Free State Cheetahs chairman Ryno Opperman says reports that the union is in financial trouble are ‘simply not true’.
According to a report this past weekend, several players – including Ruan Pienaar and William Small-Smith – had approached well-established businesses in the Free State area regarding potential investment and sponsorship deals to aid the beleaguered union.
In defence of the Cheetahs, Opperman released the following statement:
‘I want to share the following background:
– According to the article, the Cheetahs’ captain, Ruan Pienaar, his teammate William Small-Smith and the team’s focus coach, Ruan Botha, approached a group of businesses to take up shares in the Toyota Cheetahs.
– The report creates the impression that the Toyota Cheetahs’ financial position is so dire that players have to beg for external money. It is simply not true.
– At the end of 2020, I met with a representative of the consortium to discuss possible investment and shareholding in the Toyota Cheetahs.
– Because some of the parties involved went on holiday, we agreed to pause the discussion over the festive season. A follow-up meeting is, however, scheduled for the coming week.
– Over the festive season, the Free State president, the managing director, myself and others worked tirelessly with SA Rugby and potential investors. The interaction included our faithful sponsor, Toyota South Africa, a substantial investor in the franchise over the past few years.
– Other developments are also in the pipeline, including possible participation in the Inter-Continental tournament in Europe.
– Our director of rugby, Hawies Fourie, continues to negotiate contracts with current and potentially new players. The Cheetahs’ omission from the PRO16 and understandable uncertainty resulted in some of the top players leaving the franchise. Hawies is, however, making progress in building a team that can take us forward.
– Players are contracted to play rugby and not to become involved in management. The coverage and speculation in Rapport do not contribute to the well-being of the Cheetahs.
– Player turnover is commonplace in professional rugby. Professional rugby players move to other franchises because of money, to further their careers, to seek new opportunities and experiences. Contracts and family factors also play a role.
– Not only the Cheetahs but also other franchises such as the Bulls, the Sharks, the Lions, the Stormers and overseas teams regularly experience a turnover of players. One only has to look at the players who represented any of these teams two years ago, to realise how they have changed.
– Not only players but also coaches and other professionals such as physiotherapists, doctors and psychologists move between franchises.
– The experience and leadership of our managing director, Harold Verster, is invaluable in these uncertain times. We have succession plans in place for when there is more certainty about the Cheetahs’ immediate future.
Nobody underestimates the disruption due to Covid-19 and the resulting economic and financial pressure. Free State Rugby has existed for more than 125 years and has weathered many crises. The Free State Cheetahs management confirm that we are capable of meeting all our contractual obligations and that we are making good progress with our potential participation in domestic and international competitions.
The good news is that the Cheetahs is still a very popular brand. An independent marketing survey has just found that the Cheetahs’ exposure and publicity have surpassed all goals and expectations of our sponsors. It makes us proud and grateful.’
Photo: Cheetahs Rugby