The cynical and uninformed may suggest that the Golden Lions Rugby Union is doomed. The original Lion King, Louis Luyt, suggests the right man is in charge.
GLRU President Kevin de Klerk has come under enormous pressure in recent weeks, culminating in two crippling blows in the past 10 days – first the South African Rugby Union pulled the plug on their Super Rugby status and then they lost an arbitration case against the Leopards and Pumas.
It is these two episodes in the protracted financial saga of the GLRU that have got the vultures circling.
Any hint of a quote suggesting the Lions might go bankrupt and the headlines are in capital letters.
However, they are not as keen to shout from the rooftops when there is a hint of positive news about the Johannesburg outfit.
In fact, they completely overlooked Luyt’s endorsement of De Klerk this week, only headlining the suggestion that they may go into liquidation.
It was comically bizarre to listen to the full interview with Luyt – on the Internet radio station Ballz radio – after having read the headlines that came from the transcript.
The headlines said: ‘Lions will go into liquidation – Luyt’ and ‘Luyt tears into Lions’ bosses’.
Those captions had some truth to them, as Luyt did suggest that “liquidation” is an option and he did indeed “tear” into officials, but certainly not the current crop and by no stretch of the imagination De Klerk.
Luyt, who was head of Transvaal (now Lions) rugby from 1986 to 2000, was in fact very critical of his immediate successors and De Klerk’s predecessors – who cost the union in the region of R85-million in investments, set up by Luyt.
As this website had reported previously, the GLRU (previously Transvaal) had offshore investments worth R85-million and when Luyt suggested they bring the money back to SA – as he felt the market was about to turn – and reinvest that money at about 10 percent per annum, the GLRU bosses at the time stubbornly refused. By the time they did bring back the cash invested abroad, it had lost more than half its value – R45-million to be precise.
But it is how the media overlooked (or ignored) Luyt’s endorsement of De Klerk that caused the most amusement.
Asked if anybody at the Lions had phoned him, or asked for help, Luyt told Ballz radio that he has had “discussions” with De Klerk.
“He is a fantastic man, he is a great guy,” Luyt told the online station.
“There couldn’t be a better person than Kevin, as a man, for the Lions. You have to understand business.
“For me he does [understand business] and I hope he doesn’t listen to this [broadcast] and get annoyed with me,” Luyt said about some of the criticism levelled again the GLRU.
“I think he’ll understand it.
“The fact of the matter is, unless they say: ‘We have gone far enough’, they will lose it forever. Then there will be no Lions, no GLRU … nothing.
“The thing is, it can be salvaged.
“It calls for clear heads and [they must] forget about the egos. I would find big investors who call the shots and they could help rebuild the Lions to the best union in the world. No one’s asked me to help yet and I don’t know if I could, but there are people out there who can help.”
* For clarity’s sake we will publish the transcript of the interview with Luyt, as accurately as possible. The sound quality was problematic at times and because of his age (Luyt turns 80 this year) some words weren’t all that clear!
“It’s not a question of what’s happened to the GLRU but rather a question of why people allowed it to happen,” Luyt told Ballz radio.
“The brand was fantastic and in 1996 when we signed the Murdoch agreement [which funded Super Rugby and the Tri-Nations], according to the people I dealt with the finest union in the world was the Transvaal Rugby Union, which is now the GLRU.
“They allowed that to go. With all due respect, how can you let a fantastic union like the Lions go down the drain like they did? I can only assume that people who were in charge didn’t know what they were doing and what rugby was about. I presume I know what rugby is about … but let me not dwell on that matter.”
Asked where it all went wrong, Luyt said: “When I left, I left them with R85-million cash and no debts whatsoever. The money was there. But somehow or other the decision was made to use the money for junior rugby and other poor business decisions.”
Asked if he felt that the Lions’ current dilemma can be resolved, Luyt again pointed to the R85-million that was in the bank.
“They don’t have the money – as far as I heard, I’m talking under correction here, some of the money went haywire … where is the money? How the hell can you lose that much money? They had R85-million, if you take [invest] that at say 10 percent, that gives you R8.5-million [per annum], then you had the suites, the season tickets … you could have done anything, you could have done wonders with that union. People decided otherwise – rugby politics won the day and rugby lost forever.
“It’s there to be invested and earn more money. You lose it only if you’re stupid enough to lose it,” he said.
Luyt was also asked about a decision not to move away from their Doornfontein premises, the Ellis Park stadium, which is situated in an area that has become crime infested over the years.
“We would have,” he said, when asked if they considered moving, adding: “We had an offer for Ellis Park and we would have gone to Kempton Park and we would have had a fantastic stadium there – about 70,000 people and we would have sold all the suites. We did our calculations, like business men, and we would have been a wonderful union, but we didn’t get there.”
Asked if it can be turned around, amidst all the doom and gloom, Luyt said liquidation is a possibility.
“I’ll tell you one thing, if the GLRU owes more money than it can pay, it will have to go into liquidation. The directors and managers [of the GLRU] will have to consider this. It’s terribly painful for me to contemplate that it could be sequestrated and closed down because it was the finest and strongest union in the world not so long ago.
“Unless they did that [go into sequestration] they are gone.”
Asked how he felt about the fact that the biggest city in the country can’t sustain a team, Luyt said he can’t believe it.
“What we needed to do … and I am well out of the way – I would have gone to a number of very big [businessmen] and say: ‘Let’s make this union the best in the world.’ You can do it without too much money. I would have put a plan forward to them. There was no plan, no bloody plan. What the hell did they do all that time?”
Then he was asked if anybody had contacted him from the GLRU and he said De Klerk’s predecessors were trying to find a way to blame him, Luyt, for losing the money.
“How do you lose R85-million” You lose it only if you overspend. I’ve had discussions with Kevin [de Klerk]. He is a fantastic man, he is a great guy. There couldn’t be a better person than Kevin, as a man, for the Lions.
“You have to understand business. For me he does [understand business] and I hope he doesn’t listen to this [broadcast] and gets annoyed with me. I think he’ll understand it. The fact of the matter is, unless they say: ‘We have gone far enough’, they will lose it forever. Then there will be no Lions, no GLRU … nothing. The thing is, it can be salvaged.
“It calls for clear heads and forget about the egos. I would find big investors who call the shots and they could help rebuild the Lions to the best union in the world. No one’s asked me to help and I don’t know if I could, but there are people out there who can help.”
Comments by Jan de Koning