Theo Garrun

Craven Week can fund itself

I find it strange that, because SA Rugby might not have the money to financially support the U18 Craven Week next year, the assumption is that it can’t take place.

The SA Schools Rugby Association recently announced that the national federation will not be funding the U13 Craven Week, the LSEN Week and the U18 Academy Week next year. The U16 Grant Khomo Week and U18 Craven Week will only be held if the funds are available.

The likelihood of a cash-strapped SA Rugby being able to do that is slim. Hence the assumption that there won’t be another Craven Week.

There has been the expected reaction: anger and sorrow at the prospect of players losing out on opportunities to secure professional contracts at one end of the spectrum; and a ‘so what?’ attitude from the other end where detractors claim that the Week has, in any event, deteriorated into a rugby development exercise from which many of the top players are excluded.

When Coca-Cola pulled the plug on the Week it was in trouble, unless a new sponsor could be found or SA Rugby footed the bill itself. Well, there’s no new sponsor on the horizon, and SA Rugby doesn’t have the money, so that’s the end of the Week, right?

Wrong. Let’s talk about two of the other mass participation school sports: hockey and water polo. Annual interprovincial tournaments are an accepted part of their programmes. The year is planned around the dates of those interprovincial weeks. They have only ever had partial sponsorships and don’t have big title sponsors with bottomless pockets. Their tournaments are self-funded by the parents, along with any other sponsorships that the provinces might be able to secure.

And they run tournaments that dwarf Craven Week in numbers and complexity. The 2019 SA Schools water polo interprovincial tournament was held in Johannesburg. It involves boys and girls in all the age groups. There were 111 teams and they played 455 matches at 10 venues. Close to 1,500 players were in action and around 350 officials. A horde of volunteers – teachers, learners, parents, senior players, etc – made it happen, and the participants had to pay to be there.

It’s similar in hockey. Again, there are boys and girls tournaments, at various venues – around the country in this case because you need enough astroturf pitches at each venue – and, again, it’s self-funded, and run by volunteers.

There’s little senior union involvement in the water polo or hockey tournaments. They are school tournaments, not regarded as part of the development and talent identification pipelines of the national federations to the extent that the rugby weeks are.

Why should this be the end of the SA Rugby Youth Weeks? Make them school tournaments again and let someone else run them, on tight budgets. Parents will make sacrifices to give their children the chance to shine. Wealthy and well-connected parents will always arrange sponsorships for the teams that their kids are in – that’s the only way it has ever happened with school sport sponsorships.

And admit that there are those out there who can get the job done. Committees made up of parents and teachers do it all the time.

– Garrun is a veteran schools rugby writer. This is an edited version of an article from his blog.