Premier global rugby competition the Guinness PRO14 league is to be reduced to a 12-team competition next season with confirmation that its two South African franchises– the Southern Kings and the Toyota Cheetahs – will not take part in the 2020-21 campaign due to on-going travel restrictions enforced by the South African government.
The decision was announced yesterday afternoon, several hours after news broke that the Kings have suspended all rugby activity for the remainder of 2020 due to financial issues, highlighting the precarious position of professional sport at the moment after five months of inactivity. The news is regarded as a major setback for the league as the introduction of the South African sides in 2017 was heralded as a significant step towards developing the competition as a global brand.
The Southern Kings found themselves in a particularly vulnerable position after a takeover attempt of the Eastern Province franchise collapsed in June, leaving the South African rugby union to take on the burden. SA Rugby took back a 74-per-cent shareholding in the Kings from the Greatest Rugby Company in the Whole Wide World (GRC), which acquired the stake in January 2019. Minority shareholder EPRU retained a 26-per-cent shareholding.
SA Rugby took action after GRC failed to deliver on the financial commitments of last year’s acquisition. The decision had appeared to ensure the Kings’ place in the Pro14 and/or any other post-lockdown competitions but the team’s financial woes have reached such a level that participation will no longer be possible.
Pro14 Rugby said it remains in discussion with SA Rugby on when South African teams can resume in the new year, and in the meantime the competition will concentrate the opening fixtures of the 2020-21 campaign among its 12 European-based clubs.
The Pro14 was known as the Pro12 until 2017, when the Kings and Cheetahs expanded the reach of a competition that had previously only featured clubs from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. It remains to be seen whether organisers will revert to the Pro12 moniker in the absence of the Kings and Cheetahs this year.
The absence of the two South African teams also raises questions regarding the competition’s lucrative rights deal in sub-Saharan Africa with South African broadcast giants SuperSport.
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