Rugby Agents’ White Boys Club, Racist SARU, #BLF And An Attention Seeking Attorney

 

An opinion piece by a black person, Modise Sefume who claims to be a sports and entertainment attorney and a director at Giyose Sefume Attorneys was published on the 19th July 2020 on the News24 website. Mr Sefume makes some statements regarding the White Boys Club of rugby agencies that is not only absurd but according to my limited knowledge completely stripped of any truth.

I took the liberty of copying the article as published at https://www.news24.com/sport/rugby/opinion-south-african-rugby-agency-is-a-white-boys-club-20200719 in order to reply to all of this person's allegations. 

The socio-political issues being raised around the Black Lives Matter movement have polarised the South African sporting community and have left Cricket South Africa and SA Rugby searching for answers. In my experience with the latter and its affiliated unions, I have found that the transformation conversation has been limited to the selection of players and the appointment of coaches.

100% Correct.

There are very few conversations about transformation at a decision-making level. The composition of the provincial union boards, CEOs, high-performance managers and directors of rugby have not materially changed over the last decade.

The President of SARU are of colour, and so are most of the eight franchises' presidents, that will compete in the proposed 2020 Currie Cup competition a person of colour. The Griquas' recently elected president is also a person of colour.

High-performance managers and directors of rugby are also evolving with most of the people of colour deserving of their appointments. I know quite a few of them and all are more than willing to learn rather than being dumped in a position to fail. Obviously there is also a number of them that knows you by name.

Equally, in the rare instances where we have had black leadership, such as at Southern Kings, we have seen some of the worst black managers at the wheel. And we still have a long way to go in this regard.

And your points are?

For the record, I am a staunch supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and I and am vehemently opposed to farm murders or any other murders, and the spate of gender-based violence in this country fills one with rage.

Obviously. But are you trying to garner some sympathy for the rest of your opinions? If you were such a compassionate person you would surely be the first acknowledge that poor white boys are suffering the same hardships that kids of colour do. The main difference between poor players of colour and poor white players is that poor white players are seen as advantaged, and stripped of any advantages that quotas currently give to all kids of colour.

My passion for sport and legal nous has led me to try to make a difference in rugby, using my understanding of commercial law and negotiating skills to ensure players get the best financial reward during their short playing careers.

Previously, qualified attorneys had an automatic right to represent players in the negotiations with unions but had to be registered as an agent.

Since two years ago all new agents had to pass an "agents exam" irrespective of your educational qualifications to be registered as a players agent. 

Therefore I do make an educated assumption that your "efforts" to protect players was from 2018 onwards, as you claimed to have passed the agents exams and you are a qualified attorney.

However, I could not find any records that you were ever a registered agent at SARU and your name does definately not appear on the list of the registered 54 agents registered in 2020.

The change in the qualifying requirements for agents was done to protect players against attorneys who have no knowledge of the rugby environment which lead to contracts being negotiated to the detriment of players and their future. To have some qualification and self-acclaimed negotiating skills is what the players are currently being protected from.

I remember my hostile introduction to rugby. I was fundamentally different from agents in that I did not look or speak like those in the space, nor did I look or speak like the respective high-performance managers from whom I sat across the table.

As said previously "maybe" it was the Unions and Clubs reaction to an attorney with silky "negotiation skills" who knew nothing regarding the actual inner-workings of players and Clubs/Unions relationships and showed no willingness to learn."

It was clear that I had entered a white boys' club and I would either have to toe the line or risk jeopardising my player's career by trying to challenge the status quo. This was a fine line to tread.

Firstly I still can not find any records that you were ever a registered agent at SARU and your name does definately not appear on the list of the registered 54 agents registered in 2020. So legally you had no authority to negotiate on behalf of any player.

And I refer to: "Subject to Regulation 12 above, Rugby Bodies are not allowed to negotiate a Player Agreement or other employment Agreement or provide consent for the use of a Player’s image rights in any commercial activity, with a person who is not an Agent. 

The Board will not allow any person to become accredited unless such person meets the requirements of these Regulations and the Sub-Regulations. 13.3"

It became very apparent that different rules applied to different people. There was inconsistency in the application of the governing agent rules and regulations and it left one wondering if there were, at times, nefarious intentions at play.

You are 100% correct, BUT this is not reserved for agents of colour. Clubs/Unions are known to favour one or two agents. In an increasing amount of cases, agents control some Clubs/Unions. It is evident when a coach or senior player move to another Club/Union a agencies' will manage to sign a lot of players to this Club/Union. But this treatment is not reserved for black agents. 

One cannot simply ignore the fact that out of 53 accredited agents (as of 2019), there is only a fraction of agents of colour, which has caused a huge disparity in how some players are recompensed as opposed to others.

Again this could not be further from the truth. Currently, Unions/Clubs are paying a premium for players of colour to the detriment of more deserving white players. However, what is true is that certain agencies are known to get better deals for their players than what over agencies can.

This is something SA Rugby should be particularly worried about if they are truly committed to transformation at all levels.

Agree 100% but unfortunately is it not a fact that black players prefer to be represented by white agents because of their superior knowledge of the game and negotiations to that of black agents? I spoke to several agencies and all stated that they are open for black partnerships but do expect black business to pay a fair market price for their share. Patrice Motsepe had no problem paying market value for his share in the Bulls. 

By no means am I saying it's a bad thing that there are more white agents than agents of colour; that is simply the nature of the beast. It is, however, long overdue for SA Rugby to make a considered investment into the inclusion of more agents of colour.

You can seriously not hold SARU responsible for the underperformance and in some case complete lack of performance of black agents. 

SARU already are expected to rescue the Southern Kings who's failure was 100% due to incompetent black rugby administrators, according to your article.

 Maybe SARU must force players of colour to sign with agents of colour and see what those players reactions will be.

The importance of this cannot be understated. Black agents can unearth more black players, ultimately resulting in a bigger talent base for our coaches and solving other transformation concerns in the sport.

It is a fact that agents do not unearth rugby players especially players of colour and that maybe illustrates your limited knowledge of SA Rugby.  

It is South Africa's top rugby schools and philanthropist who enable talented kids to attend the top schools where they can be developed and be seen by agents. 

In 99% of all cases, it is definately not the agent that unearth talent. Ask our Springbok Captain Siya Kolisi.

As we've seen in the past with black players whose careers have fallen by the wayside or who have simply been spat out by the system, having an agent who doesn't understand your needs or background can be damaging to your career.

Not true, it is rather the quota system that forces young players of colour to develop the "god" syndrome that demands and expects, rather than work hard and use the opportunities that are sometimes unfairly given to them. Admittingly several white players who have that same attitude also fails to achieve the high standards set to all players in the professional arena.

We've heard and read countless stories of players retiring broke, losing contracts at their peak or getting paid as little as R1 000 a game in the professional era.

Plenty of white Springboks also retired broke. It is not a matter of agents ignoring players of colour it is a question of agents not supporting and/or educating their players in financial discipline or players appointing their own financial advisors or players who do not care to make provision for tomorrow etc etc etc. 

The latest agreement between SARU, Players, Unions/Clubs and Agents specify medical aid, pension fund contributions, disability benefits, leave, sick leave as is required by law.

The much-publicised Lionel Mapoe versus Free State saga from a decade ago - where the former SA Under-21 star was paid less than R200 000 a year while his white counterparts got R1-million contracts - showed the ugly side of the game's dealings.

10 Years ago? And you feel qualified to comment on today's agents and player contracts. Move on rugby in Sout Africa did and still does. Why not rather congratulate SARU for the difficult decisions they made to transform rugby, often alienating their traditional support basis.

Publish your email address in News24 and I will send you the latest agreements regarding players and agents.

Recently, Hilton Lobberts, who was a Springbok at 19 and broke at 34, told SA Rugby Magazine: "I have almost nothing left from rugby. That's the hard part because I don't have a degree or any skills, other than rugby."

If you cared to read the full article you would have noticed that Hilton was "also struggling with a learning disability." If I interpret the article correctly it is nobody's fault that he did not go to university unless you care to blame his parents and or God.

We still have a long way to go if black players' careers that start out with as much promise as Lobberts' end the way his did.

Again please share your wisdom how anybody could assist a player with learning abilities to manage his financial affairs apart from appointing a legal guardian. His "failure" has nothing to do with the colour of his skin or the behaviour of his agent.

When you impact a player's career or earning potential, you do more damage than someone spewing racial epithets - not that that's excusable. You remove food from their families' mouths and you condemn that player to an uncertain post-rugby future.

True for all rugby players not only players of colour.

It would be a stretch for me to say that I experienced overt racism, but I can comfortably say that a few administrators did not appreciate having to negotiate with a tough, black representative who would not settle for less than what their player deserved.

Or maybe they disliked an "agent" who is arrogant and have no knowledge or experience of the current environment the players, agents, unions and clubs operate in. However, I can confirm that the feeling of dislike you experience had nothing to do with the colour of your skin. 

The air of "superiority" is palpable and you have to deal with getting undermined a lot. Some administrators have gone as far as bypassing me to speak to my player directly during the negotiation process as if to suggest that I'm insignificant.

Again your claim to be a registered agent seems to be far fetched as I could not find any proof of your claim. Therefore the rest of your allegations could be interpreted as Unions/Clubs operating according to regulations as set by SARU.

Even if you were a registered agent a lot of the unions do try to bypass agencies as I write this article. And again not reserved for agents of colour.

In the wake of Black Lives Matter, now is the time for SA Rugby and unions to deeply reflect on how they have created and maintained environments that particularly favour one group over another and how their inaction in this regard fosters a culture of disenfranchisement of people of colour. Lest we forget, rugby desperately needs more women representation throughout its structures, too.

No sir in the wake of Black Lives Matter you saw the opportunity to attack a well-regulated industry to earn some brownie points with your friends and community. 

I would have expected from a well-educated person to first get all the current information and facts before writing an article in a major publication like News24.

You have quite a few valid points regarding some agents behaviour. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with the colour of skins but rather greed and dishonesty.

I have written and passed SA Rugby's mandatory agency exam and in my capacity as an attorney, I have, so far, negotiated two Super Rugby contracts and one PRO14 contract. I have also brokered one of the premier endorsement deals for World Cup-winning Springbok Jesse Kriel and helped another two Super Rugby players with the drafting of personal contracts.

Again you are not a registered agent and therefore are not allowed to act as an agent and are not allowed as an attorney to automatically act as an agent.

If you claimed that you assisted a player and his agent in preparing for negotiations, maybe I could have valued your statement. Maybe your blown up opinion of yourself stops you from accepting your minor role in negotiations or maybe you have a friend who knows of somebody whose sister is married to an agent of colour.

SA Rugby has a duty to remove its barriers to entry for black agents and unions ought to treat the few operating within the sport with as much respect as they treat their white contemporaries.

The only barrier is the ability to pass an exam that all qualifying prospective agents are expected to pass. Oops, and to pay the required registration and yearly fees. These requirements are set to protect players from me and you.

Modise Sefume is a sports and entertainment attorney and is a director at Giyose Sefume Attorneys. He writes in his personal capacity.

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