WP boardroom: Is this a campaign of canards?
AUDIO: Listen as Jan de Koning chats to discarded independent director André van der Veen in an attempt to make sense of Western Province’s histrionic boardroom spats.
The bull sessions at Newlands have made most parliamentary debates look like a Sunday school picnic – with an abundance of prevarications and ambiguities thrown in for good measure.
André van der Veen has been at the centre of most of these boardroom skirmishes, but the mudslinging has not eased off since his departure from Western Province Professional Rugby Proprietary Limited late last month.
His association with American lawyer Marco V Masotti and his credibility has been called into question.
He suggests there is a ‘campaign of disinformation’ that is part of a process to remove the level of rationality that is required for the Western Province Rugby Football Union to solve a growing cash-flow crunch.
Van der Veen, a well-heeled and respected businessman, believes people are becoming ‘completely emotional and irrational’ in how they are handling the developments at the Cape Town-based union.
The issues revolve around an offer from Masotti, a Durban-born, New York-based lawyer, who through his consortium, MVM Holdings, is in negotiations with WPRFU for a controlling share in WP Professional Rugby (Pty) Ltd, the business arm of the WPRFU.
It appears people’s judgement is getting clouded by the desire to find positions on a board, rather than do what is best for the union and its clubs.
Those selfish needs see people trying to create the wrong impressions in order to protect their own interests.
Van der Veen, in a wide-ranging interview with @rugby365com, said he initially had no interest in serving on the board of WP Rugby – despite being asked by the sponsors and the Chairman of the board.
He said he soon realised the problems at WP were more severe than people expected, with significant cash-flow problems and structural issues.
“I was involved in creating some structures to allow the management to continue,” he said, adding: “When I was asked by members of the board to stay on, I agreed because it wasn’t an opportune time for me to leave.”
He admitted the different board members’ ideas didn’t always accord with the union’s executive committee and that created an issue.
This resulted in the WPRFU executive deciding not to extend the terms of office of Johan Van Der Merwe (as WP Rugby board Chairman) and Van der Veen.
Then Raymond van Niekerk also decided to step down, because he also did not agree with the direction the company was being taken into.
He pointed out that as ‘independent directors’ they did not ask or canvassed to be on the board, but were approached and asked to serve on the board.
“We were not like people in the union who canvass the clubs to put them in those positions,”Van der Veen explained to @rugby365com.
“I said no a couple of times, but eventually agreed to join the board.”
He pointed to false accusations made by discredited former Southern Spears CEO Tony McKeever, suggesting some comments bordered on ‘slander’.
He also made it clear to the board that he has no financial interest in the Masotti consortium.
“I know Masotti and we have a relationship going back many years, but I have no financial interest in his consortium,” he said of claims that he has a vested interest in MVM Holdings.
“I have no desire to become the CEO of WP Rugby, none whatsoever,” he said of claims that he would ‘benefit’ if the deal with MVM Holdings would go through.
“Raymond [van Niekerk] and I have our own businesses, we don’t need jobs and we don’t need money.”
Despite no longer having a vested interest in the deal going through, he still believes it is the best option for WPRFU.
“The board needs to make the best decision in the interest of WP Rugby and that is where the processes are getting confused.
“A lot of people have [only] one thing in mind: They want to sit in the chair, they want to be on the ExCo, they want to be a board member and their judgement is getting clouded by that.”
He suggested that it would be ‘inappropriate any board or ExCo member to receive any remuneration.
“My concern is that a lot of people are aiming to sit there, because of potential remuneration.
“The board needs to act completely independently. You need to evaluate each potential investor or opportunity on its merit.
“The disinformation campaign that is happening now is part of the process to remove the level of rationality that is required in a process like this.
“It seems people are becoming completely emotional and irrational.”
Van der Veen pointed to other media inaccuracies such as the claim that WPRFU has a ZAR400-million property portfolio that MVM could benefit from if the deal to buy a controlling share goes through.
The professional arm has no assets and those assets (properties), which sits with the union, are already bonded to another company in Flyt.
“The transaction which has been contemplated is an investment into the professional rugby arm, not the union. The union will be paid for it shares, but the bulk of the money goes into the company.”
He accused one particular critic, McKeever, of being ‘financially incompetent’.
“He doesn’t understand basic corporate structures,” Van der Veen told @rugby365com, adding: “The whole issue of the property deal had nothing to do with the board of the professional arm.
“Zelt [Marais] and his ExCo dealt with that.
“When you talk about misinformation, this rumour, that it was a loan is just that. The investment by Masotti is not a loan – it is equity.
“It is just people trying to create reasons not to go ahead with the deal. They are trying to say to the clubs you are putting the company into more financial distress, which is absolutely not true. It is people trying to create the wrong impressions so their interest is protected.”
He said the important question is who would benefit if the deal doesn’t go through?
Van der Veen added that Masotti has a detailed plan for even the clubs, who will all get monthly remuneration.
“It is in the clubs’ interest that the deal goes through, because they will benefit. It might be that the control of the union and the impact of the union on professional rugby changes.
“People have to be objective. The people involved in this transaction have a duty to be open and honest with the clubs about what they are going to get.”
He said some of the reports out in the media are so far from the truth that it is ‘scandalous’, pointing out that Masotti and company are putting in their own money and are in it for the long term.
“If you don’t want to go for the Masotti offer, because you have another offer, then bring the other offer and put the two together – discuss them rationally. At least be objective in the process.”
He added that Marais said he had another offer, but that offer never came to the table.
They failed to find any other investors and they went back to Masotti.
“I was requested to re-engage with the Masotti consortium to bring them back to the table. Zelt [Marais] asked me to speak to the Americans about investing.
“When the guys arrive at your door, saying: ‘Here are my terms’, they are trying to create the impression that these people have other motives.”
He pointed to the dramatic changes taking place in rugby in around the world and suggested that a non-professional entity owning a professional team is ‘far-fetched’.
“You have to have professional owners of sports franchises to be able to compete internationally.”
Van der Veen used major brands like the Red Sox baseball team and Liverpool soccer team as examples of outfits that went for many years without major titles, but then got taken over by professional entities and turned them into champion outfits.
“The impact of professional management, no matter what people say, can’t be understated.”
Unlike brands such as Red Sox and Liverpool, WPRFU doesn’t even need to sell 100 percent of their franchise, only a 51 percent, controlling share.
“This disinformation campaign must stop. It doesn’t serve anybody’s interest. It borders on blatant lies.
“When the media quote it as religion, it becomes problematic.”
He also dismissed the suggestion that Zelt Marais was ‘ambushed’ by Masotti when he brought players into a virtual meeting.
“There are people in the deal that want to manage the release of information so that they can paint their own picture.”
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