Collapse of Lions’ deal ‘major blow to transformation’

2011-07-04 00:00

JOHANNESBURG — The unsavoury break-up between the Golden Lions Rugby Union (GLRU) and potential BEE partners GumaTac is a major blow to rugby transformation, Sport and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula said in Singapore at the weekend.

“I was fully behind the transaction as I thought it had the potential to take rugby to another level,” said Mbalula.

He said he will issue a full statement when he gets back today as only one party has briefed him on the matter.

The split bears all the hallmarks of the ugly spat that saw then SA Rugby Union president Louis Luyt take then president Nelson Mandela to court in March 1998. This was just three years after the Springboks had united the nation, winning the Webb Ellis World Cup trophy on home soil in 1995 and Madiba proudly paraded around Ellis Park wearing the No. 6 jersey worn by captain Francois Pienaar.

The two incidents could easily feed the perception that rugby is not yet ready to come out of the laager.

“It is a sad day, one of South Africa’s greatest opportunities to demonstrate change has failed,” reads a line in the separation letter from GumaTac addressed to GLRU president Kevin de Klerk on June 27.

Saru president Oregan Hoskins, whose organisation had approved the deal on June 9, said: “No comment until I hear from the Lions.”

The deal was hailed as a big breakthrough when it was announced in October, but GumaTac claims that the GLRU kept Saru’s approval to themselves until June 27.

In a hard-hitting, marathon address to the media at a hurriedly organised press conference on Friday, Guma Tac’s Robert Gumede slammed GLRU as “a badly run business”, said it was in a “bad financial state” and had negotiated “in bad faith”.

Together with his business partner, Ivor Ichikowitz, Gumede pumped in more than R16 million in cash advances to assist with the payment of November, December and January salaries, among other things, he said.

Gumede said they had instructed their lawyers to recoup the money and suggested they might even intercept payments from MTN with which they have “single-handedly” negotiated a R100-million three-year sponsorship deal.

He painted a gloomy picture of an organisation that had its back to the wall, with a debt of R30 million due to Absa Bank today.

He also claimed that they had discovered that the GLRU was in the process of selling Ellis Park Stadium for R220 million. “This was odd,” he said, “given that the stadium had received more than R540 million from government for a facelift before the 2010 Fifa World Cup and there were discussions with the sports minister to turn the precinct into a multi-codes high-performance centre.”

De Klerk said his organisation has nothing to hide and rejected allegations of bankruptcy and maladministration.

“We [the GLRU] are meeting all our sponsors on Tuesday and will then answer all their questions. I’m not going to answer Gumede’s claims in public. This is not the proper stage. The Lions have nothing to hide and I reject all claims of maladministration,” De Klerk said. “It is also untrue that the GLRU is bankrupt and we will survive, as we always do.”

He had earlier revealed that they were already negotiating with a new potential business partner.

De Klerk said the GLRU has a commitment to transformation and the past week’s events will in no way affect the union’s vision.

MTN’s chief marketing officer Serame Taukubong confirmed tomorrow’s meeting and said his organisation will not take a stand until it has spoken to all the parties.

“We bought into a vision of transformation where the club made commitments to player development and building a winning team. We will establish at the meeting if the vision still stands ” he said. — Sport 24.

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