The coming days will prove to be a critical period for the future WP Rugby and their Super Rugby franchise, the Stormers.
The union has appeared to be coming apart at the seams with debts piling up while negotiations over a proposed injection of cash from American investment firm MVM Holdings progress slowly.
WP Rugby criticised for board departures
The end of August saw Johan van der Merwe and Andre van der Veen leave their positions as independent directors on the board and marketing guru Raymond van Niekerk would follow.
Former chairman of the board Kevin Kiewitz resigned earlier this year over WP Rugby’s handling of a proposed deal with Investec. Kiewitz accused the organisation of trading recklessly.
The corporate arm of WP Rugby have been determined to find a backer willing to invest in the game but that determination is now beginning to look like desperation.
The appointment of ANC stalwart and former Western Cape Premier Ebrahim Rasool as the new chairman has not inspired faith in those directing the business of rugby in Cape Town.
WP Rugby have pulled out of investment deals with Remgro and Investec at the last minute while the exact standing of their relationship with Durban-born lawyer Marco Massoti’s MVM Holdings remains a mystery clouded by non-disclosure agreements.
For their part, MVM have made it clear that their ‘investment’ is conditional upon the group being granted a controlling stake in WP Rugby.
“I can’t do it without that, or to get bogged down into a complicated control situation,” Massoti told SA Rugby Magazine.
“Every sports team here [in America], maybe bar one – the Green Bay Packers – has a controlling governor. In fact, it’s even a rule of the NBA. You’d have to have the ability to run it like a business, and I think everyone would benefit from that, including the union.”
President of WP Rugby, Zelt Marais, did not want to be drawn into a war of words with the departing board members and insists that talks with MVM are progressing.
Investment key to on-field success
The Stormers retained the bulk of their Springboks after the Rugby World Cup triumph, but hanging on to the likes of Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit in the longer term will take some serious bank.
The Super Rugby franchise has struggled in recent years despite an abundance of Test stars, failing to make the semi-finals since 2012. The Stormers last won the South African conference in 2015. In 2019 the Stormers finished bottom of their conference. In 2020 they came out of the gate strong and were fighting for the lead with the Sharks when the campaign was called off.
Whether the franchise’s future lies in Pro14 or Super Rugby the indebtedness of the business arm of WP Rugby means that investment will be essential to player retention and on-field success.