Ask most avid rugby supporters why they think so many players leave South Africa to ply their trade overseas and chances are they will say money and quotas. But is it really that simple? Are there perhaps other reasons why rugby players may join overseas clubs?
"Contrary to popular belief, especially among rugby supporters, South African rugby players do not join overseas clubs just because of money or quotas – or even because of those reasons at all in some cases. These two factors do not play THE role people would like to think," says Rais Frost who did his Master of Business Management and Administration (MBA) at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB).
Frost obtained his MBA on Thursday (16 March 2017) at Stellenbosch University's March graduation ceremony. His supervisor was Prof Mias de Klerk of the USB while he also received support from Eugene Henning, Managing Director of MyPlayers, the professional rugby players' organisation in South Africa.
Frost, a Belville-based attorney, is passionate about rugby and wants to make a difference at the administrative level in the sport.
"My research has shown that players also move abroad because of systemic age pressure, excessive travel, the negative attitude of the rugby public, the opportunity to experience a different culture and a different style or system of play," adds Frost regarding the real reasons behind talented players' decisions to leave SA rugby.
"Although there are many assumptions as to why SA rugby players move abroad, there has been no scientific study to explore such reasons from the perspective of players as far as could be established," says Frost.
To find out what these reasons are, he interviewed eight overseas-based players (United Kingdom, France and Japan) with an average age of 34 years. Six were Springboks while one player moved to the United Kingdom (UK) and became eligible to play for his adopted country. Another played Currie Cup and Super Rugby before joining an overseas club.
"Despite the fact that these players frequently mentioned financial remuneration in the interviews, there appeared to be no critical need for exorbitantly high levels of remuneration."
"In terms of systemic age pressure, players said that in South Africa you are often seen as past your best when you've reached the age of 30 years – the so-called 30-year old ceiling."
"This has a knock-on effect as players decide to leave the country at a younger age because they know once they've reached 30, or even approach 30, there won't be many opportunities left."
Frost points out that whereas in South Africa players older than 30 years are spewed out by the system, in a country such as France they are considered as being in their prime and highly valued.
He also cites the examples of All Blacks Dan Carter and Richie McCaw who at the ages of 33 and 34 respectively, played pivotal roles in New Zealand winning the World Cup in 2015. Another All Black, Brad Thorn was 36 when he helped steer his team to a second World Cup win in 2011.
"As far as excessive travel is concerned, the players said that playing in UK and European tournaments means that they are away from home for two nights at most, whereas in South Africa this could be three weeks at any given time. They mentioned that challenging travel schedules have a profoundly negative impact on their families and social lives."
"Players also highlighted the repetitive nature of the annual SA rugby calendar and said they experience the same tournaments year after year and sought to experience variety and high strength competition."
Frost says they indicated that the strength of the tournaments and the make-up of overseas club teams are better suited for players to improve themselves as rugby players because there are often an abundance of experienced international players from which other players can learn and be mentored.
"Another important reason for going overseas is the fact that the severe negativity and criticism of supporters and the media have a detrimental effect on players' family and social lives. This in turn has a negative effect on players," Frost adds.
He points out that it is important to keep in mind that the reasons players gave for moving abroad are interconnected and no one reason can be identified as a single cause.
As to what can be done to keep players in the country, Frost says that in broad terms, rugby governance and competition structures need an overhaul and perceptions that players 30 and up are too old must also change.
Now that he has identified the reasons for players leaving, Frost says he would like to continue with his doctorate in order to formulate the optimum retention strategy for SA rugby players. He adds that such a study would, amongst others, include a diverse group of locally-based players at a SA union.
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