Eat All You Can, While You Can

Sport brings us joy.  When our teams win, it instantly improves our mood.  In many places a team result determines the mood for the rest of the week, sometimes longer.  This should naturally extend to those who run the clubs, unions, franchises, federations and confederations upstairs – also known as the suits.  Sport is a lucrative business for these people.  Yes, there are many who serve sport out of love and passion.  In fact I believe these people make up the majority.  Then there are the unscrupulous folks who have carved a little gold mine for themselves.  One thinks of João Havelange, Ricardo Teixeira, Sepp Blatter, Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer.  

The late Louis Luyt dumped the fertilizer business for rugby and while he certainly did build his own empire at the old Transvaal Rugby Union before turning his attention to the-then South African Rugby Football Union, the reality is that Luyt looked after his players, staff and left the coffers in a healthy state.  Rumours of staff ill-treatment and intimidation surfaced and the jury is still out on the ruthless Luyt but it is fair to say that from a TRU and SARFU perspective, Luyt’s reign was a good one.

Last week respected journalist Rob Houwing reported on a financial meltdown at Western Province.  The crux of the matter is that the WP Rugby (Pty) Ltd board is projecting a R11.2 million loss this year and are now being sued by Aerios (Pty) Ltd to the tune of R72 million.  In a nutshell Aerios are the union’s holders of commercial rights.  In other words Aerios are the middle man when it comes to sourcing sponsorship, advertising, rights and the like.  The charge is that the WP Rugby-DHL deal was done without the consent of Aerios.  That said, the R72 million appears to centre around the Sevens World Series at the Cape Town Stadium.  

Are heads going to roll? 

Well four independent board members resigned in September.  The quartet spoke about a situation exacerbated by lack of transparency.  It is also worth pointing out Rob Wagner resigned as CEO after 25 years at Newlands in various capacities.  Starting to sound too similar to FIFA?  

I cannot comment on anything related to corruption, irregularities, kick backs, racketeering and the like.  The truth is right now there is no evidence.  That said I have been around long enough and learnt enough about the way sports administrators go about their business to suspect such could be at play here.  WP Rugby’s R11.2 million loss is brought about by unsold suites at Newlands, season ticket sales on the decline and public ticket sales also down.

Blue Bulls v Western Province

Photo credit: Nick Lourens

Now a winning team would help.  A trophy-winning team would be even better.  Province actually appeared in four Currie Cup finals in a row, winning two from 2012-2015.  A watered down Currie Cup I might add, as I have discussed previously.  You can read my thoughts on that here.

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA. 15 April 2016. Super Rugby, Lions vs Stormers at Emirates Airline Park. Schalk Burger. Copyright picture by: WESSEL OOSTHUIZEN / SASPA RESTRICTIONS:These pictures may not be archived, sold or shared with third parties. This image has been sent by email to the intended recipient and as such may not be shared with a third party without the express written authorisation from Wessel Oosthuizen

Photo credit: Wessel Oosthuizen

However the Stormers have not been overly competitive and so it should come as no surprise that folks are not clamouring for tickets.  The union has also bled young talent for the longest time.  Stellenbosch in particular is known as a conveyor belt of rugby talent but including the rest of the union’s jurisdiction it is worrying how many top Cape players have slipped away.  You could still understand if they were leaving for Europe or Japan, much like Argentina and Brazil’s best footballers depart for Europe, but these youngsters are off to the Blue Bulls and Golden Lions.  The latter snapped up four WP Under-21 players this past week ahead of next season as a case in point.

To come back to Houwing’s article, Western Province president Theo Wakefield said:  ‘WP Rugby (Pty) is governed by a board of directors … as you are aware, I am president of the WPRFU.  I have forwarded your (inquiries) to the CEO of the company for comment.’  I hate to say it but it sounds suspiciously Blatter-esque, avoiding tough questions, passing the buck and maybe even changing the constitution to get yourself out of trouble.

I repeat that I am not accusing anyone at Newlands of corruption, racketeering or receiving handsome kick backs here.  Instead I am pointing out something that many South African rugby supporters are fed up with.  That being administrators appearing to be in it for themselves rather than the good of the game.  If I may use Wakefield as an appropriate (and still hypothetical) example, the truth is Sir, no one minds you driving a beautiful car with a parking bay at the stadium’s front door.  They do take exception when it seems the team’s woes are set to continue indefinitely and there is no sign of the situation improving, on and off the field.