Embattled Western Province Rugby have had to move to deny to their clubs that, despite rumours swirling to the contrary, an agreement is already in place over the sale of Newlands reports Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
It is known to Sport24 that Thelo Wakefield, president of the cash-strapped WPRFU, issued an “urgent message” to their almost 100 clubs this week, responding to an email circulated to clubs from lawyers representing Aerios, the commercial partner at long-time, ongoing legal loggerheads with them – with a multimillion-rand claim – over advertising rights.
He issued a further spirited denial when WP Rugby were approached by Sport24 on Friday.
Hayes Incorporated sent a letter dated November 15 (Wednesday) to “affiliates of the WPRFU”, advising that their clients (Aerios) “have been informed by more than one source within the WPRFU that a decision has been taken to sell the Newlands Rugby Stadium and that a sale agreement may already have been concluded” for the stadium.
On Friday, the Southern Palace Groups of Companies told Sport24 in a statement that they were in discussion with WP Rugby over Newlands.
“(We) are in discussions with the WPRFU … that is as advanced as it is at this stage,” Southern Palace chief executive Lucas Tseki said.
The Southern Palace Group this year signed a three-year sponsorship with the Springboks, and among their investments in the last 18 months has been the purchase of Murray and Roberts Construction, which is now Concor.
Southern Palace is a wholly black-owned and managed South African diversified industrial holding company, founded in 2002.
The lawyers, under instruction from Aerios, advised clubs that they delivered notices under the Promotion of Access to Information Act to the Union and the City of Cape Town – owners of Cape Town Stadium, where WP Rugby is expected to move after the 2018 season – in order to “obtain further information regarding the sale of the stadium (Newlands) and in order to obtain copies of any documents relating to the sale”.
They also said no responses had yet been received from either.
Their letter added: “We wish to advise that any executives of the Union involved in the sale of the stadium will have acted unlawfully and beyond the powers conferred on them by the Constitution of the Union if they have purported to conclude an agreement for the sale of the Stadium without having obtained the requisite approval of the General Council.
“If the stadium has been sold without the approval of the General Council, we have been advised that this will not be the first time that the Union’s executives will have acted without having sought the prior approval of the General Council when required to do so, as demonstrated by the decision taken by the executive to liquidate WP Rugby (Pty) Ltd without any reference to the General Council.”
Clubs were also offered, at Aerios’s expense, the opportunity to “launch and prosecute legal proceedings to interdict the sale from proceeding”, pending the outcome of a General Council meeting to bring the matter into the open and for purposes of allowing it to decide whether or not the stadium should be sold.
But Wakefield, in his signed message to clubs, said the letter from Aerios’s lawyers was “devoid of truth”.
He added: “No decision has been taken to sell Newlands and no sale agreement is in place.
“Should any future decision be contemplated, the Constitutional requirements would be followed in full.
“The decision to liquidate WP Rugby (Pty) Ltd was taken by the executive committee, on November 7 2016, and in line with the terms of the Constitution.”
Following the liquidation of WP Rugby’s professional arm last year, and almost immediate installation of a new business structure, powerful stakeholders Remgro came to temporary rescue by loaning Newlands some R40-million which helped pay staff and player salaries.
But Remgro pulled the plug in August, saying that following a feasibility study, they would not be investing in the new business structure; WP Rugby is required to pay back the loan.
Newlands remains financially challenged, and it is believed WP Rugby bosses are also stepping up plans to sell off surrounding assets.
Properties owned by WP Rugby include the rugby complex housing Tech-Gardens in the upmarket City Bowl residential area of Oranjezicht, a portion of Brookside in Claremont where Villager Rugby Club is based, and several houses around Newlands stadium.
But Wakefield insisted on Friday: “There are no discussions taking place to sell off any assets of WP Rugby Football Union.
“The talks with the City could be described as exploratory, should we want to make a move to the Cape Town Stadium.
“Even if we decide to move … DHL Newlands or any other property will not be sold.”
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