operating as a collective is the best option. These are tough decisions, but it’s what these tough times call for.”

Veteran prop and South Kings representative, Schalk Ferreira, supported Van Zyl in saying, “I’ve personally seen and felt what happens when you shoot the cow that gives you milk. With no money, employers are liquidated, and everyone loses. The impact of Covid-19 is not limited to the rugby industry, and the only way for rugby players to ensure a return to play in a sustainable professional environment is if all stakeholders work together. In this regard, we need a strong player voice and not individuals fighting for their own survival in South Africa’s rugby boardrooms. In the larger scheme of things, that won’t end well.”

The players gave MyPlayers the mandate to enter into further discussions on their behalf. Once more details become available, the player representatives will reconvene to approve or reject the industry’s proposal.

William Small-Smith, player representative for the Cheetahs, underscored the importance of reaching an agreement in which all stakeholders in rugby do their part.

“As players, we are aware of the important role we play in the rugby industry and, consequently, in the Covid-19 negotiations. Our contributions will continue to be dignified, informed and reasonable, trusting that the other stakeholders will assume their seats at the table with a similar commitment to the survival of the local rugby industry.”

Pieter-Steph du Toit, South Africa and World Rugby men’s Player of the Year for 2019, added, “It’s tough knowing we’ll probably have to make sacrifices, but if everyone in the industry contributes at the same levels, we’ll all get through this. We have to.”

Jacques Alberts, player representative for the Valke, urged the industry to make swift, but diligent work of a joint Covid-19 action plan.

“Understandably, players are anxious about their future. Are we playing or not; are we contributing to a national savings plan, or not? The sooner we have answers to these questions, the better.”

Warren Whiteley, former Springbok captain, concluded, “As players working together with the industry as a collective, we have moved mountains in recent years. Covid-19 presents us with a challenge greater than any we’ve seen before. There are more than 700 professional rugby players in South Africa, and the survival of the industry should be our goal in dealing with the pandemic. However difficult these decisions are, I’m still confident that we’ve chosen the best route to do so.”

On Wednesday, MyPlayers had online meetings with all professional rugby teams in South Africa. Players were presented with the same overview given at Tuesday’s meetings. The decision to collectively pursue further industry negotiations was explained to players before they had the opportunity to voice concerns, their support or general remarks and suggestions.

- Issued by MyPlayers