Once again political issues have left the beleaguered SWD Eagles players with major uncertainty and insecurity.
SWD Rugby has been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons. It varies from Presidents, vice presidents and executive committee member’s being removed, to costly litigation in the High Court and now, players not being paid on time or only getting ‘assurances’ that the employers contractual obligations to pay them in the future, will be honoured.
A while back it was reported that SA Rugby would sell its shares in SWD Rugby Union to a private company, Bunker Capital. The shareholding was reported to be 50% which at the time and was heralded as groundbreaking in South African rugby.
Relationships however between Bunker Capital and the SWD Rugby Union (amateur arm) and Eagles Pty Ltd. (commercial arm) broke down over the last couple of months, ironically enough at the same time that SWD President, Stag Cronje, was voted out as president from the union – Cronje is currently challenging this action in court.
Willie Small, union chief executive, was quoted in saying that the breakdown in relationships between Cronje and the union, directly affected the investment and partnership they have with Bunker Capital suggesting that the reason for Bunker’s apparent refusal to honour their agreement to the union and Eagles company, was as a direct result in the union’s democratic decision to relieve Cronje from his duties.
“Cronje is said to have initiated our partnership with Bunker, and now it would appear as if he is favouring the interests of Bunker Capital over those of SWD Union,” Small told the Herald in a recent interview.
Relations did not only break down between Cronje and SWD union, but also with the players and their Trade Union SARPA, where there have been alleged cases of intimidation where the professional players and their Union Office bearers have been threatened that they would be chased away from the union for getting involved in political games.
The players have lodged a grievance about their concerns which has been ignored. Player’s have also been reluctant to participate in formal practice sessions for fear of injury. The main reason being that if they were not going to be paid again they would not be able to pay their medical aid premiums. The players were also threatened that they would be chased away if they fail to pitch up for practice.
Bunker Capital however claims that they ceased payments to SWD union because of their failure to honour their obligations after Cronje was ousted.
From what we gathered speaking to representatives of SWD Union, the interim committee appointed under leadership of Fareed Stemmett, Edward Jackson and John Nortje, raised concerns about funds paid over to Bunker Capital and how it is managed.
Apparently there is a fund arranged by Bunker Capital to assist Eagles Rugby, SWD Union and the academy to meet their financial obligations. This includes a reported R3-million paid to the SWD union, R2-million to the Eagles and R1.5-million to establish an academy. There is also talk of a player salary protection fund.
It would appear that the SWD union, nor any of the players, have clear insight how this fund works, what agreements are in place etc. One of the reasons raised for concern by the SWD union (alarm bells) is the apparent ability for Fund to show in excess of a 300% growth in funds in just over a month!
SARPA is in the process of calling SA Rugby to intervene as a matter of urgency to assist in addressing our member’s concerns.
Initially after SARPA,’s repeated and protracted intervention to try and facilitate a resolution of the dispute, affecting their member’s, between SWD Rugby union and Bunker Capital, player’s salaries were eventually paid (although late).
A compromise was then reached between SWD Rugby and Bunker Capital where it was agreed to commit to certain conditions raised in the deliberations. SARPA however are perturbed that commitments given by Bunker have not been complied with.
In January the same problems surfaced again and players were told that they either might not be paid, or paid late. Eventually, players received cheques as payment but then again, the cheques had a clearance period in some cases of up to 8 days.
According to SARPA, it is clear that conditions agreed to by all parties have not been met, nor are the SWD Union or Bunker Capital willing to meet the players demands. SARPA has thus been left with no other option to refer the matter to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) on behalf of the players for urgent attention.
As a SARPA representative told us, attempts or negotiations with the employer and shareholders have been exhausted and effectively failed.
We have also learned that the majority of the professional players currently contracted to SWD Eagles are being hounded by player agents with offers of employment elsewhere.
Should this matter not be resolved by 12th February 2010 all the players at SWD Eagles will be entitled to terminate their contracts and seek reasonable compensation. In addition they will be free to then enter into negotiations with Agents and or other rugby employers. At this stage there is no real justification for the players to remain in George, much to the detriment of rugby in the region and province.
The situation has degenerated to such and extent that the player’s only option left, apart from lodging a case with the CCMA, is to consider participating in a strike action with the possible result that where no rugby will be played in the union until such time that this matter is resolved.
The time has now come for the leaders in our game to stand up and make themselves heard. And there is no better time than now because in a couple of month’s time the new leadership of SA Rugby will be elected.
For far too long have we neglected our greatest assets of the game (the players), not to mention the game itself, were it can be reasonably perceived that individuals are in all likelihood trying to further their own selfish interests and retain power, all in the name of rugby.Tweet