Spears saga an “embarrassment”

Withdrawing the recently-formed Southern Spears from the Super 14 and Currie Cup competitions has left South Africa red-faced among its rugby-playing peers.

This was the view of franchise chairman Aldy Meyer, Sapa reported. “It is in some way an international embarrassment for people from other countries to see how we renege on our agreements and how it impacts negatively on international companies,” he told Parliament’s sport portfolio committee.

Meyer said two major sponsorships, one of them worth R15 million, were put at risk. Australian company International Sports Clothing sponsored the team’s kit to the tune of hundreds of thousands of rand, and was now “sitting with it”.

“Suite and chalet holders have been phoning off the hook,” Meyer said. “They have… purchased suites and chalets in an unprecedented way for those three unions (Border, Eastern Province and South Western Districts, shareholders of the Spears).

“(They) are livid because their expectations now have not been met. They feel that we are in breach of the contracts we have with them in terms of their purchasing of the suites and chalets (for) their clients to watch top-class rugby.”

SA Rugby decided last month to halt the Spears’ participation in the Super 14, and to put measures in place instead to help the franchise and the region reach “acceptable levels of readiness”.

The Spears was allowed to continue contesting the Currie Cup, provided it found its own funding – which Meyer has previously said was doubtful. The Spears have accused SA Rugby of dereliction of duty.

With SA Rugby president Oregan Hoskins present on Monday, Meyer told the committee the participation of a Super 14 franchise was included in the financial plans for a R1 billion stadium to be built in Port Elizabeth.

No formal study had been done on the impact of SA Rugby’s decision on the Spears, Meyer told the committee. He added that “support from the ground at the moment is tremendous”.

He said he was disclosing the information in a spirit of truthfulness and in collaboration with MPs so as to ensure South African rugby was taken to its “rightful place”.

“These things present challenges to us to collectively pursue a route… to ensure that this never happens again.”

About claims that the Spears had wasted millions of rands, he conceded that their system had failed.

“The chairman indicated at about R2.6 million that there must be no more monies given to the Spears until we investigated what has happened to the previous (amounts).

“Nobody took notice of that. It stands at six point something million (rand) at the moment, which indicates there is a problem with our system.”

There was a need for a new look at the situation “to see to what extent we can get all agencies, government and other… to help that region… to reach its full potential.”

Committee chairman Butana Komphela said Monday’s committee meeting was not the correct forum for Meyer’s briefing. A separate meeting must be arranged for rugby leadership to brief the
committee on what has happened.

The committee did not apologise for having made a political decision to back awarding the sixth South African Super 14 franchise to the Southern Spears, he added.

“This committee does not apologise for having arrived at that (decision). But we are cautious of the reasons that might be forwarded by the leadership of rugby why (this) situation has prevailed.”