Hey WP, where’s the money gone?

Dan Retief

Is Western Province rugby moving to the Cape Town Stadium or is it not? With Google at one’s fingertips, access to information is instant and abundant.

A few minutes spent searching about the impending move throws up a litany of denials, guarded confirmations, accusations of impropriety, legal challenges and declarations for and against the move. There’s no absolute “yes, we are moving.”

What is confirmed, though, is that South Africa’s oldest rugby union is an organisation in deep trouble. Why this should be so is difficult to fathom. Western Province, cum the Stormers, have a stable and strong headline sponsor in DHL plus a number of other backers. Newlands has traditionally drawn the biggest Super Rugby crowds which, logically, should lead to the biggest gate takings.

You have to ask: Where has the money gone? What was it spent on? Who is accountable?

On top of this, the union’s administrators – in spite of a devious move to separate the commercial part of the body from the rugby part – are facing claims, supported by litigation, of some R250-million from their former advertising agents, Aerios, and a demand for the repayment of a loan R43.3-million from Remgro Sports Investments that was advanced to pay salaries.

No longer being in the hurly burly of the daily rugby beat, my outsider’s view is that a deeper look is needed into the running of the WPRU.

On the face of it, the stadium move looms as a solution driven by desperation – rather like an impecunious pensioner selling an old but charming house in need of care and leasing a flashy sports car that already has a few miles on the clock.

That the Newlands stadium is run down and unsafe is inarguable, but does the history and intrinsic value of the place not carry some weight?

Should the opinion of the fans, who mostly reside in the southern suburbs, the Cape Flats, the northern suburbs and further afield to Stellenbosch and surrounds, not be sought as to what they would prefer?

It would appear that re-building the Old Lady of Boundary Road to create a modern arena with a retractable roof is not an option – although architects tell me such a structure with additional office and residential spaces is feasible – so rugby execs, backed into a corner, have no option but to swop Newlands for new lands.

From owners they will become tenants at the beck and call of municipal officials.

Cape Town Stadium, like so many other white elephants scattered around the countryside in the aftermath of FIFA 2010, is a massive drain on the city’s resources. But what is not clear is what the Cape Town council is offering WP rugby in return for pulling up their roots.

For starters, the glistening structure – so pretty set beside the sea with Table Mountain as a backdrop – is not all it is cracked up to be. The field area is too small to accommodate a full-sized international rugby pitch, the concrete barriers are far too close to the playing area, there are too few revenue-generating suites and a great number of seats in the bottom tiers are on a plane with the field which makes spectating most unsatisfactory.

What of the traffic logjam getting through the city? Will it be possible to stage crowd-pulling rugby events on Friday nights given the inevitable vehicle snarl-ups?

Much is made of the success of the Cape Town Sevens, but that is two days in the year for an event that is more party than rugby. Rugby Tests, of which there is not one in the offing for the next two years, plus Super and Currie Cup rugby will be a completely different challenge.

Given rumours of worrying erosion of steel in the 2010 stadium, because of its proximity to the sea, has anyone thought to investigate its ongoing viability into the future?

In the years of professionalism, the WPRU have effectively been pawning off the family’s silver to the point that they are lurching from one bail-out to the next.

Their track record does not suggest that they have the commercial expertise to properly interrogate the cost/benefits analyses that need to be done, or to negotiate the legal pitfalls and details of the leases that will have to be entered into.

Panic-stricken decisions seldom turn out well, which one fears will be the outcome of a move “around the mountain.” Like so many things in our troubled land, this is about failed administration rather than abandoning a stadium, and it seems there are too many egos, too much self-interest and too little expertise to sort it out.

- Dan Retief

Let's chat

  • Boyo

    The truth is almost all the unions are in deep financial trouble as a result of huge players wages and diminishing relative returns at the gate.

    Not saying that WP is well run but everyone is struggling

    • Sharky

      Everyone is struggling, but WP’s woes are compounded by gross mismanagement. Newlands is relatively well attended yet the WP administrators have still managed to dig themselves a R50-million hole. It’s sad… it really is.

  • Floris Basson

    Nee wat Nuweland is nie meer wat dit was nie. Jy mag nie meer braai by die skole nie, geen musiek en geen drank. Die atmosfeer by die skole is dood, verlede naweek was daar omtrent nog ‘n halwe veld parkering oop by die laerskool. Wie wil so baie betaal om ‘n stadige begrafnis by te woon??? Kyk die bietjie snert by my huis met ‘n bier in die hand langs my braaivleisvuur.

    • Stephen

      Exactly right and I’ve got a beer fetcher at home

  • James Digby Grant

    Well written Dan ! Very valid Questions !

  • Greg Shark

    Is it incredible how for each stadium move proposal (read here Kings Park as well) comes this red herring that the stadium is ‘dangerous’, falling into disrepair almost to the brink of imminent collapse!!!
    what utter horse shiat, the stadiums are quite ok though may be in need of touch up and maintenance!
    It also is baffling how people with absolutely NO knowledge of construction materials and structures suddenly become these instant experts and purveyors of impending doom at stadiums. One word in ignorance from their ‘source’ is now the final word on the stability of the stadium (read Kings Park here as well).
    Football stadiums are not spectator friendly for rugby, the seating slowly rises back from an arena that is 20m from the nearest ground floor seat and that ain’t the furthest from the field….the seating is in an oval around the arena so distance from field only gets worse……

  • André Vogel

    My question is, who audits the books to see where the money is going, and why can it not be made public? Perhaps a forensic audit is overdue…

  • SweetAz

    I could tell you what the problem is, its the same problem as you have at TeleDom, EksDom, SpoorDom, SAPdom, SANDFdom, SABCdom, SAAdom and I can go on and on,—but its like the emperor with no clothes story. I can tell you what the problem is over and over again but until the blinkers come off and you start admitting the truth that the facts have been telling you for 24 years its a pointless exercise.

    I will give you a hint,–no successful country, business, organization, sport-steam in the history of the world has EVER remained successful by promoting mediocrity.

    • Herman Schroder?

      I couldn’t agree more, cheers.

  • Matt

    The major problem is how much say amateur clubs have in a professional outfit. These guys aren’t qualified to run a business of this size. The sport is professional but amateur are running it. It should be run like a company not a rugby club

  • Barry Smith

    To understand some of the problems, one merely needs to look at the coaching structures. They are the only Union with a dedicated Director of Rugby, who does not double as head Coach! They are the only Union that have separate Super rugby and Curry Cup coaches and then within these structures they have more assistant coaches than the others – take Feeney for example, in addition to forwards and backline coach. Add to this the top heavy management structures, poor governance and then the pictures becomes a little clearer!

  • herman schroder

    Where’s the money gone ? On Wakefield’s entertainment budget is a good possibility. Another thing. When last has the CCC produced figures to confirm how much the White Elephant in CT is costing the ratepayers in this part of the world. We’re not only talking running expenses here but what reserve has been built up to accommodate maintenance of the structure in the coming years and is that being factored in. Five percent of replacement cost per annum from day one should be the minimum set aside.

    I believe the white elephant is costing us a fortune which is quite ironic because from above the stadium looks like a giant black hole gulping down much needed funds for far more important projects. Flatten both stadiums and build one decent one on Rondebosch Common. That should get a few blood vessels popping.

  • John Comyn

    Interesting points I was not aware of. I have been to CT Stadium numerous times and the view, from whether ever you are sitting, is brilliant. All stadiums have lower tier seating. If you are sitting rows 1 to 3 at Newlands you see very little, believe me. Unless of course you are sitting somewhere in the middle. There is plenty of room at the CT stadium to take the dead ball area further back. As a anchor tenant one can probably demand it gets done. The stadium was also built to accommodate more suits so that should not be a problem. I also find it difficult to believe the builders did not take corrosion into account and the stadium is going to collapse in the near future. I find parking in Green Point on a par with Newlands maybe even better. Have you ever tried getting something to eat and drink at Newlands or going to the loo not to mention getting in and out of the place! To say they are being rushed into making a decision is nonsense. They have been in consultation with the council for at least 5 years. Wakefield and his pals have done everything possible to avoid making a decision while CT City have done everything possible to accommodate them. Why have they run out of money? Probably like everything else, incompetence and corruption. I’d far rather they pay the rent every month than own and manage the stadium.

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