The Big Cape Town Rugby Row
It’s been an ugly row that has sucked in a mayor and the militant COSATU leaders, and has cost Cape Town an historic date with a Heineken Cup match featuring English champions Saracens and French club Biarritz.
It has also left questions hanging over the future of a 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup Stadium that is daily becoming a white elephant.
Fans who had booked their flights in advance will also have to discuss compensation details with Saracens while those who had bought pre-match tickets will be reimbursed.
At the centre of the fallout was Saracens proposal to have their Heineken Cup match against Biarritz on January 17, 2012 staged at Cape Town’s 2010 World Cup Stadium.
It was scheduled to be an historic showcase occasion for South Africa with Cape Town becoming the first city to host a Heineken Cup match outside Europe.
But the Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRU), who run the provincial rugby franchise in Cape Town, challenged the move to have the Heineken Cup match played at the Cape Town Stadium – a largely football ground – rather than at Newlands.
WPRU run Newlands, the traditional home of rugby in Cape Town and has a capacity of 45 000 fans.
The Cape Town Stadium can accommodate 10 000 more supporters and has more modern facilities.
But crucially for the WPRU, Newlands has 300 hospitality suites, which can be used as a big cash-generating tool, compared to the 100 at the Cape Town stadium.
WPRU then decided that the match would either be held at Newlands or not held in Cape Town at all.
“After a recent meeting by the Western Province Rugby Football Union Executive Committee, the request by Saracens to host the match at Cape Town Stadium was considered,” WRPU said in a statement.
“However, the Executive Committee decided that the home of rugby, Newlands, would stage this historic match.
“According to the South African Rugby Union constitution the final decision regarding the match venue lies in the hands of the host union.
“The WPRFU executive committee unanimously agreed that Newlands is currently the home of rugby in the Western Province, and will be treated as such for the foreseeable future.
“Newlands is one of the oldest rugby stadia in the world, with excellent facilities and currently boasts some of the highest attendance levels in world rugby.
“The decision to agree to the hosting of the match at Newlands was made in the best interests of WP Rugby and once again shows loyalty to its suite holders and fans who regularly attend matches at Newlands.”
Interestingly, Saracens applied for permission to stage their match at the Cape Town Stadium in July and the Heineken Cup organizers, following consultations with the International Rugby Board, granted that wish in October.
With Cape Town clearly split on where the historic game could be staged, and Saracens being dragged into the boardroom politics, the English champions decided to cancel the game and announced it will now be staged in London.
“The innovative English champion club was eager to host the first Heineken Cup match ever played outside Europe, to stage a special, spectacular rugby event and to project brilliant images of Cape Town and European rugby around the world,” Saracens said in a statement on their official website.
“We have no wish to be a catalyst for conflict between the City of Cape Town and the Western Province Rugby Union.
“Saracens looks forward to playing a competitive match in Cape Town as soon as local circumstances allow.
“Supporters who have bought tickets in South Africa will be fully refunded by Computicket, and Saracens will engage with UK-based supporters who have already booked air tickets and accommodation and ensure they are appropriately compensated.”
Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille weighed into the dispute and urged WPRU president, Theuns Roodman, to reconsider their position.
“To date, the city and Western Province Rugby have had several technical discussions aimed at paving the way for formal discussions to commence,” De Lille said in a letter to WPRU.
“These have been productive and cordial, with both parties knowing fully well that their principals are the final authority in taking decisions.
“At no stage did we intend to dishonour our ongoing and amicable discussions with you by entering into a commercially viable agreement with Saracens.
“I am aware that the Saracens decision may have had unintended consequences (ie negative reactions from your stakeholders).
“This was never our intention. Nor was it an attempt to pre-empt any decision of a move of Western Province rugby to the Cape Town Stadium.”
COSATU said there was need for the Public Protector to investigate how the City of Cape Town was managing the Cape Town Stadium.
The trade union’s provincial secretary, Tony Ehrenreich, said there was an impression the local government authority was running the stadium “at its whims”.
The Cape Town Stadium is believed to have cost taxpayers about R44.6 million when it was built for the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup and some critics say it has turned into a white elephant.