Matters were progressing well for the Eastern Cape rugby franchise. The South African Rugby Union had paid off the debts of the three constituent provinces and had provided financial and administrative support. A meeting would be held the 11 November to determine if South Africa would be awarded the 15th Super Rugby franchise. The business plan was presented to Members but the Chairperson ruled that the information must be kept confidential for the meantime.
Members congratulated the leadership on their achievements but stressed that there must be co-operation between the provinces. Members felt that the planning was still lacking. The Chairperson invited the SARU President to a confidential meeting with a small group from the ruby leadership and the Committee.
Mr Komphela said that it had not been possible to finalise the Eastern Cape franchise when the matter had been discussed earlier. One of the problems was the lack of sustainable infrastructure at the time. The Committee understood this position. Transformation remained a central issue. There was a culture of rugby in the Eastern Cape.
Presentation by South African Rugby Union
Mr Oregan Hoskins (President, SARU) said that SARU was honoured to be invited to address the Committee. It was an opportunity to discuss what was happening in the Eastern Cape and to hear the views of the country's leaders. Rugby was taken seriously in the whole country. SARU management would continue to act in the game's best interests. Copies of the business plan for the Eastern Cape franchise had been submitted to the Committee. The Chairperson had been kept informed. The Deputy President of SARU had been tasked by the Presidents' Council to lead the Eastern Cape project. The region was competing with other parts of the rugby family for resources, players and sponsors. It was not a matter of plain sailing.
The Chairperson said that the Committee was not naïve. There had been a rough ride to date. They had discussed the same issue and there was now an issue of rapprochement (“toenadering”). This was the first meeting with the rugby leadership for a while, which was in itself a promising sign, given the nature of some of the previous meetings. He wished the SARU team well.
Mr Mark Alexander (Deputy President, SARU) said that the business plan distributed to the Members was confidential. It was not for public consumption at present. SARU was entering a crucial phase of the bid process for the 15th Super Rugby franchise.
Mr J McGluwa (ID) asked why it was confidential.
The Chairperson replied that a decision on the 15th franchise would be taken at a meeting the following day. It would have been better if this meeting had been held after the rugby meeting as there would have been more finality. He asked members of the media to accept this decision. He instructed the Committee Secretary to recover copies of the business plan from all members of the public and media present.
Mr Alexander said that one of the first problems had been the shaky foundation. The Eastern Province region had appointed a new President and the union was functioning satisfactorily. Resources had been ploughed into the Border region. The administration had been changed and the new members had been frozen in their posts. There was a team working with them together with the provincial government. There was a business plan in place and a market strategy. An elite structure was being developed. The programmes in schools were increasing.
Mr Alexander said that SuperSport and a marketing company had been employed. The problems in the Border region were not particular to that area. Regular meetings were being held which had led to the business plan. The bid for the 15th franchise was formidable. One of the characteristics of the franchise would be longevity. There was a hundred-day plan in place. The detail was in the document.
Mr D Lee (DA) said that general congratulations were due. South Africans were champions all round and the team was ranked number one. This was due to the commitment of the leadership. The document suggested that certain appointments should have been made already. He asked if this had been done. The document discussed the situation in Border and Eastern Province, but nothing was being said about South Western Districts. The regions should not be developed separately but should rather work together. He asked if the regions were meeting and working together. The success of the franchise would depend on this cooperation.
Mr Alexander replied that the document had not been updated although there had been developments. A Chief Executive Officer had been appointed. This person had managed the Blue Bulls Rugby Union previously. Mr Alan Solomons had been appointed as coach. He had experience of Super rugby. There was an agreement in place for the use of the stadium in Port Elizabeth. The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University would manage a high performance programme for the franchise. Professionals had been brought in to run the franchise. He and the Chief Financial Officer of SARU had been co-opted and SARU was managing the project.
Mr McGluwa (ID) said that the Independent Democrats also applauded SARU's efforts. The majority of players were from the Eastern Cape. He asked when the Eastern Province Elephants team would again be a force at national level.
Mr G MacKenzie (COPE) asked if there was a participation agreement between the three regions. The three provinces had been known for their feuding in the past. He asked if the differences had been patched up. A lot of money had been invested. It did not appear that the house was in order yet. The Eastern Cape was a very strategic area and answers were needed. A plan was needed. He asked if all the outcomes specified in the document were in place. He asked what funding was in place and whether a coach had been appointed.
Mr Alexander replied that the franchise would be self-funding. A marketing strategy was in place. There was as yet no co-operation agreement but the matter had been raised at SARU.
Mr Dikgacwi (ANC) asked how committed SARU was to the Eastern Cape. The issue had been raised three years previously. Parliament had agreed that the region was not ready to host a franchise and the problems had to be corrected first. There was no guarantee that the 15th franchise would be awarded to South Africa. If they wanted to see the status quo changed, and to see the development of a truly non-racial Springbok team, then they had to look to the Eastern Cape. Things due to be done in October had not happened. He felt that SARU was not being honest with the Committee. Resolutions had been taken at the sports indaba in Durban. Sports people had agreed there that the franchise was shaky. The Committee had to speak out on these issues.
Mr Suka (ANC) said that the document indicated that planning had only started in October 2009. He asked if the Eastern Cape franchise would be ready to start immediately. If the planning was in place, then all else would follow. He asked if the Eastern Cape had been prioritised. The President of SARU had said that SARU was doing its best to help the Eastern Cape. There had been a void for three years. He asked if the Eastern Cape was ready for this.
Mr Suka said that it was always a case of confrontation. If the leadership was focussed then other parties would fall into line. The document stated that there were more black than white clubs in the region. The Executive was now in place and two good stadiums were available. He asked if SARU was ready in terms of finance and other aspects. There would be new markets for rugby and its partners. It was time to walk the talk. What he found absent from the plans was a monitoring mechanism. SARU and the Committee would have to play an oversight role. Rugby was falling short of transformation goals. He asked if the way forward outlined in the document was only an interim measure until 15 December 2009.
Mr Hoskins replied that the answers were clear. SARU was committed to the Eastern Cape franchise. No member of the delegation, which represented all the provincial chiefs, would deny this.
The Chairperson said that it was a good document but it left an impression that nothing had been done for the last three years.
Mr Hoskins said that SARU had first to wipe out the debt which the three unions had run up. The combined debt was more than R12 million. It was owed to their equity partner. The commitment by SARU was unanimous. All provinces had agreed that money should be taken from the SARU coffers to pay off the debt. This was despite the fact that many other provinces also needed financial assistance. A collective effort had been made to help the Eastern Cape. The provinces had been in a downward spiral and their administrations were battling. Some unions were still asking for help but SARU had seen the Eastern Cape as a special project.
Mr Hoskins said that SARU had also become involved in the administration of the provinces. There was still a long way to go. South Western Districts had now reached an agreement with an equity partner. SARU would not ask for the money back. It had been written off. The tone was the same with Eastern Province and Border. He had become involved personally. Mr Mike Ncula, SARU's transformation consultant, had been deployed to the Border region to assist. This was being done at the danger of neglecting other unions. He was not telling any fables.
Mr Hoskins said that members of SARU were pinpointing the problems. South Africa was world champion because the leadership could see problems as challenges. There was a need to hold hands with the three unions and for them to work together. The franchise system had lasted for fourteen years and it took a lot to run a franchise. The needs included finances, expertise and other resources. The Eastern Cape unions were not working together at present. If the Eastern Cape region was strengthened it would provide better opportunities for black players. Everybody wanted to see that. This might not be on the agenda of certain people or to the liking of all, but it would happen. The issue had been discussed. National sponsors had been encouraged to get involved with the franchise.
The Chairperson had heard what the President had said and would not dispute it. However, this had all been said before. He needed to have a confidential discussion with Mr Hoskins. He asked if the commitments made by SARU still stood. This is what they were saying. The real issues needed to be raised. The Committee had never questioned SARU's intentions but were equally interested in the success of the franchise.
Mr Lee thanked SARU for what they were trying to achieve and their efforts. He appealed to the three unions to put their collective shoulder to the wheel. They needed to reach agreement. Time lines were needed. They had to do what was right for rugby. He had no problem with the meeting as proposed by the Chairperson but reminded him that it was a multi-party Committee.
The Chairperson emphasised that the discussion at the proposed meeting would be private.
Mr J van der Linde (DA) was proud of where rugby was. Some questions could not be answered at the current meeting. A thorough discussion was needed on how to move forward. He asked if plans were in place. It was possible that the decision the next day would go against the Eastern Cape franchise. It was important that as big as the game was, the unions must go to the lowest level. It was not just about distributing some jerseys. Proper fields were needed. He knew of a good team that was forced to play all their matches away due to the lack of facilities. Rugby was well-enough resourced to provide decent facilities.
Mr MacKenzie congratulated the Eastern Province provincial team on their huge improvement. The Eastern Cape franchise would also be based in Port Elizabeth. He asked if all the franchise's home matches would be in Port Elizabeth.
The Chairperson said that some of these matters were not a public exercise. The meeting he had requested should be held within the next two weeks. He appreciated the work which had been done. Bilateral meetings helped to clear the air or else the parties would remain at loggerheads. One hard decision was left. He told Mr Hoskins that he could bring up to five committee members with him which he would invite to attend.
Mr Hoskins said that his colleagues agreed to this.
The meeting was adjourned.
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