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New SA Rugby president seeks to secure World Cup bid, instigate reform

Mark Alexander has pledged to drive forward South Africa’s uncertain bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup and instigate reform in SA Rugby after being elected as the governing body’s new president today (Thursday).

Alexander was elected unopposed to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Oregan Hoskins in August. Alexander, who has served as deputy president since 2007, will serve as the head of SA Rugby until the next elections in 2018 and has immediately spelled out his main priorities in the role.

Earlier this month, World Rugby confirmed France, Ireland and South Africa as host candidates for its 2023 World Cup. The bidding field for the national team showpiece was reduced in size in September after the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) withdrew its candidacy amid concerns over government support due to its bid being linked to Rome’s ill-fated tilt at the 2024 summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. However, the status of South Africa’s bid also remains unclear.

In April, SA Rugby, as well as Cricket South Africa, Athletics South Africa and Netball South Africa, were told by Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula that they would not be allowed to bid for or host major events for at least a year after they fell short of “transformation targets” to integrate more black people into their sports.

Speaking today, Alexander said he was confident that SA Rugby would meet the transformation targets for 2016 – agreed with the Department of Sport and Recreation – to allow it to confirm a bid. “Transformation for us is not a ‘tick-box’ exercise; it is a business imperative for rugby to stay vibrant and relevant as a sport in an evolving South Africa,” he said.

“I’m pleased to say that we have made good progress in 2016 although we know more work needs to be done. That said I am confident of a favourable report from the Eminent Persons’ Group to allow us to bid for an event that could have a tremendous, transformative impact on the lives of all South Africans.

“Our economic impact study of what a Rugby World Cup would mean to South Africa underlines the national importance of rugby delivering such a tournament to the country. We forecast that it would create 38,600 temporary or permanent jobs; have a direct, indirect and induced economic impact of R27.3bn (€1.75bn/$1.93bn); contribute R5.7bn to low income households; bring almost 200,000 foreign tourists to South Africa and produce R1.4bn (€92.5m/$101m) in estimated tax revenues for government.

“Rugby has its challenges but there are great opportunities for the sport and for what it can do for South Africa.”

South Africa is also in the midst of a turbulent period on the pitch, with the national team ending a poor year with a record 57-15 home loss to New Zealand earlier this month. Alexander said SA Rugby is seeking to split the management of the sport into two committees. One would handle the interests of the country’s six Super Rugby franchises and the other would oversee the 14 unions that make up the domestic game.

The proposed changes must be approved by the organisation's decision-making body, the General Council, in December. “Financial sustainability is a major focus for our membership and SA Rugby right now,” Alexander added.