The real reasons why South African rugby players move overseas

MyPlayers, the players’ organisation for all professional rugby players in South Africa, has published the findings of a survey showing why players opt to leave the country to play abroad.

Nine in 10 players surveyed said they are signing a deal to play professional rugby overseas within the next two years, or are at least considering the possibility, the report found.

Their financial well-being was the primary motivating factor for a majority of respondents, while additional considerations that often differ from those aired in the public opinion, were also voiced.

Transformation and South Africa’s political situation were deliberately specified as distinct options to prevent ambiguity in interpreting the political situation as an approximation for transformation systems, MyPlayers said.

“The results clearly show the percentage of players who regard the two distinct options as their primary reason for signing an overseas deal.

“The political situation encompasses many aspects of South African life, which includes unstable electricity supply, drought management, economic and political volatility, protests, and the exchange rate.”

During interviews, players were asked what the three main reasons for playing overseas were, and a common answer was, ‘money, money, money’.

One Super Rugby veteran, who played in France for two years, said he earned more money in France than in the preceding seven years he had spent playing in South Africa, the report found.

Senior Springboks, who were once one of four or five players in their position at franchise level, said these situations often lead some of their direct competitors to pursue more game time and money overseas.

The report noted that some players did, however, question the actual “return on effort” for players going overseas without major deals.

“Firstly, I think we’re over-romanticising going overseas. Rugby is rugby wherever you go – there will always be coaches, injuries, and weird team selections,” the report said.

How much is enough?

The report further noted that if you’re an incumbent Springbok, like Eben Etzebeth, it makes financial sense to make the move abroad.

“But what about every other Tom, Dick and Harry who are offered average deals? Have they considered the purchase power of their money overseas?

“You might earn R30,000 more per month, but you haven’t yet saved any of it, flew your folks over for a visit, you haven’t calculated your living costs, and you might not even know what the impact of foreign tax wi ll be on your overseas adventure.”

One Super Rugby veteran highlighted the importance of taxes in the overall equation.

“It ’s really important to keep in mind that you’ll cough up more taxes, the more euros you earn. Once you reach a certain category of income, you’ll pay vastly more taxes than what you’re used to.

“If you go to France and you don’t negotiate your contract around that reality, you might end up earning much less than you had anticipated when you first decided to leave,” he said.

In 2019, MyPlayers conducted research among South Africa’s professional rugby players, covering various topics such as facilities, coaches, mental health, future competitions etc, in order for their voice and views to be documented.

The survey is intended to have a clear and definitive player voice from influential and experienced players, backed up by qualitative research from a larger group of players. The main purpose of the survey is to provide the industry with player insight on key topics within the industry, MyPlayers said.

In-person interviews were conducted in groups or with individuals at South Africa’s rugby franchises, among others. These players (averaging 155 South African first-class appearances per player) were asked to provide their personal experiences and opinions on 30 topics, ranging from comfort of travel to playing overseas, to anxieties and concerns inherent to the local professional game, etc.

Players interviewed represented:

Read the full report, here

Read: South Africa’s rugby victory has lessons for all of us

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The real reasons why South African rugby players move overseas