Sport

ANALYSIS

Planned protest action by disgruntled faction is about ‘recapture’ of Western Province Rugby Football Union

Planned protest action by disgruntled faction is about ‘recapture’ of Western Province Rugby Football Union
The 11 clubs are led in "protest" by former WPRFU vice-president Ronnie Bantom, who sat on the union’s exco for yonks. He was there in the years leading up to the moment the union ran aground. (Photo: Gallo Images)

A faction of the Western Province Rugby Football Union General Council, planning a protest, dislikes that it has lost power, influence and the ability to push through the sale of Newlands’ development rights to a specific developer.

A small, but vocal and determined faction of the Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU) General Council, the body made up of 102 clubs in the region, is set to stage a protest before the Stormers take on the Sharks at DHL Stadium on Saturday.

The reason? Officially, it’s to protest against the “capture” of the WPRFU by the South African Rugby Union (Saru). Just writing that sentence is laughable, but here we are.

In case you didn’t know, the WPRFU was placed in administration by Saru in late 2021 when it faced financial collapse after a string of disastrous deals relating to the sale of the Newlands Stadium development rights left it in deep debt and without assets.

It owes a development company called Flyt R220-million with growing interest, and Flyt also holds the title deeds to the union’s 11 other properties as security for a R112-million loan.

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Whatever price the WPRFU eventually sells Newlands for, the first R220-million-plus is going to Flyt to furnish its current debts.

This pending protest isn’t about “capture”. Saru has captured nothing. It reluctantly stepped in to stop the biggest and historically, most important union in South African rugby from completely imploding. Saru did it in broad daylight, invoking the powers of the constitution, to which the WPRFU is a signatory. It was not capture; it was intervention.  

Many clubs support the action and subsequent handling of the union by the appointed administrator, Rian Oberholzer. But they are largely silent and let a small faction dictate a narrative, which is economical with facts.   

This faction dislikes that it has lost power and influence and the ability to push through the sale of Newlands’ development rights to a specific developer.

This protest is not about the capture of the WPRFU. It’s really about the recapture of the WPRFU for a narrow agenda of self-interest.

Staytus or bust 

The 11 clubs are led by former WPRFU vice-president Ronnie Bantom, who sat on the union’s exco for yonks. He was there in the years leading up to the moment the union ran aground.

He was part of the problem and now he’s painting himself and his small band of cohorts as victims of some elaborate Saru takeover plot, who will provide the solution for the WPRFU.

After years of the WPRFU’s leadership bungling the Investec deal and then the Flyt deal, they expect fans to believe that they will rescue a union brought to its knees on their watch. If the evil Saru didn’t meddle.

wp rugby

Herschel Jantjies of DHL Stormers during the United Rugby Championship match between Ulster and DHL Stormers at Kingspan Stadium on 27 January 2023 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo: Ramsey Cardy / Sportsfile / Gallo Images)

If this faction and quite frankly, the entire General Council, were honest, they would welcome the success of the Stormers winning the inaugural United Rugby Championship (URC) in 2022. The team’s performance graph shot up by almost 90 degrees after the previous leadership was removed. Coincidence?

If it were true that the faction had WP’s best interests at heart, they would have welcomed the independent Request for Proposals (RFP) process, which put the sale of Newlands’ development rights out to tender. 

It was a sealed bidding process driving the price up while ensuring strong due diligence. A third-party expert ran the process, eliminating any influence from Oberholzer or other interested parties. 

If it were true, then the faction would want the sale of Newlands to generate maximum income for a union in a dire financial crisis. 

But Bantom’s faction wants the sale to go to a developer named Staytus. That’s it. It’s a very narrow and rigid position for leaders claiming to want to save the union.

They apparently don’t want to hear about other bids. They aren’t interested to know if there is another party willing to pay more than Staytus or offer better and more sensible terms.

They only want one developer to do the deal, where the WPRFU will be a development partner. It’s exactly that approach that landed them where they are. We can only speculate why there is such a rabid urgency to get Staytus over the line. 

The disgruntled group claims there is a binding agreement signed with Staytus in the manic final days before Saru invoked clause 29.5 of its constitution and placed the WPRFU in administration.

Bantom signed a Term Sheet with Staytus on 20 August 2021, although he apparently didn’t have the authority to do so. A month later the union was in administration.  

Ever since though, the disgruntled clubs remain adamant that Staytus is the only viable and binding deal. When Oberholzer arrived, there were two offers on the table, one from a group called WIA and the other from Staytus. Neither was binding as far as he and Saru were concerned. 

Oberholzer, not unreasonably, asked for proof of funding. After all, this is a R2-billion development. Neither developer could provide satisfactory guarantees and Saru’s financial committee (to whom Oberholzer answers) rejected both at that stage.

They were, however, invited to participate in the RFP process and neither did. Odd that.

Staytus’ deal was set to be done in conjunction with mega-developer Growthpoint. There were threats of lawsuits and an exchange of lawyers’ letters about nine months ago. Saru and Oberholzer stood firm and said: “Take us to court.” That never happened.

If Oberholzer and Saru had acted unreasonably and illegally against Staytus, they would be in court now. There has been no legal battle, which is a tacit admission that the deal was not binding. 

A better bid

But this remains the narrative of the disgruntled faction. Even now, despite a better bid from another entity, this unhappy faction wants only Staytus to turn the sod at Newlands.

It’s understood that Staytus made a R340-million bid, which is not only for Newlands, but for the title deeds to the WPRFU’s 11 other properties. The best deal out of the RFP process is worth more than that for Newlands alone.

That means the WPRFU could sell Newlands for more than R340-million and keep its 11 other properties, to sell at a later date if it so wishes. On the face of it, that seems like a much better deal.

But even if it isn’t for some reason, the WPRFU General Council will still have the final say. Whatever deal is agreed to in principle by Saru on behalf of the WPRFU, it has to go back to the WPRFU General Council for ratification.

This is a vital point that the disgruntled faction glosses over. Saru will not make a final decision for the WPRFU. That will always lie with the WPRFU — for better or worse.

If the WPRFU were indeed captured by Saru, the latter would choose the developer.

When the time comes, only the best Newlands development option, which emerged from an independent and thorough due diligence exercise, will be put on the table for ratification or rejection by the 102 clubs.

At that point too, the WPRFU will be out of administration and will hold elections for a new president and leadership group. They can chart their own path forward, armed with an offer, done without political and personal agendas and other influences, which has taken more than a year to conclude, to secure the future.

Or they can bet on the promises of Bantom & Co, who will reject any offer other than Staytus.

The General Council still has a chance to reset and start over. The alternative is they choose to go backwards and follow the leaders who failed them before. Whatever the decision, the WPRFU will get the outcome it deserves. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    The attitude of “its our time to eat “pervades this manic grouping. Make sure they stay in the wilderness,please

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