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.