Mark Keohane, writing for “Keo’s Corner” in the Cape Times and IOL
A message to Western Province Rugby Union president Zelt Marais: Don’t be bullied by the white media. Don’t be bullied by white monopolies and don’t be bullied by white stereotypes.
Don’t sell the Stormers and Western Province for six million US dollars. It may temporarily convert to R120 million rand, but if control of Western Province rugby is to be ceded to the highest bidder, then that bidder needs to come armed with as much personality as they do cash.
Western Province rugby is more than a sport, it is a representation of society and for nearly a century, all that was synonymous with Western Province rugby was white dominance.
Unity, in 1992, started to change the status quo but it took more than 20 years for the majority in Western Province’s rugby structure to assume control and power. Don’t give it back to the whites for what seems to be lottery money. To those business people based in the USA, it is petty cash.
I don’t for a moment dispute that the future of professional rugby, be it club, regional or international, is in privatization. It is the only way rugby can survive as a profession.
But the devil is always in the detail of any business investment that gives up control.
I’ve written that so often this year, when it comes to Western Province rugby and any private investment deal.
The media this week reported that prospective WP Rugby investor Marco Masotti would fly to Cape Town for talks with WP President Zelt Marais.
The reports were a wonderful use of poetic licence. Masotti, South African-born and schooled, is in Durban visiting his family. It made sense to take a two-hour flight to Cape Town to meet Marais in person.
Masotti wouldn’t need an in-person meeting with Marais as any form of dealmaker or dealbreaker. Masotti, in every media report, has been emphatic that the only way a private equity deal gets done (from his side) is if there is a controlling majority to the investor he represents.
Masotti told SA Rugby Magazine in a recent interview that control would be a condition of any agreement. He spoke of the union remaining a major minority shareholder. He said it was the way of the professional sporting world and it certainly was accepted practice in the USA.
But WP Rugby is not the USA and it certainly is not the rest of the sporting world.
If you don’t understand, appreciate or respect the history of rugby in this province, you shouldn’t be sitting at any negotiating table talking investment.
Control of WP Rugby extends beyond a simple sporting investment. You aren’t talking to a handful of suits in a boardroom. The talk is to thousands of supporters of WP and the Stormers, to nearly 100 senior clubs in the Western Cape and to the many players and administrators that are the identity of rugby in the Western Cape.
The Stormers are not rugby in Western Province. They are the window to what constitutes rugby in this province.
Don’t leave that window open Zelt and expose the thousands inside that window to being on the periphery, as they were for a near century.
Zelt Marais, as president, has for nearly a year been operating as president and CEO, which is not healthy. Stormers coach John Dobson’s focus has been as much investor related as it has been making the Stormers the best team in South Africa. That is also not healthy.
What I don’t like about Massoti and the American investment is how much of the story has played out in the media, driven from the States, through white South African media.
This is a match made more for hell than heaven.
Zelt, hold out for now, find the right investment partner, who gets this province and also gets that financial control would never mean control of rugby in this province.
Don’t bow to a white minority in the name of cash; not when you and your constituency are the majority.