Following recent media speculation, Robert Gumede and Ivor Ichikowitz confirm that they have been in discussions for a number of months with the Kings Rugby Franchise in the Eastern Cape.
After the withdrawal from the Lions transaction, it was stated that it did not mean an exit from the sport, but rather a drive to find partners who share a joint vision for true transformation. Gumede and Ichikowitz are still of the opinion that rugby has for far too long placed a veneer on the real issues, and that their experience at the Lions, and with the equity partner, was an example of this.
Says Ichikowitz: "We are committed to supporting the Kings Rugby Franchise, provided SARU places them in a position where they are able to compete in Super Rugby and it is not simply a one year token participation. It is our belief that the Kings have waited long enough and are more than deserving to be given the opportunity to participate in Super Rugby. "If we take this forward, we plan to put in place a high performance structure focused on developing inherent local talent from the villages and townships. There are substantial amount of players participating in Super Rugby that come from the Eastern Cape, it is a shame that they have been forced to ply their trade elsewhere. This team needs the opportunity to demonstrate their potential. We intend to provide this for them." says Gumede
The delay in a definitive solution, possible equity partners, clarity on the guaranteed length of participation in Super Rugby for the Kings and a firm long term commitment to the franchise has created a situation of doubt. They want the Kings to be treated in the same way as all the current five Super Rugby Teams who have been given this status despite poor year on year performance. The delay to finalise 2013 and the pending Kings inclusion is creating frustration and putting the Kings in a situation where they may not have enough time to secure quality players and sponsors. "The value of an investment is in the quality of players attracted to the team. One cannot build an elite performance team with contract players entering retirement," says Gumede. "As equity partners, we hope to attract players who are playing on merit for other franchises to come back to their home team and are committed to supplementing them with South African and international Marquee players. To achieve this, we would need to be able to offer long term contracts. “We urge SARU to be decisive on this matter so that we can make a long term commitment. The Kings matter has been postponed from 2005 to date. Let’s stop playing with careers, we all need the clarity. Our condition to invest in the Kings is inter alia that they be guaranteed Super Rugby Status at least until 2015 when the SANZAR contract ends – anything short of this will be to the benefit of no one." says Gumede.
Adds Gumede: “The loyalty and commitment of the players, rugby supporters in SA and on the continent and people of the Eastern Cape should be rewarded with a Franchise from 2013 that has guaranteed long term participation. This will enable us to put in place a High Performance Academy and proper structures, placing the Kings in a position to make their mark on the South African rugby landscape.
The administration of the Kings, the PE municipality, the EC Provincial Government and sponsors should be complimented on their commitment and their drive to get the team acknowledged at a national and international level. They are an example for all the sporting codes in South Africa. “Lessons were learned from the Lions – we signed up marquee players and had lined up the likes of Majati, Steyn, Beast and had a good young talented team plus a great coach.
The fact that the Lions won the Currie Cup during a World Cup Year must have demonstrated the short term impact that we had and how the management without our support destroyed the value that was built by not investing in more experience and top-drawer players. We will not allow this to happen to the Kings -they need shareholders who can inject the much needed cash to lure top players and professional business savvy management. “Both Robert and I have always been committed to driving true transformation in rugby as a sport that belongs to the people of South Africa. Together, we can develop a team based on merit and where performance is the key deciding factor – a team that embraces all the principles of transformation,” concludes Ichikowitz.
Timing around the finalisation of the deal will fall in line with decisions taken at SARU level with regards to the long term structure of Super Rugby.