Row over EP Rugby bailout

Deputy Mayor Mongameli Bobani
Picture: EUGENE COETZEE

Bay coalition partners in clash over R15m plan to save embattled union

In a spectacular clash of wills, the Nelson Mandela Bay coalition government members are at loggerheads over plans by the municipality to bail out the cash-strapped Eastern Province Rugby Union (EPRU) with R15-million.

Deputy mayor Mongameli Bobani (UDM) is vehemently opposed to the idea, saying ratepayers should not have to pay for EPRU’s mismanagement of funds.

He accused the SA Rugby Union (Saru) of holding a gun to the city’s head by dangling three test matches over three years – including the one against Argentina in August – in exchange for the money.

At a highly charged mayoral committee meeting yesterday, Bobani argued that paying out the R15-million over three years was setting a bad precedent as other sporting codes could also come knocking.

The municipality would need the support of the majority in council, and without Bobani’s support, the DA and remaining coalition partners would have to lobby the opposition parties.

The proposal from the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) said if the city did not help EP Rugby with its R15-million debt, it could lose the tests and potential revenue for the city.

The EPRU is in the process of liquidation and the bailout will prevent the liquidation, according to the MBDA.

The economic spin-offs from the test matches is estimated to be about R500-million, mainly contributing towards the hospitality industry and other local businesses.

The MBDA’s report says: “It is quite clear that without rugby as a competitive anchor tenant and a successful rugby franchise, it is likely that the demise of the stadium from a financial viability point is certain.”

The municipality’s political head of economic development, tourism and agriculture, Andrew Whitfield, said the metro would suffer if EP Rugby ceased to exist.

But Bobani said taxpayers’ money could not simply be given away.

“What kind of city are we if we bail out their mismanagement of funds?

“EP Rugby must fix their own problems,” he said.

“This city will make sure the stadium does not become a [white] elephant.”

The political head of sports, recreation, arts and culture, councillor Siyasanga Sijadu (COPE), said the metro could not continue to bail out people “who take us for a ride”.

But she agreed to the payout, saying the metro was doing so in good faith.

“I hope the service level agreement will be airtight,” she said.

“We are not only doing this to save a union, but it’s so that the dreams of many players continue.

“We must ensure our oversight is precise [and watch] like hawks to ensure a return on our investment.”

Mayor Athol Trollip said if the EPRU was liquidated, there would be no union to host the tests and the metro would lose out on potential revenue.

Saru administrator Monde Tabata said he was elated that the municipality was wanting to support the union.

“EPRU is an economic development agent of the city because when rugby events take place there’s a direct contribution to the hospitality trade.

“It’s a social investment because rugby creates jobs for talented young people. It’s not a good-nature agreement, but an investment in the city.”

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