Lions deal to liberate SA rugby
Johannesburg - ANC treasurer general Mathews Phosa has described the inclusion of black stake-holders in the Golden Lions Rugby Union (GLRU) as a step towards ensuring the successful transformation of a traditionally white sport.
"The traditional positioning is not going to hold and the recent racial rumblings in rugby are the birth pains of a transforming sport and they must be allowed," said Phosa, who is patron of the Johannesburg franchise.
"And that debate must be allowed until there is consensus and a win-win solution."
He was speaking at an emotion-filled announcement of an equity partnership between the GLRU, Guma Group and TransAfrica Capital, at Ellis Park.
IT mogul and Guma Group executive chairperson Robert Gumede and TransAfrica Capital chairman Ivor Ichikowitz have signed an agreement to purchase a 49.9% stake in Lions Rugby.
They have pledged to transform the Lions Rugby Union's fortunes by aggressively developing the Lions franchise over the next few years.
During Tuesday's announcement, reference was made to former president Nelson Mandela's use of rugby during the 1995 World Cup to unify the nation
Phosa said rugby still had this potential and it had to be utilised.
"Rugby is a potent instrument for nation-building and reconciliation. It has got a track record of doing that in this country," said Phosa.
"People have racialised rugby in the past and this announcement is an important step to deracialise it at a level of ownership and other levels. The rest will follow from there."
Rugby’s popularity had grown significant in less traditional rugby communities through initiatives like the hosting of this year’s Super 14 semifinals and final at the Orlando Stadium, in Soweto, and the Tri Nations Test between the Springboks and All Blacks at the FNB Stadium.
Phosa said it was time these communities were embraced and given an opportunity to take ownership of the sport.
"The thing is, the traditional rugby community is growing into the black area and therefore you create more participation for black people.
"In the past, it was white people isolated with the sport, and now we are liberating rugby and it is becoming the sport of all people, black and white," he said.
Phosa said more events like the Super 14 play-offs were being planned to take this further.
"There definitely need to be more matches in Soweto. We need to reach out and soar to where the eagles do not dare to fly."