By Ethienne Arends and Yolandé Stander
EP RUGBY president Cheeky Watson has lashed out at the South African Rugby Union for again delaying the decision on how the Southern Kings will be accommodated in Super Rugby next year, saying the move could scupper the franchise before a ball has even been kicked.
Saru undertook to make the announcement on July 13, but this week reneged once again by delaying the decision to an as yet unspecified date.
And in a further blow for the prospects of top-class international sport in Nelson Mandela Bay it emerged this week that the city could be stripped of its status as an African Cup of Nations (Afcon) host city because of the local municipality’s financial woes.
Although Safa claims no official decision has been made, sources close to the decision-making process have confirmed this could happen.
Saru’s unexpected decision to postpone the July 13 meeting was confirmed to Weekend Post by media manager Rayaan Adriaanse, who said Saru did not want to comment “on the participation process of Super Rugby 2013 at this stage”.
While Saru had assured the Kings they would be in next year’s Super Rugby competition, there was still uncertainty because the organisation was refusing to say how this would come about.
In addition, Saru was also refusing to guarantee the Kings more than one season in Super Rugby.
In an exclusive interview this week, an incensed Watson said “this uncertainty and the fact that we are guaranteed only one season in Super Rugby is making it impossible for us to sign up a major sponsor”.
“We have just over six months to go before Super Rugby kicks off and we do not have a sponsor. It’s ridiculous and it’s all due to Saru’s inability to reach a decision on how to accommodate the Kings and which franchise will fall by the wayside,” Watson said.
He said the Kings were already targeting eight current Super Rugby players to sign up for the franchise, but this was proving impossible without funding.
Two weeks ago, the Nelson Mandela Bay council also voted to reduce the city’s sports development budget from R20-million to zero, cutting its funds for Eastern Province Rugby and effectively killing plans to bring a PSL soccer team to Port Elizabeth.
That decision now also suggests the metro simply will not have the financial capacity to host the Afcon tournament next year.
In a meeting with National Treasury and the Department of Sport in June 2012, it was made clear Nelson Mandela Bay would have to provide a guarantee for the funding of the event, failing which it could lose the hosting rights.
In the municipality’s economic development and recreational services report, director Zolile Siswana mentioned that National Treasury had made it clear Nelson Mandela Bay did not even have R6-million to contribute.
Currently the metro would need to source between R14-million and R17-million of taxpayers’ money to host the event.
When asked whether Nelson Mandela Bay would still be hosting Afcon games, Siswana said “that matter is still to be considered and discussed”.
Safa Nelson Mandela Bay region president Mzimkhulu Fina said no decision had been made to take away the metro’s host city rights, but added there were concerns around funding.
This is a shortened version of an article that first appeared in the print edition of Weekend Post on Saturday July 7 2012.