Vodacom Super Rugby
'Lions fought transformation'
Johannesburg - Elements within the Golden Lions Rugby Union (GLRU) are reluctant to allow for transformation, according to the union's former potential equity partners, the Guma TAC group.
Guma TAC partners Robert Gumede and Ivor Ichikowitz explained at a media conference on Friday why they had withdrawn from talks to buy a 49.9 percent stake in the GLRU.
"Our insistence on ensuring that the Lions executive team be reconstituted and led by a CEO with a proven track record of turning around failed businesses has been met with resistance," Gumede said.
This after a Guma TAC letter leaked to the media this week, which was addressed to GLRU president Kevin de Klerk and signed by Gumede and Ichikowitz, alleged that the union was battling to make financial ends meet.
Gumede and Ichikowitz painted a bleak picture of the running of the union and said it had become impossible to continue with the agreement.
The straw that broke the camel's back, according to the Guma TAC partners, was the delay in a response from the GLRU after the SA Rugby Union (Saru) had given consent for the shareholders' agreement between the two parties on June 9.
Guma TAC said Saru's consent of the shareholders' agreement was given on the premise that the potential equity partners relinquished their minority rights which was in line with the Saru constitution.
"The thing that hurts the most is that Saru gives approval and we are supposed to give each other high-fives," said Gumede.
Ichikowitz said he was convinced that the GLRU executive was protecting people who brought the union down from their glory days to the current state of affairs.
The Guma TAC partners said, given the history of the Lions' bad handling of financial affairs, as well as their potential 49.9 percent stake in the union, their request to appoint a chief financial officer and a chief commercial officer had not been unreasonable, but had fallen on deaf ears.
They accused the Lions of failing to improve transformation at the union, which they believed would have far-reaching consequences for the sport in South Africa.
Ichikowitz said the biggest losers in the lost opportunity would be the players and the fans.
"It is very sad that once again in South Africa and South African sport the petty infighting within the management structures are holding back progress," he said.
"There is an emotional aspect to this and we set out to make an example of transformation."
Ichikowitz said they believed De Klerk was genuine in his pursuit to transform the union, but he was met with resistance from his own ranks.
The GLRU, meanwhile, denied allegations made by Guma TAC in the leaked documents that the union was unable to meet its financial commitments.
"The union has had its ups and downs over the years but I am confident that we can look forward to an outstanding Absa Currie Cup season and many more years of providing our fans and stakeholders with the brand of Lions rugby that they have come to enjoy," De Klerk said in a statement.
Gumede and Ichikowitz alleged that the union owed Absa Bank in the region of R30 million, a loan which was due to be paid back on Sunday, and was also in danger of losing approximately R100 million in sponsorships negotiated by Guma TAC.
They also said they expected the GLRU to pay back more than R14 million which they had invested in the union during negotiations which started in October.
De Klerk, however, said the union was already in negotiations with other investors after talks with Guma TAC broke down this week.
"Our intentions have always been honourable in engaging with an equity partner and my objectives and views around identifying a BEE partner are well documented," De Klerk said.
"We accepted an approach by Guma as a result of this.
"Suffice to say, we are already considering an offer from an alternative equity partner and can assure our supporters that the Lions' 120-year legacy is not being compromised."