Players hand ultimatum to Cheeky while officials clash with security
THERE were dramatic scenes at the EP Rugby Union’s offices in Port Elizabeth yesterday as police were called in following scuffles between security staff and members of disgruntled clubs.
A group of nine clubs and 15 Kings players met outside the Imatu Building offices in Sydenham to demonstrate their unhappiness with EPRU president Cheeky Watson and the union’s leadership.
The players, led by scrumhalf Kevin Luiters and centre Ronnie Cooke, delivered a petition signed by 32 playing staff
demanding that the following prerequisites be met before they return to work.
- An irrevocable pledge by EPRU and the SA Rugby Union that all players’ outstanding salaries and benefits be fully paid up before December 18;
- A vote by member clubs in favour, or not in favour, of the EPRU executive committee on or before Saturday;
- Credible and competent rugby turnaround specialists be permitted to present proposals of a sustainable funding model in association with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality on or before Friday; and
- A vote of confidence by clubs in the new proposal and administration and management leadership to take place on or before Saturday.
EP Kings captain Luke Watson was also present but sat in his car for a period before joining the group.
The players confirmed they had handed Cheeky Watson the petition but refused to comment further following an hour-long meeting with Watson behind closed doors. Luiters did, however, speak to the media before the meeting.
“We are all looking and appealing for a special general meeting or an annual general meeting to be held, then things can be taken from there,” he said.
“We will not play for the Eastern Province Rugby Union or the Southern Kings franchiser entity in the Super Rugby campaign, nor will we be [taking part in] training and practice.
“A lot of the players are emotionally broken, financially broken, and it is difficult to see your brothers in this state of mind where no measures have been taken to aid these players.”
Before the players delivered the petition to Watson, some dramatic scenes played out at the premises.
They had arrived at Imatu House at 10am only to be met by closed gates. The players were later allowed through to meet Watson in private.
Soon afterwards, a scuffle broke out at the gate between security staff and members of the Rugby Transformation Coalition, which had joined the protest in solidarity with the clubs.
“Police were called to assist when Qondakele Sompondo, of Grassroots [Rugby], who is not affiliated with any club structure related to the union, became physical [in a second scuffle] with EP Rugby security and tried to force his way into the EPRU offices and the meeting,” the union said.
Sompondo said late yesterday it was a blatant lie that he was not affiliated to a club. He said he had not acted violently but was manhandled by security officials.
He said the clubs were also calling for a special general meeting to be held.
“We voted these people in and they are supposed to run our union for us,” Sompondo said .
“As clubs, we own EP [and] to account to us.
“Now that we have placed them in offices, they come down here and place big security guards outside the gate to try and stop us from entering our office.
“They [are] running away from accounting.
“For the whole year, they didn’t have all four annual meetings. Now they have run
they have run away from the annual general meeting,” Sompondo said.
Kwaru rugby legend Bomza Nkohla added his weight to the clubs’ and players’ pleas.
“Where is the money? How can you live without your salary?” he asked.
“These players are going to be traumatised because their families need food, clothing.
“They need to buy school uniforms for their children for next year.
“They have been promised for months now that the money was coming but these promises are not fulfilled,” Nkohla said.
The Nelson Mandela Bay Ratepayers’ Association’s Kobus Gerber said clubs were not aware of the financial implications.
“I think that is something that clubs don’t realise – as the major shareholder in EP Rugby Pty Ltd they will be held liable for all the debts incurred,” he said.
Rugby Transformation Coalition chairman Batwini Matika said they were considering going to the commercial crimes unit to investigate the “movement of money”.
“We are tightening up the screws, something has got to give now,” he said.
Watson said he was well aware of the challenges the players were facing.
“These challenges were not foreseen. We never expected to get to this point,” he said.
Watson said he would take the players’ grievances to Saru and provide feedback as soon as he heard back from the national body.