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WPRFU: When truth is stranger than fiction

SPOTLIGHT: ‘Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.’


This idiom – often attributed to Mark Twain, but almost certainly coined by Lord Byron in the satirical poem Don Juan, 1823 – is very apt for the back-channel boardroom skirmishing of the Western Province Rugby Football Union.

The reason I use this clichéd expression is the last part: ‘… fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t’.

Last month @rugby365com reported that Tony McKeever, the discredited former CEO of the now-defunct Southern Spears, has become a ‘close associate’ of WPRFU President Zelt Marais.

I wondered, out loud, if it was McKeever’s ‘advice’ that resulted in some of the ‘strange’ behaviour of Marais.

Now that McKeever, a man with a history of failed ventures in the game, has gone public with his desire to become Chief Executive of Western Province Professional Rugby (Pty) Ltd, I suddenly realised just how ‘strange’ the ‘truth’ is.

It also raised a number of very important and material questions.


Most of my questions and concerns centre around the entire WPPR CEO saga – which recently saw Junaid Moerat, one of the most prominent members of the WPRFU executive, suspended on the day of his appointment as Interim CEO, for reportedly leaking information about Stade Français to the media.

Given that McKeever, in a media interview to Netwerk24, admitted he is the driving force and the ‘strategic advisor’ in the negotiations between WPRFU and French giants Stade Français, you have to question what his role is and his interest in the entire saga?

Some questions I would like to pose to the WPRFU President Zelt Marais:
* Given that McKeever has now admitted, after weeks of speculation, that he is the ‘driving force’ of the Stade Français negotiations, did he have a mandate to act on behalf of WPRFU? If so, who gave him that mandate?
* Does he have an official/formal position and/or title at WPRFU? (It is asked, because he claimed to act on behalf of WPRFU)
* Was the Board or Executive Committee aware of McKeever’s intricate involvement in the Stade Français deal? Or did McKeever, in his personal capacity, act of his own volition and without a proper mandate? Or was he given ‘permission’ by specific board member(s) to open negotiations?
* Were all the information disclosed or was there a ‘selective’ sharing of the ‘facts’ by senior board members?

That is not the only concerns I have about McKeever’s involvement.


When the position of CEO was advertised late last month, after the position was vacant for more than a year, I wrote that the wording of the specifications for the position was of some concern to me.

I was contacted by somebody in the HR industry. The person wanted to protect the reputation his industry and I suspect he may be moving very close to people involved in the process.

That is understandable.

However, he was not aware of what was happening in the background and he too would find the ‘truth’ rather strange.

Again, I have some questions for the WPRFU President, Marais, given that it emerged he is the driving force in the suspension of Moerat.

Sunday newspaper Rapport has already denied that Moerat is the source of the infamous Stade Français article that appeared back in January. So, who is this mysterious ‘source’ that linked Moerat to the report? Is this ‘source’ also a strategic advisor to Marais?

* How credible can this “source” be, given the charges were based on what appears to be very spurious evidence?
* Now that McKeever has come out publicly and put his hand up for the CEO position, you have to ask if he was involved in any way in this saga?

I would not be surprised if it turns out that Moerat is being set up. Truth could indeed be stranger than fiction.

We still don’t know why Moerat’s hearing – originally scheduled for March 8 – was postponed. He had a hearing scheduled for last Thursday, of which we are yet to get the outcome of.

Was it perhaps a strategic move to keep that position vacant to allow specific candidates to come to the fore?

It has since been revealed that President Zelt Marais’ personal assistant Ruben Machelm has been appointed as the ‘interim’ CEO.

It has to be kept in mind that the CEO position is for the board of WPPR (the company) and Moerat has been suspended as an executive member of WPRFU. Truth is stranger than fiction.

@rugby365com has been aware for some time that McKeever – who has now admitted his role in the Stade Français negotiations – is a ‘close associate of Marais.

So, for the record, it is worth taking a look at McKeever’s track record in the game.

McKeever was the CEO of the Southern Spears, which folded before playing a game – following his well-documented stand-off with SA Rugby in court. At one stage he was also listed as both CEO and a Director of ‘Super 20 Rugby World Series’ – a venture that has failed to produce a single match or register a single player after it was launched in 2006.

Then there is his role in introducing PRO Rugby (United States) owner Douglas Schoninger to SARU President Mark Alexander, with the view that PRO Rugby would invest in the Eastern Province and Southern Kings teams. However, other than a couple of informal meetings between Schoninger and Alexander in London, nothing came of this ‘proposal either. Schoninger’s PRO Rugby competition in the United States also lasted only one season.

Most recently McKeever was linked to the planned formation of an organisation called Mandela Bay Rugby. Despite placing advertisements for jobs back in 2017, Mandela Bay Rugby never progressed past building a website with no information or details – with only a link to ‘register as a player or a fan.

Those are the facts.


Also worth reading

WPRFU executive in ‘toxic’ internal war
WPRFU: Is there a ‘third force’ at play?
WPPR CEO job specs a real revelation
Has Province saddled the wrong horse?
Mandela Bay Rugby: Another failed venture?
‘Boardroom war’ at Newlands
Zelt Marais forced to backtrack
Zelt Marais in his own words
Masotti explains his exit
Flyt bomb drops on Newlands saga

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