A ‘No’ vote on the proposed Western Province professional rugby equity deal will kill community rugby in the province. Wednesday night’s vote has to be one of practicality and not emotion. It has to be one about a united future and not a divided past. It has to be an unanimous ‘YES’ vote, writes Mark Keohane.
I was born in Kuilsriver in the northern suburbs of Western Province. My folks moved to Cape Town from New Zealand.
I am engrained in Western Province rugby, as one who played the game at every age group in School and at u20 level. It was thereafter that I started my rugby writing career and I have actively been involved in reporting on Western Province since unification in 1992 and the Stormers since their inaugural professional season in 1997.
My love for all things Western Province and the Stormers has never been hidden. I breathe the rugby of this province, like so many thousands of others. For community/club rugby to have a future in this province, an equity deal is what will create an environment of strength, inspiration and aspiration for every school kid to one day become a professional player for Western Province and the Stormers.
The Stormers, as a brand, could survive a ‘No’ vote because SA Rugby would take ownership of the Stormers, ensure the franchise completed its obligations to the Vodacom United Rugby Championship and in 2025 the national governing body would ask for bidders to either buy the Stormers and their participation in the URC and the Champions Cup/Challenge Cup or put it out to tender for a fourth franchise to join the Bulls, Lions and Sharks as South Africa’s quartet in the URC.
The Stormers, by way of SA Rugby, are committed to the URC for the next two years as each of the four franchises was given an initial four year grace period from the launch season two years ago.
It is not inconceivable that a consortium could buy the rights to a professional franchise and base it in Cape Town, but it is also a possibility that the likes of the Cheetahs see this as an opportunity to showcase unity and bid to replace the Stormers in two years time.
The current professional players will have a lifeline, either in South Africa or overseas. Especially, the good ones.
What won’t have a lifeline is the community game.
Schools rugby will always function and Western Province’s Varsity Cup and Varsity Shield stronghold will provide a feeder for other franchises and provinces, one of which is Boland, who recently confirmed the Bulls as an investor in the professional structure.
The clubs, which since unification in 1992, have been the only shareholder of Western Province Rugby, will be responsible for WP Rugby and also the precarious debt-ridden state of Western Province Rugby.
The facts must overpower any delusion (based on emotion) that the clubs, in any way, are giving away ownership of rugby in Western Province. The facts are that WP Rugby, professionally, is bankrupt.
The clubs, which make up WPRFU, own 100 percent of a bankrupt entity that has debts in excess of R300 million and projected losses of another R200 million.
It is why WP Rugby has been in Administration for the past 18 months.
The facts are that the union owes Flyt more than R200 million and have ceded the rights to Newlands Rugby Stadium and other properties as a guarantee of payment. They also owe SA Rugby close to R100 million, as SA Rugby has funded the Stormers and Western Province over the past 18 months.
These are the facts.
Right now, the clubs, as a collective, can’t even consider the sale of Newlands Rugby Stadium as a bail-out because they don’t own it.
The Red Disa Deal provides immediate financial stability and the prospect of a professional business that has the potential to become one of the strongest financially. It also has the prospect of being a world leader on the field and the provider of hope to everyone involved in community rugby.
The clubs, as a singular entity that makes up WPRFU, will have 26 percent of a business initially valued (after an equity purchase) of R200 million, whereas currently they own 100 percent of nothing. They will also get R40 million from the original purchase price and have a portion of the outstanding debt covered through the equity deal. They will also have representation on professional rugby’s board, by way of their 26 percent shareholding.
Remove emotion and examine the facts of the situation and the reasonable response has to be a ‘Yes’ vote.
Unfortunately, it is not necessarily a case of ‘reasonable’ when it comes to WP Rugby and the club structure. This has always been a minefield, in which emotion, historical past differences, private agendas, horse-trading etc has overshadowed what is the best for the players and supporters of rugby in this Province, from every eight year-old rugby-playing school kid to the match day 23 of the Stormers.
What makes the Red Disa proposal so comforting is the involvement of the Cape-based Le Roux family. The family’s business ethics and success (father Michiel is the founder of Capitec) and philanthropic generosity is fact. This is a family who have been life-time supporters of WP Rugby and the Stormers.
They believe in the game in the province, but more importantly they believe in the people of the province and the future of the province. They are a godsend, in terms of an investor, and they have aligned with an equally appealing overseas investor in Ardagh, whose business investment in South Africa is immense.
Wednesday night’s vote cannot be about the individual prejudices or agendas of any club representative. It has to be about ensuring community rugby is given a lifeline because a ‘no’ vote will be a death sentence.
It is my hope that sanity prevails with a ‘yes’ vote and rugby’s needs in this province triumphs.