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Durban - City manager S’bu Sithole is hoping the new top team at the eThekwini municipality will open the way for fresh negotiations with the Sharks rugby franchise about moving their operations from Kings Park across the road to Moses Mabhida Stadium.
Talks between the parties over the move have been ongoing for years, but were abandoned in 2010 when no agreement could be reached between the Sharks and then city manager Michael Sutcliffe.
At that time, SA Rugby blamed the stalemate on communication failures and a relationship breakdown between Sutcliffe and Sharks CEO Brian van Zyl, Saru president Oregan Hoskins going so far as to say the issue could no longer be left to them to resolve.
Van Zyl emphasised at the time that the Moses Mabhida Stadium would not be able to house the number of suites the Sharks had, and that they would be a paying tenant at the new stadium, whereas at their own they were rent-free.
However, yesterday Sithole moved to kick-start talks, telling a press conference that the city’s new leadership wanted to take advantage of a new opportunity to engage with the Sharks.
“The atmosphere will not be polluted by erstwhile discussions. I also understand that not all parties were consulted about the design of the [new] stadium, and these are things that need to be ironed out.”
Sithole said he proposed that the Sharks be “formally and officially” approached to start negotiations about the use of the stadium to arrive at an “amicable and win-win” solution.
“This will help in finalising the plans for the entire sporting precinct around Moses Mabhida,” he said.
The city is keen to get the Sharks as a tenant, owing to the high cost of maintaining the stadium, which is hardly used except for the occasional soccer match.
Unaware of these comments yesterday, Van Zyl said the franchise had “never touched base” with Sithole or been involved in any talks with him since he took over as city manager.
However, he did not rule out future talks.
“We have always been open to discussion and would never say we will not talk. But they do know our structure over here, and it has not changed at all.”
Van Zyl said if Sithole wanted to engage with the Sharks and discuss anything, he was “always available”.
“Except, obviously, this week, because we are in New Zealand,” he laughed. - The Mercury