Why is Wakefield on tour?

Craig Ray

A familiar sight caught my eye a few minutes before the DHL Stormers kicked off their toughest game of the season – away to the defending Vodacom Super Rugby champions, the Crusaders.

As TV cameras focused on the visitors’ changing room door, it opened and out strolled a serious looking Western Province president Thelo Wakefield.

It’s not the first time the president has been spotted on tour with the Stormers – a fact that the union never publishes, and it rankles. Why was he there?

There was no official Sanzaar business that required his presence (not that presidents of individual unions are directly involved in Sanzaar business anyway) and, furthermore, what was he doing in the changeroom in the crucial minutes before kick-off? We’ll come back to that point later.

In 2018, it is simply unacceptable that a union’s president tours with the team. WP Director of Rugby Gert Smal is with the team because his job is directly linked to the on-field performance of the Stormers.

But the president? WP liquidated its professional arm in late 2016 and last month, when Wakefield proudly welcomed a new sponsor on board, he claimed that ‘even if the sponsorship were worth two cents, it would help the union.’

It’s unclear who bankrolled the president’s trip to New Zealand and Australia, but even if it weren’t WP, or a sponsor, surely the president of a bankrupt union should set a better example?

The money that is being spent to fund this jolly, regardless of its provenance, could either have been ploughed back into the union or used to fund the presence of another, more useful member of staff such as an extra physio or support coach.

This is, after all, a union that (rightly, under the circumstances) suspended bonuses and pay increases last year, yet its president takes a few weeks off to tour.

Which brings me back to the other point. What professional sports team, minutes before a crucial match, has the president sitting in the change room?

Yes, the coach might have invited him, but that would’ve been under duress. Robbie Fleck is hardly in a position to tell the president to sod off, but he should have. Those crunch minutes prior to kick-off are the preserve of those directly involved. Team support staff doesn’t hang around and even the subs clear out earlier.

The Stormers played poorly for the first 20 minutes and were 26-0 down and out of the game by then. Were the players confused or unfocused after having an unwelcome individual distracting them at a time when minds should’ve been fully attuned to the coming task? Only those in the room will know the exact measure of the intrusion, but it wasn’t a good look.

I can’t imagine Eddie Jones, Nick Mallet, Steve Hansen, Jake White or any other seasoned coach tolerating the situation.

The president is an elected official who shouldn’t play any meaningful role in the business of running the union, let alone meddling in team affairs moments before a match. And his mere presence is meddling.

WP has a CEO who is appointed to run the business, yet not a press release or proclamation about the business of the union is made without Wakefield making a statement that generally adds nothing.

Elected officials have long been a blight on the professional game in SA. In the amateur era they were elected to run unions and do the job because of their commitment to the sport.

In the professional era, that torch has been passed on to CEOs, Directors of Rugby and heads of various departments, who are paid to run the business as profitably as they can.

Why provinces, and SA Rugby itself, even needs presidents, is a mystery.

- Craig Ray

Let's chat

  • Herman Moolman Herman Moolman

    Was wondering this myself for a while now

  • MRT

    This is exactly why the Sormers are not performing year after year!

  • Jack Black

    Thanks for writing this. I don’t know why the media in Cape Town isn’t all over this like a bad rash? It’s a huge scandal and has been for years, but nobody talks about it!

  • nick

    And let’s be honest……No way will that dude fit in only one seat in economy.

  • Nick.

    Come to think of it, if it’s not an ‘all you can eat’ buffet in the hotel, Just to feed this bloke is going to raise the travel budget massively. I just can’t picture this gent quietly ordering a continental breakfast and a cup of tea and paying for it himself.

    Does anybody know if he also likes a pint?

  • Nick.

    Anyway. I’ve probably got it all wrong. He’s likely just another selfless administrator who has loyally committed his life to furthering the interests of his union. I mean, important blazer wearing officials like this are entitled to get a free, all inclusive holiday abroad when the team travels.
    Not only that, shoving himself through the doors of the changeroom before the team runs on is obviously an essential part of his job. The players must really feel motivated and inspired when he comes in and hangs around the changeroom. Maybe he keeps their spirits up by flicking a wet towel at them when they come out of the shower.
    I mean, he’s die baas van die plaas. He can do what he likes.
    Respect man.

  • Divan

    Would it have been a problem had it been a white president??

    • Jack Black

      Yes – this is completely unrelated to race and it’s disgusting that when complaints about this kind of corruption get raised, people try to play the race card.

  • AJ

    The Union (Amateur Arm) own the company running WP/Stormers 100%. That is why Thelo is involved in everything. The Ceo reports to Wakefield.

  • MIKE ALBERTS

    IMAGINE OUR POOR STORMERS TRYING TO GET THERE GAME FACE ON AFTER LISTENING TO THIS CHARACTER’S MINDLESS DRIVEL…PLAYERS SHOULD DEMAND THAT WAKEFIELD “MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO ENTER CHANGING ROOMS”

  • Watt Evah

    And Thelo reports to? – professionals report to the shareholders of the company – or the funders of the company – who in this case are the sponsors and most likely the fans who pay for tickets and buy memorabilia AND ask questions that need answers – like for instance how is my team performing and where is my money going?

  • Hugh

    Irrelevant article, research your facts instead of trying to cause sensation!

  • Simple Jack

    How is it irrelevant?

    Mark my words, once Wakefield and everything he stands for, is no longer involved with WP and Stormers rugby, the union will improve remarkably.
    The Stormers will stay an above average team as long as this guy rules the roost.

    I honestly don’t know why the Cape Town media do not elaborate on this more often. I’ve heard WP admin aren’t big fans of criticism and they will exclude journalists from media conferences who don’t wright in their favour. Stormers and WP rugby have become a joke under the current administration.

    Expect the Stormers to end the season last of the 4 SA teams. And don’t expect miracles next season.

  • Maxwell

    I have read through all the articles and comments and I just get feeling that in SA there is only one kind that can manage,coach and play better. Why is that? There are always negative comments when others are in charge.

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