Schats faces balancing act in whole new ball game
By ALVIN SALLAY
PIETER Schats will hope and pray that he has the skills of a trapeze artist in the months to come.
One of the main tasks Schats has to shoulder after taking up his new position as executive director of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union yesterday, is to strike the right balance between elitism and the grassroot levels.
'It is going to be a most difficult balancing act . . . to know where to put most of the Union's resources,' says Schats, a former Hong Kong rugby captain now turned administrator. 'The Union does not have an infinite pot of money. So do we want to compete with the likes of the Samoas and the Fijis, or do we want to concentrate on the development programme?' asks Schats.
His question is plainly figurative. For the answer is already known.
While Hong Kong rugby will stand by their flagship national team - who hope to play in the proposed Pan-Pacific Series next year - they are also committed to nurturing the Chinese community. Schats, 35, is aware that both aspects of the game will have to be carefully cultivated if Hong Kong rugby is to progress up to, and beyond, 1997.
Wary of stepping on toes, the former Natal representative, describes himself as 'the catalyst' towards getting a clear-cut policy drawn up and made public by the end of this season.
'I will be asking a lot of questions and collecting the views of a whole lot of people in the next few months. I will then sit down with the directors of the Union and others closely involved in the game, to draw up a clear plan.' His task is fraught with pitfalls. For as is often the case, it is hard to get two people to agree over anything on Hong Kong rugby.
Speaking to Sports Post yesterday, Schats outlined what his stance will be on the big issues facing the Union presently.
On payment to players: 'Players have a right to expect some sort of compensation for out-of-pocket expenses. It is a trickier subject when you talk of match fees and win bonuses.' On the present format for the League: 'It is working now. Splitting the strength of the big clubs was a good move. I sympathise with teams like Police Wanderers and the Flying Kukris, but overall, I think more players are enjoying rugby now.
'But we have to be flexible in the future. Split strength teams may not be the prescription in the long-term.' On promoting localisation. 'We must encourage the development of the game. But I think an 'outside' influence is necessary to remain competitive. We can't go the way like Malaysia where it is a fully local-only policy.' The development programme, the domestic season, international fixtures are all inside the ambit of Schats. He will have to work closely with the Union's chief executive David Roberts and its technical director and national coach George Simpkin. More chances for Schats to hone his balancing skills.
Schats beat a large field of applicants who had been handpicked by a headhunter to fill this new job.
Probably what swayed the Union to pick him was the fact that the South African is fully versed with local rugby, having played the game here since the 1987-88 season.