Dr. Frans Erasmus, president of the South African Rugby Union, expressed his condolences to the family. "Kobus was a great man, and a true servant of the game who worked tireless for the strengthening and recognition of the code in South Africa. In addition, he made a decisive contribution in agitating for the establishment of Africa as a platform for international rugby league" said Erasmus. "I knew him from many years as both a friend and administrator, and his passion for the game of rugby never faded. Indeed Kobus continued to serve throughout the current pandemic and assisted in keeping the organisation afloat during these traumatic times. We owe him an eternal debt of gratitude for serving selflessly and with no monetary reward at a time that skill and competency frequently came at a price. Go well friend, rugby league brother and faithful servant of our common cause.”
A novice as far as the organised sport of rugby league was concern, Kobus joined the fray in 2007 following his son, Deo’s involvement with the Tomahawks Rugby League Club in Ermelo. This interest and growing involvement over the course of the same season, resulted in his election as the Chairperson of the Tomahawks RL Club. From this modest platform, Kobus progressed further into the game’s administration and was soon elected as the Provincial Chairperson of the Mpumalanga Panthers. The next season (2008), saw him assuming the position of Vice President of the South African Rugby League, under the leadership of the then-President, Dave Van Reenen. Following the resignation of the incumbent, Kobus Botha became the President of SA Rugby League in 2010. During the same meeting Kobus Botha was voted in as the new President of the South African Rugby League. Over the course of his presidency, the organisation dealt with a number of significant challenges.
Of immediate concern was the restructuring of SARL, including amendments to its constitution to ensure full alignment with national and international requirements, the repositioning of the local game for future growth, improvement of governance, re-alignment of its geo-political boundaries and the need to start the process toward full professionalisation of the code. In addition, Kobus Botha and his executive was tasked with bring stability within its own ranks following a period of domestic upheaval.
Through sheer tenacity and a focus commitment, the ship of SARLSA was stabilised over the ensuing period. On the provincial level, the new leadership spearheaded by Botha established new national competitions such as the Protea and Rhino Cups to ensure that clubs and provinces continued to strive for excellence. Over time, he was also appointed as the custodian of the Middelburg Tigers Rugby League Club in order to assist its growth and consolidation.
In addition, the national team, the Rhinos, embarked on the next phase of its development with test matches, Rugby League World Cup Qualifiers and the hosting of international events befitting a respectable national and international organisation. Kobus Botha, without any doubt gave new impetus to the efforts of South Africans to build a recognisable rugby league tradition in the midst of lack of sponsorship, issues around its status as a national body and administrative challenge.
A visionary and with due consideration to the challenges confronting sporting bodies in age of professionalism, Botha also oversee the process of establishing and consolidating the first steps towards professionalising rugby league in South Africa. In this regard, the establishment and activation of SA Rugby League (Pty) Ltd., the organisation’s commercial arm, was a significant event and highlight. Given his status as president, he ex officio served as the Chairman of its Board of Directors. After he relinquished the presidency, he continued to serve as an ordinary member of the national board.
By far the most pressing issue and a matter of long-standing concern for the SARLSA, was undoubtedly the national recognition of rugby league as a distinctive sport. This was particularly important given the significant challenges of satisfying the transformation and demographic representivity requirements of both the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) and the National Department of Sport, Arts and Culture (DSAC) aforementioned stakeholders. This was a most frustrating process and one which have left a number of administrators despondent.
Always the practical strategist, Kobus Botha led from the front and did not hesitate to pursue the matter with the tenacity of a bulldog. In addition to mobilising international support for its cause, Botha and his executive, motivated by the best interests of their sport, involved themselves with a protracted process of negotiations with the South African Rugby Union (SARU) and the South African Sport Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) about recognition. This involved careful management and balancing both domestic and international expectations as well as ensuring the best interest of players and administrators. This process started to bear fruit and by late 2019, formal recognition of South African Rugby League by both SASCOC and National Government was achieved. In this regard, the organisation concluded a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with SARU in 2019 which provided for associate membership of the latter as well as other support – all of which laid the basis for rugby league’s strong future growth.
In addition to his active involvement on the domestic level, Kobus Botha also made an impression on the international level. In his capacity as SA Rugby League President and an African delegate, he represented South Africa at the Annual General Meeting of the International Rugby League on numerous occasions. At the IRL AGM in Paris in 2015, motivated by a vision of a strong and competitive rugby league-playing Africa, he strongly supported and motivated the establishment of decentralised regions under the international bodies as a means to grow the game and to facilitate regular competition. This dream finally came true four years after he stepped down as SARLSA President when the IRL formally establish the Middle East Africa (MEA) Region.
After almost two decades of service at the top level, Kobus Botha stepped down as President in 2019. Far from resting on his laurels and taking a backseat, Kobus assume the responsibility of Secretary General of the South African Rugby League Sporting Association. In this capacity, he became the custodian of all of SARLSA’s administrative machinery. As a small token of its appreciation for Kobus’ years of service, the honour becoming the first Honorary President of South African Rugby League was duly bestowed on him in the year of his retirement.
“Kobus Botha was a giant of the game of rugby league, a path breaker, selfless servant and a pioneer whose full contribution to a glorious future for this code, will only be realised in the years to come” – Frans Erasmus: President SARLSA