Durban - The Sharks’ winning streak may be continuing on the field, but beneath the iconic brand name of one of the world’s most successful rugby franchises, other pressures are brewing.
In a shocking move, a forensic investigation into the Sharks finances has been ordered following concerns raised by the brand’s auditing company, KPMG.
While the Sharks administrative big brass is remaining mum about these developments, they have confirmed that such an investigative audit is under way.
A spokesman for Sharks Pty Ltd, the company that administrates the franchise, confirmed that certain issues had been voiced at a recent behind-closed-doors meeting.
There was no question of finger pointing at this stage and no actual figures have been disclosed.
Stephen Saad, chairman of the Sharks administrative board, said that while a preliminary inquiry into the financial management of the company had been instituted, he could not comment on any concerns or issues that have been raised.
“It is far too premature to say anything. If there is anything of public interest to be aired in the future, I assure you it will be done in a spirit of transparency.”
However, it is understood, from insiders, that certain concerns were raised during the financial report back about how moneys had been used to promote the Sharks franchise under the watch of former chief executive Brian van Zyl.
President of the KZN Rugby Union, Graham Mackenzie, said that while he was aware of these developments, he could not make any comment.
“I think we need to allow the auditors to do their job. There is certainly no intention of hiding anything.”
New chief executive and former Sharks’ captain John Smit said that “as the new kid on the block” there was nothing to add, as any decisions of this nature were taken at a board level and did not involve him.
“My challenges are very different,” he said.
It appears that the financial matters under scrutiny date back several years, prior to the dawn of new administrative era last year under the leadership of Smit.
Van Zyl, who took office in 1994 and retired in February this year, said that he was unaware of the details of the investigation that was taking place. “I have no idea what it entails, as I was not present at the meeting where these matters were discussed.”
Van Zyl threw the cat among the pigeons last year when on retirement he said that it would not have been his decision to sack coach John Plumtree and would have given him a two-year contract extension.
Van Zyl is the man many observers say was responsible for turning Natal, who would be rebranded as the Sharks, into the commercial success story of South African rugby.
During his tenure the team became one of the leading rugby franchises in the southern hemisphere, reaching the final in 2007; and domestically won five Currie Cups and reached the final a further six times.
But detractors have said that from a high point in 1994 when Van Zyl became chief executive, the Sharks had the highest number of season-ticket holders in their history. They now have the lowest since becoming a professional outfit.
Van Zyl had also stated that for financial reasons it was not worth moving from Kings Park to Moses Mabhida Stadium across the road, as the city wanted them to become the anchor tenants – that did not make sense, said Van Zyl, when the rugby stadium was paid up, insured for R500m, and they had a tenancy agreement which only expired in 2056.
The investigation into the Sharks finances began, it is believed, about 10 days ago, but a final report has still to be released.