VIDEO: Zelt Marais in his own words
WATCH as Western Province Rugby Football Union President Zelt Marais talks to @rugby365com contributor Angus Opperman about the infamous Newlands saga and gives his side of the story.
Marais was responding to an ‘open letter’ by Angus Opperman, a self-proclaimed ‘massive’ fan and freelance reporter.
In a broad-gauged interview, Marais addressed everything from ‘fake news’ in the media, the ‘inconsistent’ performances of the Stormers/WP team, the Remgro/Investec saga, the ongoing fight with Flyt and the move to the Cape Town Stadium.
He spoke of the ‘amateur money’ that was invested in the Springboks that won the 2019 World Cup
“No other province or franchise has contributed as much as we [WPRFU] has done,” Marais said.
“Never before in the history of the game has a franchise did so much,” the WPRFU boss added.
Marais suggested that the current financial issues have their legacy in a period starting with his predecessors.
“From the union’s side, we are sitting here with the strongest base in the world – in terms of the clubs and schools structures,” a defensive Marais said.
He added that the board is working on retaining the top (Springbok) players, adding the COVID-19 pandemic has become a massive spoke in the WPRFU wheel.
Marais called on the government to play a bigger role in assisting sport to recover from the financial ‘crisis’ it find itself in.
“We should ask the politicians what they are doing to assist an industry that is one of the biggest employers in South Africa – if not the world,” he said.
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The WPRFU boss also touched on the prospect of a ‘foreign investor’ – without confirming reports that a Dubai-based benefactor is that ‘new partner’.
“We have a lot of things in the pipeline, [including] partnerships with foreign people.”
He accused Marco V Masotti, the South African-born-and-bred American lawyer, and his consortium, MVM Holdings, of spreading “misinformation” over the proposed deal that went south and resulted in MVM signing with the Sharks.
He said it was the club structures that turned down the Masotti offer, not himself (Marais).
“I was trying to keep it together for a long time,” Marais said.
He described the reported offer of US$6-million as a “big, big lie”.
Marais blamed discarded independent director André van der Veen for “getting the sums wrong” in the saga that resulted in the breakdown of the negotiations.
The WPRFU boss accused MVM of trying to ‘bribe’ the clubs in an effort to push the deal through.
“They had secret meetings with the clubs,”he said, adding that they offered the clubs ZAR25,000 each.
Marais described a US$10,000 fee they wanted to charge Masotti for a tour of the Cape Town stadium as a “fine” for breaking “every non-disclosure agreement” between the parties.
The WPRFU boss reiterated an earlier statement that the current dispute with Flyt is “in the hands” of their legal people.
Marais suggested moving to the Cape Town Stadium means the WPRFU is “worse off” and said he “forewarned” the previous CEO that this was going to happen.
“I had my reservations on the matter [moving to CT Stadium, but The horse bolted five years ago,” he said.
Meanwhile, Marais also sent a formal letter in response to Angus Opperman’s open letter!
Hi there Angus,
Thanks for your letter and ongoing passionate support for Western Province Rugby, as well as for our teams.
It is precisely because of faithful supporters such as yourself that we want to ensure that we always do the right thing for the rugby-loving people of the Western Cape, be it in a stadium deal, equity investment or in securing the best players to represent us all, in our squad.
It is known that the Western Province Rugby Football Union oversees the strongest club and schools rugby system in the world. The people of the Western Cape play rugby, follow rugby and, in short, have rugby flowing through their veins.
This is our greatest strength and the reason for which, as administrators, we have such a huge responsibility to deliver the best possible outcome on all fronts, even though mistakes may happen from time to time.
Firstly, in terms of the redevelopment of Newlands Stadium, ever since Cape Town Stadium was built in favour of upgrading Newlands Stadium for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the move has been long coming.
While we will all carry the memories, history and traditions of Newlands Stadium in our hearts, we also want to ensure that our supporters are able to enjoy the world-class matchday experience that Cape Town Stadium can offer. We are very excited about the possibilities at our new home. We hope to welcome you and the rest of our supporters as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic allows spectators to attend matches.
We are also mindful of paying appropriate tribute to the incredible legacy of Newlands Stadium. You can rest assured that there are plans underway to hold a final ‘festival’ of rugby at Newlands once crowds are allowed, so that you and the rest of the Faithful can say a proper goodbye.
The WPRFU’s property portfolio is another area in which we are unrivalled. It is therefore crucial that we adhere and confirm to our fiduciary duties that we agree and achieve the best market related return for our clubs and schools in conjunction with our development partner to redevelop the Newlands Stadium complex so that ultimate beneficiaries being the more than 100 clubs and 450 schools get the appropriate value for this prime property. We will continue to do everything we can in collaboration with our partner to establish a mutually beneficial relationship which will ensure that the WPRFU is left in a stronger financial position going forward.
While this has been a challenge, I can assure you that it is something we are working very hard on, every day.
With reference to private equity investment, we have the same responsibility to find the right partner and establish a relationship which will leave rugby in the Western Cape in a stronger position. It is known that we were in negotiations with MVM Holdings. Sadly, that did not result in the deal that we had been hoping for. But this does not mean that we will give up looking for the right investor, bearing in mind that our primary responsibility is to our stakeholders, the rugby people in the Western Cape.
Any deal that we enter into will seek to ensure that rugby at all levels is left in a stronger position to secure the future sustainability of our sport and continue growing into the future.
The 2020 rugby season was extraordinary for many reasons, with players and coaches under unique, sustained pressure, to think on their feet as the environment evolved. The hardest part has been that our players were forced to play without you and the rest of our famous supporters present to cheer them on. This represented a big change in their rugby experience and ours.
Weekly COVID-19 testing meant that training schedules had to be adjusted and the squad was further disrupted, both mentally and physically, by the impact of the virus.
Despite these challenges, our team finished the double-round competition in second place on the standings with a home semifinal.
Although it was disappointing to miss out on a fourth Currie Cup Final place in the last five years, our squad gave a good account of themselves in difficult circumstances. This does not mean that we are merely satisfied with securing a home semifinal, of course. You can rest assured that we have all intentions and the drive to aim for excellence and improvement in the next competition.
The fact that we managed to retain 10 World Cup-winning Springboks in our squad this year shows that our environment is not as bad as many like to paint it to be. We’re doing everything we can to retain the considerable talent we already have here, despite the challenges.
Players leaving at the end of a season or campaign is now fairly common, we are certainly not the only South African team to have players sign with overseas clubs.
We thank those who are leaving for their service and wish them well. We will focus on developing a stronger team with those who are staying while we will also keep an eye on strengthening our rejuvenated squad with acquisitions from outside.
Thank you for caring enough about Western Province Rugby to put your thoughts down in a letter. Your kind of feedback is valuable, as it allows us to get a sense of fan sentiment and an opportunity to look into the mirror and acknowledge what we see in it.
I want to assure you that your concerns are noted and will certainly not be dismissed. Your passion and loyalty for our teams and brands is deeply appreciated and is a major motivation for all of us to deliver the best that we possibly can on all fronts.
Also worth reading …
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Newlands: The post-season posers
WP’s loss is Sharks’ gain
REVEALED: WPRFU’s new benefactor
Second partner chooses Sharks over WP
Where will the money come from?
The big ‘split’ at Newlands
Masotti explains his exit
Flyt bomb drops on Newlands saga
Change of attorneys at heart of WPRFU about-turn
‘Miscommunication’ blamed for statement
Mystery of the missing sentence