Western Province battle to contain player exodus
Written contracts needed before midnight on June 30 or top players will have to look for other positions
Cape Town — According to a well-placed source at Western Province Rugby‚ players are set to be issued with written contract offers on Thursday just days before many current contracts were due to expire.
If WP Rugby is unable to offer contracts before midnight on June 30‚ most of the union’s top players will have little option but to seek alternative employment.
So far there have only been verbal agreements and according to two agents salaries have been honoured.
But there is unhappiness among the players and staff‚ because of the uncertainty about their futures. At this stage it remains unclear which players will stay on, even of those written contract offers materialise in the next few days.
Mistrust and broken promises
Months of frustrating negotiations and broken promises have led to understandable mistrust by the players towards the union.
It appears that a major corporate has come to the union’s rescue as it battles to meet its financial commitments.
Trade union Sport Employees Unite is representing many WP staff and the coaches in the negotiations.
CEO Piet Heymans did not have new information on Thursday about contracts being offered. “At this stage we are awaiting more detailed feedback from [CEO] Paul Zacks, who couldn’t give any answers by the end of Wednesday‚” Heymans said.
“As you can imagine‚ everybody‚ including the CEO, is concerned about this situation.
“The information I have is that there is a massive cash flow problem at the union and as a result the WP Rugby Football Union is reluctant to guarantee further loans to finance the business side of the union.
"As a consequence the directors of the company [WP Rugby]‚ who pay the salaries have been hesitant to offer new contracts without being able to honour them. That‚ in short‚ is the crux of the issue.”
Another source told Business Day at least one senior Springbok player was considering a lawsuit for loss of earnings against WP Rugby. He turned down lucrative overseas offers based on the promises made by WP. Without a written contract‚ all he has is the word of a financially stressed union.
A prominent player agent said: “This is the time of year that players are renegotiating deals or taking up new offers. Contracts with overseas clubs would have been finalised a while ago.
“I know of a few top players that have turned down lucrative deals based on the promises WP Rugby made to them.
“I understand one senior player has already issued WP Rugby with a legal letter threatening to sue for loss of earnings. He would have made a lot more in France than at WP.”
WP Rugby declined to comment.
There is also a deeper issue at play with continued tension between the amateur arm (the WP Rugby Football Union, or WPRFU), and the professional arm (WP Rugby) over control of the union.
The union’s assets‚ such as Newlands Stadium and other properties, are owned by WPRFU and the company falls under the umbrella of the union. WP Rugby contracts players but ultimately the funding comes through the WPRFU.
The amateur side‚ under its executive committee, has been at war with the board of directors on the professional side for months.
The one side has all the assets and the other controls the purse strings. It is an untenable situation with both sides dug in.
Even if funding has been found through a corporate benefactor as Business Day’s source says‚ it is a short-term solution to a festering problem that shows no signs of healing