Embattled WP's CEO Zacks for Bulls?

Paul Zacks (Gallo)
Paul Zacks (Gallo)

Cape Town - The man only recently trumpeted by president Thelo Wakefield as likely to "turn the business around" at crisis-torn Western Province Rugby, Paul Zacks, is earmarked for possible, fresh deployment ... by the Blue Bulls.

Sport24 has learnt that chief executive officer and director Zacks, who took over at Newlands in mid-2016 from long-serving, now retired Rob Wagner, has joined the list of candidates for the imminent CEO vacancy at the Blue Bulls Company in Pretoria.

Veteran administrator Barend van Graan is widely expected to step down from the Loftus position early in the new year.

It is known that Zacks' application for the Bulls role was the subject of lengthy discussion on Tuesday night at a marathon, roughly four-hour-long WPRFU General Council meeting.

Approached for comment on Wednesday, he confirmed the overtures from Loftus: "I was approached by the shareholders of the Blue Bulls Company to put my name forward for this position. My decision to apply is an entirely personal one.

"But suffice to say that any employee wants to work in an environment where their intellect, knowledge, experience, skills and business acumen is valued and appreciated.

"Those who know me, know that I love rugby, that I am passionate about WP Rugby in particular, and that I work extremely hard to ensure its success both on and off the field."

He added: "I have always been, and I remain, fully committed to WP Rugby in my current position as the Group CEO."

WP Rugby is embroiled in a much-publicised cash-flow crisis and legal challenges, and Wakefield confessed just over a month ago on the SuperSport television chat show Phaka that damage to the union was "vast".

At the same time, however, he took the opportunity to praise Zacks, who had been appointed on his watch after leaving his role as group head of strategic execution at luggage company The House of Busby: "At the moment we have a very good CEO, a knowledgeable man," Wakefield said.

"It will take him time to turn the business around because damage is vast ... but I do believe we will get there."

That contention will be open to question now, given the possibility of Zacks' relocation - coupled with the fact that Wakefield himself has signalled he is stepping down from the presidency shortly.

The union owes investment company Remgro an amount believed to be around R44-million - and growing, through interest - in loans received at a time when staff and player salaries were under threat.

WP's business arm was placed in final liquidation by the Western Cape High Court in 2016, after the union was slapped with a R276-m lawsuit by former commercial partner Aerios for reneging on an advertising rights contract with the company.

A few weeks ago, Zacks issued a statement in response to reports of a player clear-out at Newlands to cut costs: "It is regrettable that the public has been presented with a factually incorrect and grossly misleading view of our confidential internal dealings with our senior player group.

"We back our contracted players wholeheartedly and all of those players who have contracts with WP Rugby for 2018 and beyond will all be honoured."

For all the challenges currently being faced at Newlands in various areas, it is hardly a secret that the professional staff are often hamstrung, in broad terms, by the controversial level of power that rests in the hands of elected, amateur officials.

WP Rugby is also marked by sometimes complex political agendas and factionalism. A few days ago, community news website the Pretoria East Rekord reported that the process of appointing a new CEO for the Blue Bulls Company was in the final phase.

"After the position was widely advertised, the company apparently received many applications from all over the country."

It said the shortlist may include Pumas CEO Pieter Burger and Griquas counterpart Arni van Rooyen.

"It is also possible some surprise candidates could appear on the shortlist ... (including) high-profile administrators of at least two other Super Rugby franchises."

It is now known who one of those figures is ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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