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Wed Apr 23 19:25:16 SAST 2014

Player power at the Lions

CRAIG RAY | 26 June, 2012 06:220 Comments
John Mitchell during the MTN Lions media open day at Johannesburg Stadium, A Field on April 11, 2012 in Johannesburg
Image by: Duif du Toit / Gallo Images

AT LEAST 20 players have listed formal grievances against suspended Lions coach John Mitchell in a show of player power never before seen in South African rugby.

Mitchell was suspended by Golden Lions Rugby Union president Kevin de Klerk last Friday, pending an investigation into allegations of misconduct and abuse of power made by the players against the coach.

The Times has learnt that many of the players have listed more than one grievance against Mitchell, meaning the deposed coach would have to answer to more than 30 separate allegations of mis-management.

De Klerk said Mitchell would face a disciplinary hearing as soon as legal procedures were dealt with.

After months of informal grumbling to senior management at the Lions, the players eventually formalised their complaints last week, forcing De Klerk, after an emergency board meeting, to suspend the coach.

Lawyer Frikkie Erasmus will represent the union while Mitchell will have legal representation - but requested "more time before I comment", when approached by The Times.

"We are formalising our case and will issue our disciplinary document some time this week," said De Klerk.

"I want to make it clear that the decision to suspend John was not a knee-jerk reaction but a decision that came from a well-documented list of grievances.

"People forget that players are professional employees these days and, as such, have labour rights and are allowed to exercise those rights through the correct channels.

"Gone are the days when players could be pushed around and abused - and I encountered that as a player. I'm reluctant to call this a show of player power because I believe this has come from a group of honourable young men who had exhausted all other avenues before coming to the management with these complaints.

"I know it looks like John's position, regardless of the outcome of the disciplinary hearing, is untenable but I can't say that is definitely going to be the case.

"He needs to have his hearing, which is a legal right, and we can only go forward from there."

The nature of the players' grievances doesn't vary greatly, according to sources. Mitchell's lack of professionalism, and his continual swearing and belittling of players in front of their peers, appear to be the main gripes against him.

Lions players attended a training run with assistant coaches Carlos Spencer and Johan Ackermann at their Doornfontein base yesterday. The two are acting as caretakers until the Mitchell matter is dealt with at boardroom level.

The New Zealander is the victim of a player revolt for the second time in his coaching career following his fallout with his squad at the Western Force in Perth in 2008. The Lions play the Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday.

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