Western Province boss Zelt Marais
Western Province boss Zelt Marais

Zelt Marais, don’t sell off WP Rugby to white minority for petty cash

By Mark Keohane Time of article published Nov 13, 2020

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A MESSAGE to Western Province Rugby Union president Zelt Marais: don’t be bullied by the white media, don’t be bullied by white monopolies and don’t be bullied by white stereotypes.

Don’t sell the Stormers and Western Province for $6 million.

This may temporarily convert into R120m, but if control of WP Rugby is to be ceded to the highest bidder, then that bidder needs to come armed with as much personality as they do cash.

WP Rugby is more than a sport, it is a representation of society, and for nearly a century all that was synonymous with WP Rugby was white dominance.

Unity, in 1992 started to change the status quo but it took more than 20 years for the majority in WP’s rugby structure to assume control and power.

Don’t give it back to the whites for what seems to be lottery money. To those business people based in the US, it is petty cash.

I don’t for a moment dispute that the future of professional rugby, be it club, regional or international, is in privatisation. It is the only way rugby can survive as a profession.

But the devil is always in the detail of any business investment that gives up control.

I’ve written this often this year, when it comes to WP Rugby and any private investment deal.

The media this week reported that prospective WP Rugby investor Marco Masotti would fly to Cape Town for talks with WP boss Marais.

The reports were a wonderful use of poetic licence. Masotti, South African-born and schooled, is in Durban visiting his family. It made sense to take a two-hour flight to Cape Town to meet Marais in person.

Masotti wouldn’t need an in-person meeting with Marais as any form of deal maker or breaker. Masotti, in every media report, has been emphatic that the only way a private equity deal gets done (from his side) is if there is a controlling majority to the investor he represents.

Masotti told SA Rugby Magazine that control would be a condition of any agreement. He spoke of the union remaining a major minority shareholder. He said it was the way of the professional sporting world and was accepted practice in the US. But WP Rugby is not the US.

If you don’t understand, appreciate or respect the history of rugby in this province, you shouldn’t be sitting at any negotiating table talking investment.

Control of WP Rugby extends beyond a simple sporting investment.

You aren’t talking to a handful of suits in a boardroom. The talk is to thousands of supporters of WP and the Stormers, to nearly 100 senior clubs in the Western Cape and to the many players and administrators who are the identity of rugby in the Western Cape.

The Stormers are not rugby in Western Province. They are the window to what constitutes rugby in this province. Don’t leave that window open, Zelt, and expose the thousands inside that window to being on the periphery, as they were for a near century.

Johannesburg. 15-09-18 Emirates Airline Park. Rugby Currie Cup. Lions vs Western Province(WP). Dillyn Leyds tackles a Lions player during the second half. Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency(ANA)

Zelt Marais, as president, has for nearly a year been operating as president and chief executive, which is not healthy.

Stormers coach John Dobson’s focus has been as much investor related as it has been making the Stormers the best team in South Africa. That is also not healthy.

What I don’t like about Massoti and the American investment is how much of the story has played out in the media, driven from the US, through white South African media.

This is a match made more for hell rather than heaven.

Zelt, hold out for now, find the right investment partner who understands this province, and also that financial control wouldn’t mean control of rugby in this province.

Don’t bow to a white minority in the name of cash; not when you and your constituency are the majority.

@mark_keohane

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