SA Rugby boss accused of nepotism over organisation of Springboks v Ireland Tests

David Skippers
Rian Oberholzer and SA v Ireland.jpg

SA Rugby chief executive Rian Oberholzer and the Springboks in action against Ireland at the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Provincial rugby unions in South Africa are reportedly seething after it was revealed that a company run by the son of SA Rugby chief executive Rian Oberholzer has been appointed to organise the Springboks’ highly anticipated mid-year Tests against Ireland in July.

Adding to that, the company Access Management Services (AMS), was appointed for the Tests at Lotus Versfeld in Pretoria on July 6 and Kings Park in Durban on July 13 without a tender process being followed.

“This is nepotism at its worst,” an anonymous rugby boss at one local union told Afrikaans newspaper Rapport. “It’s a major conflict of interests,” said another one.

Appointment made after World Rugby recommendation

However, SA Rugby insists that they made the appointment following a World Rugby recommendation and based on a “conflict management framework”.

“[The framework] is designed to avoid potential conflicts and specifically includes independent committees, while excluding the CEO [Oberholzer],” said the governing body in a statement.

Oberholzer and former SA Rugby managing director Songezo Nayo established ASM in 2009. At the time Oberholzer was AMS’ managing director and Nayo the chairperson and the company initially focused specifically on the management of the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium in Gqeberha.

Since then, AMS’ operations expanded and they organised events like the 2021 British and Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa, the South African Rugby Union’s (SARU) 2023 Rugby World Cup bid and Tests during the 2017 and 2018 Rugby Championship.

Oberholzer’s son Lourens was appointed as AMS’ chief operating officer in 2017, while his daughter Adriana took up the position as the company’s strategy and growth manager in 2023 and Lourens’ wife Anika serves as its operations manager.

In 2022, Lourens became AMS’ chief executive. At that time, Oberholzer senior was still serving as the administrator of the beleaguered WP Rugby Union, but moved to SA Rugby in 2023 to replace Jurie Roux as the organisation’s chief executive.

Oberholzer previously held the position between 1996 and 2003 and was reappointed last year until at least the end of 2025.

The experienced administrator was impatient when Rapport confronted him about the accusation of nepotism against him, and said there was “nothing sinister” about the appointment of AMS for the Boks‘ Test series against Ireland.

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“I didn’t appoint AMS [to work for SARU]. The company was a service provider to SARU before my appointment [as CEO],” he said.

“I have nothing more to do with the company – I’m not a shareholder and I don’t benefit financially from it. It wouldn’t be right or ethical to remain involved.

“I know where the complaints come from and I know they have their own agendas.”

Meanwhile, Lourens referred all enquiries about AMS to SARU.

A SARU spokesperson told Rapport that AMS was involved in the organisation of the Springboks’ Tests with Ireland because it will take place during a very busy period for the governing body, when it simply would not have enough employees to handle everything it was offering in 2024.

“AMS was appointed because of its experience and expertise in event delivery and to fill an immediate, short-term need,” he said.

Busy schedule for SARU

“SARU’s responsible for delivering six Test matches and three World Rugby events in 2024 (the World Rugby U20 Championship, WXV and Cape Town Sevens), as well as domestic competitions such as the Carling Currie Cup and Youth Weeks, with an operations department of just two people.

“There are seven Youth Weeks scheduled for the end of June to early July and the U20 World Cup is also taking place then. SARU’s going to arrange all this, but needs feet on the ground in the Ireland series.”

The spokesperson confirmed that no tender process was followed in AMS’ appointment.

“World Rugby worked with AMS when the WXV series [for women’s teams] took place last October in South Africa and was impressed enough to recommend that the company be used again this year,” he said.

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