Thelo: WP will move, but KEEP Newlands

Thelo Wakefield (Gallo Images)
Thelo Wakefield (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Both the Stormers and Western Province could be playing their rugby at Cape Town Stadium by the 2020 season ... with clarity on a move from Newlands expected late next month.

That is according to WPRFU president Thelo Wakefield, who was speaking, often with customary flamboyance, on SuperSport's "Phaka" rugby chat show anchored by Kaunda Ntunja on Tuesday.

But he also insisted that Newlands, owned by financially embattled WP Rugby, would not be sold as part of the deal, and instead be "developed into a business entity".

Wakefield, who also said he was serving his last two months as president after taking the helm in 2012, said during the hour-long show: "The curtain will come down on Newlands ... (but) let me make it abundantly clear that no property (belonging to WP) will be sold, whether it be a house, or Brookside (home of the Villager Football Club), or Oranjezicht, Newlands, wherever. We will never sell off our properties.

"We will develop (them). These properties have been lying there, bringing in no money to the union. So now we're saying 'why don't we develop Brookside, Newlands?'

"It is a fact that we will move across to the Cape Town Stadium. The process is such that I have signed a heads of agreement with the City Council; the City has appointed a commission to investigate the matter of rugby coming to Cape Town Stadium.

"A full council meeting will be held at the end of October. At that meeting the City will say it's either yes for Western Province, or no. if it is yes, we will move to the Stadium for many reasons.

"First, we don’t need to maintain Newlands any more, second it (Cape Town Stadium) is world-class, thirdly it is a very modern stadium, and modern professional rugby players demand that.

"We will develop Newlands into a business entity: we are consulting with various developers at present. It will still be the property of WP Rugby. But Stormers and Currie Cup (the WP team) will play at Cape Town Stadium. Not next year ... it could be the year after that."

Wakefield said bills weren't paid "with emotions", despite the lengthy Newlands era, and that "the business model we have accepted works in our favour": it would cost them much less to play at Cape Town Stadium than Newlands, because maintenance per year at the existing but ageing venue "runs into millions".

He boasted that "on paper we are the richest union in South Africa - our properties are worth R485-million".

Under the circumstances, Ntunja asked, why was WP Rugby "in such financial turmoil according to the media?"

The president responded: "It's not according to the media; it is unfortunately a fact. Years ago ... the last eight years ... people never thought there would come a day where we needed all the cents, all the rands, that we have.

"We need to understand that if you don't have knowledgeable people at the helm of the company (commercial arm), you're a loser. The president is in charge of the amateur union. The CEO functions with a board of directors and chairperson.

Ntunja then asked: "But a lot of reports always refer to you, Thelo Wakefield, in terms of the finances of the union. Do you effectively function as a president and a CEO?"

Wakefield said: "Not at all. It's funny, people just don't want to understand the structure. You can preach to them about the structure at WP ... tell them 100 times 'this is the structure'. They will still go and point the finger at the president, because the buck stops with the president.

"The president sits as a director, as a representative of the union on the board. It is the CEO who must come with business plans, must contract wisely, look after each and every cent ... he is at the heart of the commercial company.

"The president never interferes with operational matters. I saw these reports ... I laughed at them."

Wakefield claimed the much-publicised, controversial liquidation of the commercial arm of WP Rugby in late 2016 was a "bold decision after losses for the last four to five years ... we had to step in; the union was draining".

While he earnestly stressed that he did not get involved in player contracting and was not directly involved in the appointment of coaches, the president said he did step in when others at Newlands once favoured the appointment of former All Blacks mastermind John Mitchell as head coach.

READ: CONFIRMED: Bulls part ways with John Mitchell

"That was the only time ... because of the history the man had. I just couldn't see (him) at WP Rugby. We come from a very diverse province, the Western Cape. We have to transform. You bring in a foreigner ... he plays the game with whoever he wants to select.

"After a year he goes away ... and here we (would) sit, with the repair work to do. I believe he is apparently on his way from the union he was at (the Bulls), after a year, and I feel vindicated.

"I believe in home-grown coaches, I believe in growing your own timber - (Stormers coach) Robbie Fleck is our own timber."

Wakefield was asked if Fleck had been successful: "Not in 2018 ... in 2017 it was his first year and we won our conference and got to the quarter-finals.

"It fell flat in 2018. The Board investigated and we were satisfied with the reasons that were provided. They tried various things and learnt their lesson. You can't (experiment during) Super Rugby; you have to be ready when it starts.

"At the moment we have a very good CEO, a knowledgeable man (Paul Zacks). It will take him time to turn around the business because damage is vast, but I do believe we will get there.

"I look forward to next year although I won't be here. I am serving my last two months of the presidency. I have every reason to believe we will be a force in rugby next year.

"Journalists are fond of writing negative stories about Western Province. We have counted - we have over 4 200 negative stories about WP. It is now time for good-news stories.

"Hey man, there are quite a few of them ('negative' journalists). The only two I have respect for are Stephen Nell of Die Burger and Hendrik Cronje from Rapport."

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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