Caleb Clarke of the All Blacks scores a try during the match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Argentina Los Pumas at Bankwest Stadium in Sydney, Australia, November 14 2020. Picture: MARK KOLBE/GETTY IMAGES
Caleb Clarke of the All Blacks scores a try during the match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Argentina Los Pumas at Bankwest Stadium in Sydney, Australia, November 14 2020. Picture: MARK KOLBE/GETTY IMAGES

With the Pumas shocking the All Blacks and Covid-19 intervening again in SA it was a weird rugby weekend, but to those uninitiated to the populism appeal imperative that drives Western Province (WP) rugby administration it was again Cape rugby that went one step weirder. 

There wasn’t anything strange about the main thrust of a statement issued by the WP Rugby Football Union (WPRFU) on Saturday night, which quoted both sides stating that the meeting between WP and MVM Holdings, the US consortium proposing to buy the professional arm of the union, had been productive.

Beggars can’t be choosers and it is hardly a secret that WP is not really in a strong enough financial position to drive a hard bargain when opportunity comes knocking. After all, it was they who sought out MVM in the first place, not the other way around.

I’ve known for a while that MVM were also intending to talk to the Sharks, just in case the WP deal did fall through. They do have options, and it is understood a good meeting was held in Durban this week too. Perhaps that put a rocket under WP, who is understood to have been far more accommodating and less feisty when the parties met face to face on Saturday.

Why WP would be the preferred option for MVM can be understood better when you note that Michael Yormark, president of Roc Nation International, is part of the dealings. Roc Nation represents Siya Kolisi, the Springbok World Cup-winning captain who just also happens to lead WP.

The WP players group, due to meet the Americans on Sunday, has never come out publicly in support of MVM taking over a 51% equity share in the dealings of the WP company. But then players don’t tend to do that. Those journalists who do the job of news gathering get their information from the few who might talk on condition of anonymity and other people close to the players, such as agents.

The message from those sources has apparently been a clear one — the players want financial security and if anything has bothered them it has been that it is taking the deal so long to be finalised.

Stormers coach John Dobson refused to blame the magnitude of his team’s humiliating defeat to the Bulls two weeks ago on what was happening off the field, but then how could he? The people who run WP, certainly on the amateur side, are all about appearances, about playing to the lobby group that got them into their positions as elected officials. Meaning the amateur clubs.

Which brings us to what was really weird about the media statement sent out on Saturday. That statement — and this was quickly seized upon by the sycophantic, Fox News-like element in the Cape media that feels the word president signifies someone whose ego they ought to stroke — ended on an interesting note.

Marco Masotti, the SA expat who heads up the consortium that offered WP $6m (about R100m) after saying that the negotiations had gone well, was quoted as saying the following: “Furthermore, we wish to retract everything that was communicated through the media over the last four months.”

That understandably went down like a lead balloon with those who knew what the Americans really felt about the way WP has dealt with them. It was well summed up by Craig Ray in the Daily Maverick. They haven’t been hugely complimentary, as evidenced by the following quote from Yormark: “Everything that Zelt Marais has done through this process is indicative of self-serving interests. He doesn’t care what is in it for the players, the fans, the sponsors and the community, he only cares about one person, and that’s himself.”

The sycophants, of course, seized on the retraction, because that suits their narrative in the same way anything Donald Trump might say to help his media supporters save face would be highlighted by Fox News.

But the kowtowing to supporters that drove the inclusion of that sentence wasn’t satisfactory to the Americans. They felt they had said no such thing, that they hadn’t signed off on any retraction, for the WPRFU on Sunday sent out a revised statement which was much the same one it had sent out on Saturday — only with that last sentence removed.

What reason could there be for the sudden disappearance of that sentence other than it was not agreed to by either party? Which begs the question, why did that sentence get into the initial release? Surely it could only have been there because it suited people who don’t want to lose face among their supporters. Again, the clubs.

Which has been the impediment preventing WP progress not just under this president but under most of his predecessors, dating back a few decades. It’s one of the reasons a change of system is so necessary. A president heading an agenda driven by amateur clubs just doesn’t work for professional sport. It never has.

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