CAPE TOWN – Jurie Roux turned 50 recently. There was little fanfare and he spent a few hours of the evening celebrating someone else’s birthday.
Roux, at the helm of South African rugby for the past 11 years, has always been unassuming and understated, but he has been emphatically present and powerful in restoring South African rugby to its rightful place in the game’s world order.
Google hardly does Roux’s contribution justice when it comes to the health of South African rugby.
You won’t find a story promoting the virtues of Roux. You won’t find Roux promoting his own virtues.
Any Google search highlights an ongoing battle with his former employer, the University of Stellenbosch. It has cast an unfortunate shadow on Roux and perception has paraded as fact and opinion has been presented as gospel.
The Stellenbosch University claim that Roux misappropriated R37 million in funding started out as a Hawks criminal investigation, which never went to court. Then it was a civil suit, which also never made it to court and in the past year the matter was downgraded to private arbitration.
Roux has always denied claims of financial irregularity and personal enrichment and Stellenbosch University hasn’t countered this. The technicality is about process and has never been about personal gain.
Through it all, Roux has been loyal to South African rugby, when he could comfortably have relocated to World Rugby’s head office in Dublin.
Roux’s story in South African rugby doesn’t get told because he doesn’t believe the story is about him. He wants his coaches and players in the news for all the right reasons, which is the success of the Springboks, the Blitzboks and the junior teams.
Roux doesn’t do ‘feel good’ interviews about himself. He addresses the media on issues specific to SA Rugby and World Rugby. He talks operationally and he talks as someone there to serve the game and not be served by the game.
Globally, he is revered as among the best rugby administrators, which is not always the case within South Africa.
Perception is an evil and the anti Roux lobbyists have, for the past five years, preyed on perception.
For the record, here are some facts about Roux: He is the longest serving tier one chief executive in international rugby and has been a long-term chairman of World Rugby’s budget committee, where he has served on the board for the past 10 years.
Only World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont (13 years) and Scotland’s John Jeffrey (11 years) have had more time on the board.
Roux has had to lead SA Rugby in the most turbulent of times that weren’t always related to finances and to governance. He had to find a solution to the troubles of the Springboks and he had to find a commercial model that would speak to investment in the game.
He had to convince the government that SA Rugby could transform and had a plan that was heartfelt, substantial and written with integrity to make rugby inclusive of all South Africans.
Roux had to win back the trust of South African sponsors and investors after the Springboks sunk to a world low ranking of seventh at the end of 2016.
His calm has always impressed me; equally his lack of ego in a sporting code where the majority of administrators believe they are the game.
Roux’s style of engagement with the media has never been confrontational. You ask him a question and you get an answer – and it isn’t always a popular response.
Rugby administration in South Africa is a minefield. I’ve seen so many explosions and implosions. It is cut-throat and ugly. And the game’s administration is usually at its most fractured when the Springboks are struggling.
Roux, in the past decade, has fronted every collision within South African rugby. He has scrapped and strategised. He has respected protocols and tradition, but he has never wavered from doing what he felt was best for the financial future and playing future of the Springboks and SA Rugby in general.
When Siya Kolisi raised the World Cup a year ago in Japan, Roux wasn’t on the podium. He was in the stands, applauding those players and coaches who had inspired the Springboks’ 32-12 triumph against England.
Roux is mentally tough to have survived as the chief executive for the past 10 years and to do it amid all the smear and unsubstantiated attacks on his integrity is remarkable.
My professional experience of his leadership is that he can make unemotional decisions, which means he can make hard decisions.
But he also has the gift of patience, which is rare in the sporting administrative world. So many succumb to emotion, to media pressure, to agendas and to self-promotion.
Roux, in the most challenging of circumstances, secured Rassie Erasmus’s return to South Africa at the end of 2017. He empowered Erasmus to make the Springboks powerful again and he got on with making SA Rugby financially stable.
His voice is the strongest in South African rugby and among the most respected in World Rugby’s board meetings. When I spoke to SA Rugby president Mark Alexander about Roux, he responded: “We are lucky to have him in SA Rugby because everyone else wants him.”