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Is A White Mafia Trampling Black Dreams?

South Africa may be world famous for rugby but most of its 52 million people feel left out. Poor administration, squabbling and little money mean the number of black players making it from the bottom of the game are getting fewer. FORBES AFRICA went to the rugged grassroots of the game to find out what is going wrong.



For decades, Dan Qeqe Stadium, in the dusty Zwide township of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, was a bedrock of black rugby and home to African Bombers, a former first-tier club. It nurtured a handful of professionals, including Springboks Akona Ndungane and Siya Kolisi. The two were among the few blacks to represent their country and earn big money.

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA – JULY 23: Akona Ndungane of Bulls scores during the Absa Currie Cup match between Vodacom Blue Bulls and Toyota Free State Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld on July 23, 2011 in Pretoria, South Africa (Photo by Lee Warren/ Gallo Images/Getty Images)

These days Dan Qeqe is a rundown shadow of itself. The changing rooms are dilapidated and the pitch is baked hard with patches of red grass. Despite the dire condition, without fail, every winter hundreds of boys tackle each other on this pitch; the hope of becoming a Springbok lives on. As a young lad, I donned my oversized hand-me-down rugby jersey and threw my body into the tussle for the oval ball. We stomped the pitch, barefoot, until we were hardened veterans at 17. In 15 years I covered every inch and cut my knees open every week.

Fifty kilometers north of Dan Qeqe Stadium is the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, a state-of-the-art facility built for the football World Cup in 2010. It is home to Eastern Province Rugby Union (EPRU). In the hot days of summer, just before Christmas, this was the scene of a battle for the soul of grassroots African rugby. It was where managers from over 100 clubs fought their provincial bosses. It was so bad that a scuffle broke out and the security manhandled the angry.

It is part of a struggle to bring hope to black rugby in one of Africa’s hotbeds of the game. The problems run deep at EPRU. For years, there’s been no sponsorship due to lack of accountability; for months players weren’t paid and their reputable coach Carlos Spencer resigned; black players left in droves under claims of financial discrimination and the controversial signing of eight white players, compared to one black player, for the 2016 Super Rugby season.

Bantwini Matika, the coach of the rugby club Young Collegians and a chairman of a national lobby group Rugby Transformation Coalition, led the fight.

“We have identified these problems for years and followed the due process but without any reward. Now we have seen a collapse of the whole system. Financially, never before has EP Rugby been so in the red. It’s a crisis of unprecedented proportions,” says Matika.

The clubs demanded accountability and a change of management in the provincial structure. At the top of the agenda was the non-payment of EP Kings – the provincial players.

“We are in a serious crisis in the Eastern Cape. This is the home of black rugby. The only reason we got the Super Rugby franchise was solely because Saru (the South African Rugby Union) wanted to create a platform for black players to showcase their talent to the world and for Springbok selection. This has been in the plans of Saru since time immemorial that we need a platform for black players and then the franchise was ideal… Unfortunately the Eastern Cape, which is Border and Eastern Province, has always been unstable because of a lack of resources and lack of sponsors, no solid administrators,” says Matika.

Since 2014, EPRU has not held a quarterly meeting nor AGM. Matika says, besides the annual grant from Saru, EPRU cannot attract sponsorship because there’s no financial accountability.

“That’s a recipe for disaster. We have talent in abundance (but) our system and administration is not in place. If we don’t have ethical and decisive leadership, if we don’t have proper resources to create an enabling environment for our young people to prosper, we are doomed to fail. Hence you see them running to other unions at a young age. The rot is within the administration,” says Matika.

Mervin Green is Saru’s general manager in strategic performance. He says EPRU made it difficult for Saru to support them in running the business.

“Saru does not interfere with union’s domestic affairs, such as clubs and schools development. We support unions with finances and expertise to ensure they deliver on their own development programs. It is indeed not an ideal situation for everyone what is currently happening at EPRU. However, it is only the clubs that can change the situation,” says Green.

Transformation Rugby Coalition was launched in Soweto, Johannesburg, in 2012. Matika, the former University of Fort Hare captain and coach, was its founding chairman. He laments the lack of transformation in the Springboks.

“After realizing that all the agreements around transformation, whether it is through charters or Saru development plans since 2000, every three years we have a new document that is fruitless. All the rugby activists and (concerned) managers nationwide decided to launch this national structure in 2013 in Soweto. I am glad now we are speaking with one voice and seem to be making a difference and the approach is working for us.”

A few months before the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England, calls were made not to send the Springboks because they didn’t have enough black players. Political party, Agency for New Agenda, made a court bid to block the team from leaving. They lost the case. This followed Saru’s climb down from the 50% black Springbok representation by 2015, they moved it to 2019. The move did not go down well with Transformation Rugby Coalition.

“The disappointing factor is that we are not getting a hearing. We speak and we write to Saru but they are not interested in what we saying. At the personal and individual capacity, Saru President Oregan Hoskins would respond with promises but there’s nothing happening, nor do we get any recognition from Sascoc (South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee). We would expect that as a lobby group we should have a budget from government but we are currently sustaining ourselves from our own pockets,” says Matika.

The African dream of playing professional rugby reaches far beyond the Eastern Cape. It’s mid-January, a thousand kilometers north of Dan Qeqe stadium. About 40 barefoot boys, aged between nine and 13, are taken through their paces on a rugby field in Braamfischerville, at the Soweto Rugby Club. Their coach is 35-year-old, chubby and outspoken, Zola Ntlokoma.

“We don’t only create rugby players here, we encourage discipline and we want them to pass with good marks. If you don’t go to school, we have no business with you,” Ntlokoma tells me.

Like his counterpart, Matika in Port Elizabeth, Ntlokoma decries the lack of support for grassroots rugby and asserts that he will transform Braamfischerville into a rugby hotbed. Soweto is a football area with three clubs in the Premier Soccer League.

“Out of 49 townships there’s none with a junior team anymore after [the Golden] Lions Rugby Union took over development and government pumped money to them to champion development. But the money is not filtered down to grassroots where it is needed most. Hence we were forced by those circumstances to form Soweto Rugby Union. It’s not a racial thing, it is just we are tired of complaining. We won’t beg someone to play rugby, we love rugby,” he says.

Ntlokoma, who is also the secretary of Transformation Rugby Coalition, says in the 1990s Soweto Rugby Club dominated the Golden Lions Rugby junior teams with star player Stanley Mlotshwa representing the junior national team in 1998. The last was Malungisa Nkosi, who played for the under-19s in the World Championships in 2006, in Dubai.

Transformation Rugby Coalition researched why black players were not as involved in South African rugby as they should be.

“We discovered that rugby is not run as it is portrayed in the media. There’s a lot that our government doesn’t understand about how rugby runs. We felt that this is a mafia-like organization. It is held to ransom by businesspeople in Stellenbosch who are controlling the executive of Saru, telling them this is the direction they must take. It is that rich white group that decides who is going to be the president of Saru and the coach of the Springboks,” says Ntlokoma.

“Englishmen introduced rugby in South Africa, not the Afrikaners. Now should we give up and say it is the Afrikaners’ sport, I don’t think we will be doing justice to back off. It is a South African sport, that’s why we should continue embracing it. Some of us still hate the Springbok emblem because it reminds us of apartheid… I was a gangster and this sport gave me a second chance in life. Rugby, like any other sport, it changes people’s lives,” he says.

Liz McGregor, a rugby writer based in Cape Town, says Saru has enough money to expedite transformation. She’s sceptical about the target of 50% black representation in 2019.

“If our promising young black players are not being given regular game time at this level now, the next target – 50% of black Springboks by 2019 – also looks like a chimera. I have heard complaints about marginalization from black players for years, at provincial and national level. If the strategic transformation plan were effective, marginalization should be a thing of the past,” she says.

McGregor raises concerns about Hoskins’ silence about the failure to hit targets in the Springbok teams.

“Grassroots development will always be a key strategic imperative of Saru. The current strategic transformation plan emphasizes the importance of this transformation dimension. We are actively involved in all unions to ensure we provide access to the game and particularly focusing on schools where there was no rugby before,” counters Green.

Green says Saru’s recruitment drive in 2015 saw 80,000 new players from over 300 schools around South Africa.

“The program for participation will be extended to high schools this year and we hope to reach township and rural schools to be in organized leagues. Our focus is also on capacitation programs of thousands of teachers and volunteers as certificated coaches, match officials and administrators,” says Green.

Clearly there are not enough to help more black Africans play the sport.


Staying Flexible: With The Postponement Of The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, This Gymnast’s Goal Hasn’t Changed



The 19-year-old South African gymnast was all set for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in July, for which she had qualified. With the event’s postponement, her goal hasn’t changed, she says, only the timeline has. 

At just 19 years old, Caitlin Rooskrantz is South Africa’s gold medal-winning international gymnast.

From Florida, a small suburb in Roodepoort in Johannesburg, and currently in lockdown in the country, if the Covid-19 pandemic hadn’t happened, Rooskrantz would have now been intensely training for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in July, for which she had qualified.

 “I qualified for the 2020 Games being the first woman in South Africa’s gymnastics history to have achieved an outright qualification at the world championships,” she told an audience of female powerhouses at the 2020 FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit in Durban on March 6.

Even as a child, when she first took to gymnastics, she had been set on making it to the Olympics one day.   

The news of the Games’ postponement has been quite upsetting, but says Rooskrantz: “It is in the best interest of all the athletes because our health comes first, always!” Her favorite quote, in particular, comforts her at this time: “The goal hasn’t changed, just the timeline has, keep going!”

Her training has continued through the lockdown and it has kept her afternoons busy.

“We have set programs to keep up our strength, fitness and flexibility. To try and keep up my mental game, I watch videos daily of any past successful competitions. I analyse my training videos and try to mentally put myself in the video,” she says.

2019 had been “a spectacular year” for her.

“I managed to pass matric well with two distinctions and university entrance while training for my childhood dream. Not only did I bag South Africa’s first-ever gold medal on uneven bars on an international stage, but at just 18 years old, I made history,” she said at the summit, to an applauding audience. 

In an interview with FORBES AFRICA, Rooskrantz reflects on the days when it all started, as a young child, when she was a bundle of energy and her parents knew early on that they had to redirect that energy to sport.

A teenager now, but if Rooskrantz has already seen much success, she has also experienced tragedy and hardship.

When she was just eight, her father, from whom she inherited her deep love for sport, passed away. He took his own life.

She had been training at a gymnastics center a few kilometers from home, but that had to stop because of the tragedy and transportation issues. But her former trainer took it upon herself to regularly drive her there.

“Everything started escalating and things took a turn. I dropped all my school sports because I didn’t have any time for them; I had to pick one, especially with the high demand of gym,” she says.

Rooskrantz was placed on a high-performance program and soon started traveling; training more than four hours a day six days a week at the age of 11. This was the intermediate level of her tumbling (a gymnastic feat including the execution of acrobatic feats) profession and the best was yet to come.

Her first overseas trip was to Australia for a training camp in 2012. A few months later, Rooskrantz competed in Serbia for her first international competition. It might have not been the best competition for her, but it was great exposure.

In 2014, South Africa hosted the African gymnastics championships with Rooskrantz the youngest member of the junior team.

“I did well, I don’t remember falling and I made it to the bar finals and that was the time I started to realize my potential on the asymmetric bar. I left that with a big boost to my confidence.” 

The young student was progressing quickly, reaching new heights.

On her last year as a junior in the 2016 Junior Commonwealth Games in Namibia, she made three apparatus finals; asymmetric bar, vault and the balancing beam.

An injury kept her away from the Commonwealth Games in Australia in 2018, when she went in for surgery and was off the apparatus for months.

“I was in bed after my operation but back at gym a week after, still on crutches, working on my upper body. In a sport like gymnastics, when you are that injured, it is critical to do something because you lose strength, flexibility and fitness. I was also working on my mental state,” she says of those hard days. Her coach told her the surgery was either going to make or break her career. She was determined to return stronger. She did, and how.

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All Home And No Play: Not Since World War II Has The Global Sports Industry Faced Such A Crippling Crisis



Not since World War II has the global sports industry faced such a crippling crisis, which is likely to cost billions of dollars in lost revenue and could yet see the permanent extinction of some teams and competitions.

The coronavirus pandemic that has spread across the world has the potential to change the face of sports forever, and Africa will not be spared, with one administrator suggesting the outbreak could set their game back 20 years.

The severity of the impact will be determined by how long it takes for society to live alongside the pandemic, but even if that were to happen in June, there has already been significant damage done.

Confederation of African Football (CAF) President Ahmad Ahmad has tried to provide a positive outlook, but knows the complexity of the situation on the continent is dire.

None of the 54 domestic leagues in Africa was still running in May, as Burundi was the last to close up shop the month before, but just when cross-border competitions such as the lucrative CAF Champions League, and qualifiers for the Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup, can resume, is anybody’s guess given travel restrictions are likely to be in place for some time, and vary from country to country.

“CAF is already focused on the conditions for relaunching our competitions and our events,” Ahmad said in comments supplied to FORBES AFRICA.

“Never has a crisis of such great magnitude crossed the world, never has world sport decreed so many postponements of its programs and never has such a tsunami struck the most basic sporting practice.

“We are now condemned to rebuild the basics, or at least to reinforce them, to energize them so that at the time of recovery, we will be the best structured and best disposed to conquer or re-conquer, the dry territories of sport and football.

It is Ahmad’s way of saying that any thought of returning to pre-coronavirus levels of engagement and sponsorship are fanciful in the short-term, or perhaps even medium-term.

His suggestion of having to “rebuild the basics” is a key admission and will be the same for many sports that face a sponsorship vacuum from some of the world’s leading brands.

When airlines, major sponsors of African sport, have been laying off staff and cut their schedules to next to nothing, can they justify pumping millions of dollars into sport?

The same for car manufactures, loss-making banks and oil companies hit by the drop in the price of crude.

The health conditions to allow play for many sports in Africa may return this year, but the question is whether there will be the financial support vital to being able to play the game.

Selwyn Nathan, commissioner of South Africa’s Sunshine Tour and a leading expert on global golf, suggests the pandemic may return the sport to the year 2000 in terms of financial capabilities.

“It could be like starting a business all over again, you can’t have an attitude that people [sponsors] will just come back,” Nathan says.

“It’s not something unique to Africa, or sport anywhere in the world, but we are going to have to change the way we do things.

“Players will have to accept that they are not going to be playing for the same money, and organizers must accept they will have to ask for less [money] and possibly do more just to retain sponsors.

“It is going to fundamentally change the way we operate and we have to adapt to that.”

Winners in some co-sanctioned Sunshine Tour and European Tour golf events can earn upwards of $1.5-million per tournament, but Nathan believes those numbers will be fanciful for the foreseeable future and it is likely to be a fraction of that.

The pandemic could be the death knell for ailing Super Rugby, the southern hemisphere club championship that has been hanging on for dear life, as it was, due to dwindling interest and its format that sees players criss-cross the globe between Argentina, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Japan.

In the case of world champion Springboks, that could actually work in their favor and see them looking north to Europe for club and country competitions, where the TV revenues are greater and load on players less, according to respected Stormers coach John Dobson.

“I believe there will be a restructuring of the game and that could be at Super Rugby’s expense,” Dobson says. “There could be stronger focus on domestic competitions with less travel and more tailored for television, because ultimately, that is where you get the revenue to run the game.

“It’s critical you have a product that is appealing to rugby fans, and after this period, maybe that will rather involve South African teams playing in the [European] Heineken Cup. I don’t know, but something has to change.”

Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard, who is chairman of the APO Group, a communication and business consultancy in Africa, says he has seen first-hand the toll the virus has taken on sports federations almost across the board.

“I think, unfortunately, it will have a devastating effect for many. First of all, athletes cannot train properly and when you are at the level of international competition, just a few percentage points off can compromise your body,” he says.

“Added to that, there is no competition and the longer this goes on, the longer it will take for athletes to return to peak performances, so in the near term, you will have a poorer product for television and sponsors.”

Pompigne-Mognard says cross-border competitions are vital in Africa and it is in these multi-national tournaments where many federations across different sports make most of their revenue.

“Each African nation is unlikely to return to full health at the same time, so, for example, the Basketball Africa League, which involves 12 teams from across the continent has to be put on hold until travel is possible.

“It will go ahead, but the question is when and what are the financial consequences of this? It is something that we cannot quantify now, so we live in this state of uncertainty and that is not good for anybody, sport or business.”

The postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games to 2021 has brought much relief for many athletes, who had seen their training regimes brought to a halt, or at best conducted in the confines of their own home.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Chad le Clos had had to make do with what he has at home while in lockdown in South Africa, one of thousands of elite athletes from across Africa in similar situations.

“It is what it is and I am happy with the decision (to move the Olympics) that has been made,” Le Clos says. “I have a small pool at home, so I attach a cord that allows me to stay stationary as I swim.”

 “We cannot afford to take a break, even in lockdown. You cannot let yourself lose the months and months of work that you have put into your body.

“I don’t know where or when I will compete again, but you have to stay positive. You have to hope for the best, that is all we can do.”

-Nick Said

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Ronaldo’s $105 Million Year Tops Messi And Crowns Him Soccer’s First Billion-Dollar Man




Add another zero to soccer’s most expensive rivalry.

Cristiano Ronaldo earned $105 million before taxes and fees in the past year, landing him at No. 4 on the 2020 Forbes Celebrity 100, one spot above his top rival in the sport, Lionel Messi, and making him the first soccer player in history to earn $1 billion.  

The 35-year-old striker is only the third athlete to hit mark while still playing following Tiger Woods, who did it in 2009 on the back of his long term endorsement deal with Nike NKE, and Floyd Mayweather in 2017, who’s made most of his income from a cut of pay-per-view sales for his boxing matches. 

Ronaldo, the first to do it in a team sport, has made $650 million during his 17 years on the pitch, and is expected to reach $765 million in career salary after his current contract ends in June 2022. Messi, who began playing at the senior level three years after Ronaldo, has earned a total of $605 million in salary since 2005. The only team athlete to even come within striking distance of those figures was former New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, who retired in 2016 after 22 years in MLB having earned $450 million in salary. Not even soccer legend David Beckham came close, ending his career with total earnings of $500 million, half of which came from off-pitch endorsements. 

“Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the greatest players of all time, in the world’s most popular sport, in an era when football has never been so rich,” said Sporting Intelligence’s Nick Harris, whose Global Sports Salaries Survey ranks teams worldwide based on total salary expense. “He’s box office.”

Ronaldo and Messi’s head-to-heads heated up in Spain’s La Liga in 2009, where Ronaldo played for Real Madrid and Messi for Barcelona. Their faceoffs on the pitch ignited a nine-year battle for bragging rights as the best — and top-paid — in the sport, a highly personal tit-for-tat that had them re-negotiating contracts in lockstep and monopolizing the game’s highlight reel. 

The rivalry was as entertaining as it was profitable, coming just as clubs around the world were seeing soaring attendance and an influx of television money. The two were perfectly matched for battle, on and off the pitch: Ronaldo perfected a shirtless, stylized showmanship while Messi played the quiet game, always a tad unkempt and as prolific a scorer as he was a wingman. Ronaldo strutted after every goal. Messi was a master at thanking his teammates. 

Both backed it up. Barcelona won the La Liga title six times and two Champions Leagues trophies with Messi on the squad. Real Madrid won the Spanish title twice and the Champions League four times with Ronaldo. During their years in the league, each player nabbed four Ballon d’Ors (soccer’s MVP) and their El Classicos, the nickname for their clubs fierce clashes, were record-setting television events worldwide. 

But when it came to leveraging celebrity, it has been no contest. Guided by Jorge Mendes of Gestifute, one of the world’s most powerful agents, Ronaldo has amassed an ever-growing following of fans and consumers drawn to his poster-boy good looks, trend-setting hair styles, impeccable fashion sense and, lately, his softer side as a family man whose toddlers pop up on his social media posts. In January he became the first person with 200 million followers on Instagram, part of a social media army of 427 million across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter that makes him the most popular athlete on the planet. 

Nike pays him upwards of $20 million annually and signed him to a lifetime deal in 2016, making him just the third athlete after Michael Jordan and LeBron James hitched to the Swoosh for eternity. In May, the footwear maker announced the release of a 10-year anniversary edition of his first signature Mercurial Superfly and a child’s version to celebrate his son’s 10th birthday, complete with his famous celebration stance, signature and logo. Pitches for Clear shampoo, Herbalife HLF, and pharmaceutical maker Abbott help raise his endorsement tally to $45 million.

Ronaldo, Inc. even has a trademark — CR7, a mix of his initials and jersey number — part of a lifestyle brand that Forbes estimates accounts for a quarter of his annual endorsement income, including branded underwear that debuted in 2013 that was followed by a line of shoes, fragrances and denim wear. He partnered with Pestana Hotel Group in 2015 to open his first property a year later in his hometown of Funchal, Madeira, right above Museu CR7, a shrine for his trophies and a retail outlet for his merchandise. He’s since added CR7 clubs with Crunch Fitness, posts workout routines on YouTube and has attached his name to a social media influencing degree offered by Italian online university eCampus.

And the rivalry is far from done.

Ronaldo’s 2020 earnings include a salary of $60 million, slightly less than last year due to a 30% pay cut he agreed to take this April as a result of the pandemic. Messi, who earned $104 million in the past year after taking a 70% pay cut while coronavirus sidelined play, is poised to surpass $1 billion in all-time earnings as soon as next year, before his current Barca contract ends.

Christina Settimi, Forbes Staff, SportsMoney

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