Paul Delport quits as Bok Women’s Sevens coach, citing SA Rugby’s ‘unwillingness to invest’ in player development

Paul Delport quits as Bok Women’s Sevens coach, citing SA Rugby’s ‘unwillingness to invest’ in player development
Paul Delport during the South Africa women's national rugby Sevens team training session at Gardens Rugby Club on 6 September, 2022 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images)

‘I’m not willing to work for people who don’t care about our Women’s Sevens programme,’ says outgoing coach Paul Delport

Paul Delport’s resignation from the position of head coach of South Africa’s Women’s Sevens side was officially announced today by SA Rugby.

However, he sent his letter of resignation on Sunday 11 September. The final day of the Rugby World Cup Sevens, hosted in Cape Town — a tournament the Bok Women’s team finished 14th in.

“It was pretty simple for me. There were 16 teams at the Women’s Sevens Rugby World Cup. There are 13 teams that are full-time professional. There are three of us who aren’t. That’s us (South Africa), Madagascar and Colombia and we finished 14th, 15th and 16th,” said Delport to Daily Maverick.

“It’s pretty easy. I don’t need to explain this to anyone and the people at SA Rugby won’t listen.

“I’m not willing to work for people who don’t care about our Women’s Sevens programme.

“They’re just unwilling to invest. I don’t understand. Women’s rugby is where it is at the moment, where all the growth can happen. And we don’t want to invest, which doesn’t make any sense.”

Delport, who has coached the women’s Sevens team since 2017, has led the reigns without any of the players contracted to a Sevens programme in South Africa — meaning a lack of funding for players and Delport with limited access to all his sportswomen.

“Apparently there’s a Sevens programme for next year as well as going forward that I wasn’t privy to and that I wasn’t consulted on,” said Delport.

“I’ve been asking for the same thing for five years and I still got nothing that I’ve asked for.”

The programme is not set in stone yet, but the chances of it being a full-time Sevens programme like the top countries have is unlikely, according to Delport.

Instead, players will be contracted to SA Rugby and do both Sevens and 15s, as they have in the past.

“[My resignation] is probably a long time coming, the only thing that kept me there is these talented young women,” he said.

“There’s no commitment to a full-time Sevens programme. They’re going to contract women’s players again but for both [codes]. The ladies will be expected to do both [Sevens and 15s]. And that’s just unsustainable.

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“The best men’s players in the world can’t do it. How can we expect these talented young women to do it?

“I said if they want to do it properly, you need to have a full-time programme. They’re obviously not willing to commit to that,” he said.

Thankless job

SA Rugby sent out a press release earlier this morning thanking Delport for his role within Sevens Rugby in South Africa.

“We want to thank Paul for his coaching tenure, he will be missed and hopefully he will not be lost to rugby completely,” said SA Rugby president Mark Alexander in the release.

However, Delport says nobody has reached out to him personally from SA Rugby besides Lynne Cantwell, the Women’s High-Performance manager.

“At the moment I have nothing on the horizon. I just don’t want to be where I am at the moment. Because I think it’s just wholly unfair the way the ladies are treated, the way I am treated. I just don’t want to be at SA Rugby,” said Delport.

“I’m not angry with anybody. I’m just disappointed that the people at the top don’t have the knowledge and know-how to make decisions about this.

“And that they just don’t care. I haven’t heard from a single person at SA Rugby aside from Lynne Cantwell and [from] HR. That just shows you how much I was valued there.

“There’s certain people there that need to go ASAP.”

Going overseas

During his tenure as head coach, Delport admitted he has been forced to lie to players regarding incoming investment in the sport from SA Rugby.

“[SA Rugby] don’t give a shit. I’m just resigning because I can no longer peddle a lie to talented young women,” said Delport.

“I’ve got these women asking me ‘Paulie, what should I do? Should I sign here or should I go overseas?’

“I don’t think it’s fair for a national coach to be telling players they shouldn’t sign here because there’s nothing going on. Unfortunately, that’s the truth.

“We don’t have enough athletic women playing Sevens and there’s an unwillingness to invest. If we want to do it properly we need to go and find proper athletes, but we also need to make it worthwhile for these talented young women. We can’t ask them to do things for free.

“We’re just falling further and further behind the rest of the world.

“That’s what Australia, New Zealand, the USA, France, all of them did 10-15 years ago and we still haven’t done it properly. And I don’t see it happening any time soon.

“I don’t know why we’re so backward and conservative in South Africa, the rest of the world has really lit the flame and carrying the baton and we’re just mucking around doing nothing.

“The [players] that want to take this seriously need to go overseas where there’s proper investment going on and where they’re going to be afforded proper opportunity and just high-level rugby,” he said. DM

Saru responds to the comments in broad terms

“Women’s rugby is the second-highest priority for SA Rugby after the Springboks,” A Saru spokesperson told Daily Maverick.  

“In the past two years, we have added five personnel to the women’s rugby department – including the appointment of our first high-performance manager for women’s rugby – and now contract more women’s players than we ever have before (19).

“During the pandemic, while other nations were releasing staff and players, we continued to contract all women’s team coaches and players. That included the Springbok Women’s Sevens staff – even though they did not take part in any events for a year. 

“Resources are not unlimited, and all our development programmes are cross-subsidised from income generated by the Springboks and other activities. Only in the past few months – thanks to FNB – have we secured our first corporate partner of women’s rugby. 

“For some years, the fifteen-a-side women’s team was mothballed in favour of the Women’s Sevens team – who received the entire focus. We have subsequently restarted the XV-a-side women’s team, which has become the focus once again and we are seeing the benefits of that approach, while the women’s Sevens programme continues.

“This year, the Women’s Sevens team played in Tunisia at the Africa Cup, in Toulouse on the HSBC World Sevens Series as well as at the Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cup and the Challenger Series in Chile. They will also appear in Dubai and Cape Town in December. 

“Meanwhile, our women’s XVs toured Japan, had a home series against Spain and appeared here in the Africa Cup in preparation for their return to the Rugby World Cup, where they are currently campaigning in New Zealand. 

“Coaches who want the best players and resources to get better results are understandably disappointed when those results are not what they would wish. That is understandable.

“But the growth of women’s rugby in South Africa is a holistic process with more than one team and one moving part to consider. We are delighted by the progress that has been made since the end of the pandemic and are excited about the journey we are on.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Henning Swanepoel says:

    “In the past two years, we have added five personnel to the women’s rugby department – including the appointment of our first high-performance manager for women’s rugby – and now contract more women’s players than we ever have before (19), what a cop out, Paul resigned because of your 7’s commitment or rather lack thereof, SARU purely tick the boxes and that is why our Women’s rugby will keep on languishing at the bottom, period!

  • Philip Armstrong says:

    So, where is Rassie in all this – he is Director of rugby which I assume means all rugby falling under SARU? Or, is he just making sure Nienaber selects all the old men to the Bok team?

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