Opinion: A weekend full of sporting joy and proud milestones

Henry

Full marks… yes, five out of five South African teams will participate in the European Championship and the European Challenge Series…

There is also great joy for and about Dricus du Plessis, who won our first world title in mixed martial arts (MMA).

But there was much more this past weekend. You really had to know your TV channels to keep up with our SA20 cricket series, the matches of all five South African teams playing in the European Rugby Championship and the European Challenge Series on Saturday, the ongoing Australian Open, the preparation and selection of our two sevens teams that will participate in Perth this coming weekend, Bafana who started poorly and then beat Namibia, but will still have to pull through to make the play-offs of the African Nations Cup…

And then there was also the golf in Dubai.

Five out of five for SA’s teams in overseas series

But because rugby (and now, after the World Cup) is undeniably the national sport of South Africa, the focus for now is on the overseas series in which the Stormers, Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Cheetahs participate.

The Stormers and the Bulls qualified for the so-called ’round of 16′ of the Championship last weekend and the Sharks, Lions and Cheetahs reached the last 16 in the Challenge Series.

The South African performance is truly excellent. Our players have to constantly fly back and forth to participate in the two mentioned competitions and also the United Rugby Competition (URC), but cannot, as things stand, make use of first class facilities on flights to and from South Africa.

Just imagine how men like Eben Etzebeth and Ox Nché have to sit next to each other in their average-sized “chairs” for a long journey!

There is at least the prospect that after the 2024/25 season, SA Rugby will get their share of the two European competitions. Last season, the national governing body had to pay R330 million to the overseas participation, of which transport was a big chunk.

  • One must also give a touch of extra praise to the Cheetahs, who were only allowed into the Challenge Series provided they make their “home field” overseas. In the 2022/23 series they played in Italy, and in the current season their “home ground” is in Amsterdam.

SA teams fight against overseas money

In addition – and this is something that one rarely thinks about and simply takes for granted – the European teams also attract large sums of money from South Africa’s very best players, while the SA teams then have to do without the quality players. And the SA Rand, moreover, cannot compete against the Euro, British Pound and Yen to supplement their weaknesses or retain the best players.

There is no doubt that the South African teams’ participation is a big injection for the competition, which could still record its most spectators in 2022/23.

  • Meanwhile, it remains a question how the English Premier League clubs can sustain paying astronomical salaries, because of the remaining ten teams in the league (three were suspended last year due to bankruptcy by the Rugby Football Union, England’s national union) no less not if eight of the ten clubs are digging out of their shareholders’ funds in the 2021/22 season to stay afloat.

And we are talking about big money here and about the stronger Premier League clubs, as shown below:

Bristol’s £29.8 million (more than R707 million) is the largest contribution that the owner/shareholders had to pay to a club in order to survive.

The strong Harlequins had to use £12.7 million (about R300 million) of its shareholders’ funds.

(The figures for the English clubs’ 2022/23 season are not yet available.)

There are, of course, various reasons for the English clubs’ predicament, and the exorbitant contract fees for players is undoubtedly one of the reasons – but to say that their generally mediocre match attendance figures are one of the main reasons would not be far off the mark. .

  • It’s not English rugby teams, but just look at the HRC’s attendance figures last season, where the four South African teams have the best attendance of the top five teams (The Cheetahs are not playing in the competition):

Bulls: 95,405
Stormers: 93,204
Sharks: 84,870

Leinster: 57,675

Lions: 56,043
Munster: 53,534
Connacht: 50,618

Zebras: 48,104
Glasgow: 47,813
Ulster: 44,406
Dragons: 43,019
Benetton: 40,524

Edinburgh: 39,931

Scarlets: 37,748
Cardiff: 37,583
Ospreys: 25,756.

Kudos to Graeme Smith

The former cricket captain of the Proteas, Graeme Smith, as director of the current, extremely successful, SA20 series successfully launched a new concept last year and built on it this year.

Although cricket is still suffering financially after the wasteful influence of the former chief executive, Thabang Moroe, between 2017 and 2019, within two years the SA20 series has allowed the fans to see the light again in years where the struggle on the international front and the struggling financial situation has badly hit the sport.

However, as a traditionalist, I am very concerned that the rapid cricket could be a dead end for Test cricket in a few more years. It’s just a matter of supply and demand and therefore ultimately money.