Springboks and Saru won’t repeat Banyana debacle as RWC financial incentives are settled

Springboks and Saru won’t repeat Banyana debacle as RWC financial incentives are settled
Players celebrate as Siya Kolisi of South Africa lifts the Web Ellis Cup following their victory against England in the Rugby World Cup 2019 Final between England and South Africa at International Stadium Yokohama on 2 November 2019 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo: Cameron Spencer / Getty Images)

The Springboks’ off-field financial expectations for Rugby World Cup 2023 were settled months ago, ensuring the squad will go to France with only rugby performances to worry about.

There will be no eleventh-hour posturing and threats of a strike by players. There will be no heavy-handed threats of punishment by blazered officials over players’ financial demands before, during or after Rugby World Cup (RWC) 2023. 

That’s because the players who make the cut for the 33-man Springbok squad to defend their world title in France in September and October have sorted out the vital remuneration details. 

Earlier this month, Banyana Banyana players refused to play against Botswana in a Women’s World Cup (WWC) warm-up game at the Tsakane Stadium in Ekurhuleni. There were several reasons — the state of the pitch and the quality of the opposition were two aspects that angered players, but the most pressing was financial. 

The players wanted more financial guarantees from the South African Football Association (Safa), which led to an ugly stand-off. The issue was only resolved when the Motsepe Foundation stepped in to bail out Safa. 

The World Cup-bound 23 SA women will each receive their guaranteed player stipends from the global governing body, Fifa, plus an additional R230,000 from the Motsepe Foundation. The standby players will also be awarded this fee. The technical staff will be granted R150,000 for their efforts. 

It was an embarrassing and needless situation highlighting the lack of trust between Safa and the players. In rugby, the situation is far healthier. 

Good relations 

The only concern for the Springboks is making sure they arrive in France ready for optimum performance, comfortable in the knowledge that financial arrangements were settled months ago. 

MyPlayers, the organisation that represents player interests in professional rugby, began the process of agreeing on RWC bonuses with the South African Rugby Union (Saru) more than a year ago. 

And the deal was finalised earlier this year, which should avoid any embarrassing and potentially destabilising fallout on the eve of the World Cup. 

“Those agreements were done late last year and have been finalised well in advance,” MyPlayers chief executive Eugene Henning confirmed to Daily Maverick

“Our relationship with Saru has always been solid and we work together well. It’s in nobody’s interest to delay these discussions and stall on getting clarity. 

“Of course, like in any negotiations there was debate and some give and take, but it was conducted in a spirit of trust because we have a strong relationship with each other. It was in all our interests to get it on and off the table as amicably and quickly as possible.” 

Happy players 

Although Springbok players will be paid in rands and not dollars or pounds like their international counterparts, the bonus offerings are generous. 

In 2019, Saru took out insurance to cover the possibility of paying bonuses if the Boks progressed into the knockout stages. It proved a good piece of business by former CEO Jurie Roux as the expensive premiums were far less than Saru ended up paying players and coaching staff. 

“The remuneration for the players in a World Cup is healthy and on par with what can be expected and it was no different for this year,” Henning said. 

“The feedback we got from the players was that they were happy and comfortable with the bonus amounts and the payment structure. 

“We have achieved a nice balance with what’s affordable for Saru and what the players are happy with. 

“The remuneration increases as the team advances in the tournament and once they (hopefully) reach the knockout stages, the bonuses see a significant increase. 

“So not only do the players have the incentive of winning the World Cup for personal and national glory, they also have a significant financial incentive as well.” 

Only RWC squad members to receive bonuses 

Only the 33 players who make the final cut for RWC 2023 in France are eligible for bonuses, and members of management will also be in for significant payments should the Boks go deep in the tournament. 

In 2019, for instance, Trevor Nyakane and Jesse Kriel suffered injuries early on in the tournament and were replaced by Thomas du Toit and Damian Willemse, respectively. 

Although the latter two were not originally part of the squad, they were eligible for match fees and bonuses for games they played subsequent to their inclusion. Conversely, Kriel and Nyakane were no longer eligible for those bonuses once they departed Japan because “they were no longer providing services” to the Springboks. 

But the playing group took a collective decision to split their bonuses equally to include every player who made a contribution to the tournament. It meant everyone took home marginally less, but all 33 players involved in Japan 2019 reaped the benefits of the larger bonuses earned later in the tournament. 

RWC group stage match fees are essentially the same as “normal” Tests outside of a World Cup. The lucrative and important bonus structure only kicks in once the squad reaches the knockout stages of the tournament. 

“In a normal year, players representing the Springboks receive a squad fee [for their time in the Bok squad if they don’t play], a match fee and a win bonus,” Henning explained. 

“All that changes in a World Cup year is that the win bonuses and match fees increase significantly because they have a much higher weighting to them. 

“And that only really affects the knockout stages at a World Cup.” 

If they win the tournament, players could earn significant bonuses. The exact figure was not made public, but it’s well in the seven-figure ballpark. The importance of the quarterfinals semifinals and final are reflected in their bonus structures. 

Another aspect is that players chosen to be on standby but not in the initial squad, which is usually the case for a World Cup because injuries are inevitable, are not included in the bonus structure. 

If five players are selected to be on standby and only two ultimately make it to the tournament, the remaining three are not compensated. 

While it might seem harsh, the reality is that standby players have a chance to become part of a fairy tale, as Willemse and Du Toit experienced in 2019. 

Winning costs but adds value 

Winning the World Cup will cost Saru money in the short term, but the long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term costs of millions of rands in insurance premiums to pay out bonuses. 

The alternative of not having insurance if the Boks win the World Cup will be a huge financial hit on Saru. But the insurance premiums are so high, the Boks probably need to make the semifinals for the premiums to be worth it. It’s a fine balancing act. 

There is also a bigger picture. There was a time not so long ago when the Boks were in a trough and could barely find a sponsor. Being world champions has had sponsors lining up to support the Boks and in Saru’s 2022 financials sponsorship revenue was up to R396-million from just over R300-million before winning RWC 2019. 

It’s clear that winning costs money, but it has huge future benefits and adds monetary value in addition to emotional worth. DM


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