- There are potential obstacles in the idea of the Cheetahs playing Major League Rugby in the USA.
- USA Eagles head coach Gary Gold has warned it would cost a significant amount for the Cheetahs to enter the event.
- The former Springbok assistant coach says it’s a “disgrace” how the Cheetahs have been treated by SA Rugby.
Could the Cheetahs in future feature in Major League Rugby (MLR) in the United States?
This idea was recently brought to Sport24’s attention after SA Rugby’s decision to axe the Bloemfontein-franchise from the PRO14.
SA Rugby’s general council recently voted to have the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers as the country’s four franchises in a mooted PRO16 expansion.
The Cheetahs retained their franchise status and there have been talks of them playing in a “Super 8” series against Australian and New Zealand teams.
But the idea of the Cheetahs playing in MLR is also believed to be a consideration.
An insider told Sport24 recently: “World Rugby wants to see the Rugby World Cup in the USA in 2027 – the Cheetahs could be as the Sunwolves were for Japan preceding the  Rugby World Cup for World Rugby and be a team in Major League Rugby in the USA.
“Sponsors would support this as would the broadcasters as that is where the market is and where the viewership is.”
However Gary Gold, a former Springbok assistant coach and current USA Eagles head coach, has warned of potential stumbling blocks in the Cheetahs playing in America.
He told Sport24 last week: “Look, the way rugby is going in the world at the moment, anything is feasible. The logistics of that is that the Major League Rugby model is based on a franchise one, and what that means is it is very much along the lines of how they started Major League Soccer – a consortium comes along, whether an individual or organisation, and they buy in.
“That’s where I would see a first stumbling block. All the clubs involved have paid a licence fee, so the big challenge would be … we’re talking in the ballpark of US$2.5-4 million … where would the Cheetahs come up with that kind of money?
“The other question would be logistics: MLR is obviously in the US, and also Toronto in Canada.
“How would the Cheetahs spend the seven months of the season? They couldn’t fly back and forth from South Africa; that wouldn’t be feasible. That’s the challenge. You’d have to find a creative solution, though I am not [dismissing] the idea. But there would be challenges to overcome.”
Rumours of other big PRO14 clubs also joining MRL have also been doing the rounds, Gold noted.
“I have heard rumours, funnily enough – and they are only that – that one or two PRO14 teams could join the MLR … or a Leinster, for example, who have great depth, could have one team in each competition to aid their development of players.
“But that flight is significantly less than flying from South Africa; we are only talking six hours or so. So I don’t how it could work financially or logistically.
“The MLR will currently fund a lot of the travel – internal economy flights within America on South West Airlines – but I’m not sure they’re in a position at the moment to start looking at international long-haul flights to South Africa! The Cheetahs would need to play a handful of games at home, of course.”
Gold said he felt sorry for the Cheetahs and believed they were unfairly treated by SA Rugby.
“Saddest thing, though, is why are the Cheetahs in that position? Why has it been allowed to happen? I think it is a disgrace, myself, and SA Rugby have really let them down in a big way.
“I could be wrong, but the Kings are their own worst enemies, since inception, whether it’s money that’s gone missing or mismanagement, so I get that they are not in a position to fight their cause, but the Cheetahs are an institution of South African rugby: hugely successful at times, multi-Currie Cup-winning, once Super Rugby franchise for a number of years.
“They are part of the fabric, and have produced hundreds of Springboks. It is disgraceful.”