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Sharks should have anticipated this chilly reception

Written by Rob Otto (robdylan)

Posted in :Original Content, Sharks on 2 Nov 2015 at 10:52
Tagged with : , , , ,

Based on the vast majority of the reactions I saw on Friday afternoon, the Sharks’ announcement of the Chiliboy Ralepelle signing went down like the proverbial lead balloon – yet another PR disaster at a time when they could least afford one. Sometimes, though, it’s not necessarily what you do, but rather the way that you do it, that causes a problem.

Let’s not sugar coat this; it’s been an awful year for the Sharks. With the reasons for their disastrous on-field showings in 2015 complex and multi-faceted, they nonetheless need to start getting things right and doing so very fast, lest they alienate their dwindling fan base any further. Those of us who continue to keep the faith watch them like the distraught, battle-weary parents of a delinquent teenager, hoping against hope that they’ll get the message this time and finally stop the self-destructive behaviour. Often accused of more “spin than substance”, the Sharks have generally been pretty good at public relations. In this case, however, they have failed badly to anticipate the effect of a piece of news and to ensure that the message they convey is the right one to combat that effect.

Chiliboy Ralepelle is a convicted steroid offender. This is fact, this is on the record. Any announcement or press release relating to the player MUST mention this fact, since as we’ve seen, every news article that runs a story is guaranteed to include it in the very first paragraph (if not the headline). While the facts relating to the number of offences of which he is guilty become blurred, the very fact that he is an offender – a recent one currently serving a ban – cannot be erased or ignored. Why then, do the Sharks think it’s OK to announce the signing of this player as if he were any other, without even mentioning the conviction or the ban? How could they possibly not realise just how this will cause fans to react?

Now, I believe that Chiliboy (a good rugby player and one that can add massive value to the Sharks) is genuinely repentant about what he’s done and wishes to make amends. I believe that when a good rugby player wants to add value to my team and sincerely wishes to atone for his prior transgressions, it would be uncharitable to not at least consider affording him that chance. This player is not the first former steroid abuser to play rugby for the Sharks and will certainly not be the last either. I believe that, according to the rules currently in place, Chiliboy will have served his time by April, when his ban expires, and provided he shows the necessary contrition and does whatever else is needed to make up for his wrongdoing, there is no reason on Earth why he should not be allowed to play for the Sharks or any other team that sees the value he can bring.

Did I get any of this from anything that the Sharks have said? No, of course not. So how the hell could the man in the street be expected to come to this same conclusion without the union sharing the thought process and guiding him to a better understanding?

Right now, the announcement from the Sharks has left them wide open to any and all of the following accusations, variations of which I’ve seen liberally on social media this weekend:
- We sign a drugs cheat? We condone steroid abuse and send the message to any aspiring player that you should abuse drugs because you will be rewarded with a Sharks contract when you do.
- How can you sign a banned player? Don’t the procurement people do their homework? We’re wasting money on a guy who can’t even play for us!
- Another one of John Smit’s overrated, over-the-hill mates signs for the Sharks. This team is a joke.

Tell me, Sharks, which of those reactions did you NOT anticipate and and why did you not ensure that you had the appropriate messages in place in your release to counter them? You shouldn’t need us to tell you this stuff and you ‘re actually pretty lucky that we care enough to do so.

And from those few who can see through the chaos and, like me, see the Chiliboy signing as a potentially very astute rugby move, we welcome him to Durban and look forward to him making the most of his second chance in black and white.


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