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'Last resort': SA Rugby steps in to solve Western Province crisis

By Sam Smith
As a host of sides visit South Africa, the URC can belatedly come to life (Photo by Brendan Moran/Getty Images)

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SA Rugby have acted to stem the bleed at the struggling Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU), the South African rugby authorities invoking their constitutional power to take administrative control of the union that managed the Stormers and Western Province professional teams. There have been long-held concerns over the running of the sport in the region, something Josh Strauss touched on during a RugbyPass interview earlier this year when the Stormers pulled out on a deal to sign him.

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These concerns haven’t abated and SA Rugby have now taken action, informing Zelt Marais, the president of Western Union, on Tuesday morning that a decision had been taken as an executive council meeting on the SARU to take control of the struggling Cape Town-based province at a time when the Stormers are still in Europe on their first tour in the new United Rugby Championship.

“We had engaged with the WPRFU over a number of months on the challenges the organisation faced and tried to assist them in finding solutions,” explained Mark Alexander, the SA Rugby president whose administration has approved the immediate appointment of ex-SA Rugby CEO Rian Oberholzer to take over at Western Province.

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“We attempted to partner in a joint oversight committee but were frustrated in our attempts to receive accurate information and engage constructively. However, the union has regressed in its attempts to extricate itself from those challenges and we could no longer stand by.

“This is very much the last resort, but it had become apparent that the union’s leadership was incapable of putting in place the actions to regularize its position. Several of the union’s stakeholders have contacted our offices to express their dismay and we are aware of the public alarm.

“Clause 29 of the constitution of the South African Rugby Union charges that all unions have to ‘conduct their business affairs in such a way that, at all times, they are in a sound financial position, comply with the laws of the Republic and adhere to the requirements of good governance’. It is our view that WPRFU has failed that test and we could no longer distribute SA rugby income in that knowledge. On that basis, we have taken this decision with a heavy heart.”

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The powers of clause 29 allow for the “assumption of responsibility for the affairs of unions… [including] the suspension from office of their elected and/or appointed officials, and the appointment by SARU of administrators, who shall assume all decision-making powers of the unions at both governance and operational levels, and who shall have the authority to direct employees, including chief executive officers, on a day to day basis, such administrators to report and be accountable to and to take direction from the executive council.”

Alexander assured supporters that the appointment of an administrator was to stabilise the union’s governance and operational business and was not to have any direct influence on DHL Stormers affairs. “Clause 29 gives us the authority to remain in administration until the Union’s affairs are stabilised,” he said.

“It is not possible right now to put a timeline to that, although it is our intention and desire to make this process as short-lived as possible. The most important thing right now is to quietly go about the off-field business so that coach John Dobson and the DHL Stormers squad can focus on performing to their best in their debut season in the United Rugby Championship.”

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