D-Day looms for Cheeky

Cheeky Watson will face up to various factions and stakeholders in EP Rugby at the delayed annual general meeting in Port Elizabeth on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.

Following the postponement of the annual AGM, initially scheduled for 28 November, Watson will finally be called to account at what is likely to be a heated meeting at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, where the EPRU president will be expected to present various financial reports.

Following in the wake of a liquidation application against the EPRU’s professional arm, EP Rugby (Pty) Ltd, that was filed on Thursday by the South African Rugby Players' association, disgruntled clubs are set to seek long-awaited answers about EP’s dire financial situation.

While Watson is likely to be able to provide the financial reports of the EPRU, it appears less likely that he will be able to do so for the cash-strapped EP Rugby (Pty) Ltd. It’s also unclear what previous financial details Watson might be expected to provide for the now-Saru controlled Super Rugby franchise.

Should the information presented fail to satisfy a number of undeniably disgruntled parties, there is the possibility a majority call could be made to waive certain protocols in place for a non-elective meeting that would then allow for a vote of no confidence to be tabled. Should such a vote trigger an imminent change in leadership, businessman and former Despatch president Willem Oliphant has emerged as a strong contender to succeed Watson.

The meeting is set to be attended by a number of Saru’s top brass, with the governing body having admitted on Thursday that the recent liquidation application has raised questions about what this means for the EP Kings in the Currie Cup and for the administration of amateur rugby in the Eastern Province.

In confirming their liquidation application, MyPlayers managing director Eugene Henning said the ongoing financial position of the EP Rugby (Pty) Ltd and the reality of settlement agreements being entered into with certain creditors made the action non-negotiable.

‘It was always the intention of the organisation to find a balance between the interests of the players and those of rugby in South Africa. Litigation was not necessarily the first choice, but the recent preferential treatment of creditors gave us no option but to bring an application for liquidation.’

However, in another twist, that application has been met with anger by the firm representing another set of players who are said to have been disillusioned by the actions of the players organisation.

‘The players who I represent took action against EP Rugby at the beginning of December,’ said Craig Jessop, the lawyer representing the players. ‘They did so in terms of the dispute resolution clause provided for in terms of the agreement between EP Rugby and the players. That provided for an arbitration process. That process culminated in an agreement that has been made an arbitration award [part of which states that overdue salaries must be paid out by 31 January].'

Jessop suggested Sarpa’s belated intervention was a ‘face-saving’ tactic.

‘Sarpa as far back as October last year advised its members not to take any action against EP Rugby and now responds only at the last possible minute to seek to prevent payment to my players, who at all stages worked over December to pursue their dispute against EP Rugby. The suggestion therefore that the arbitration process and award, and payment in terms thereof, constitutes a preference of one creditor above the other is inappropriate in the circumstances.

‘Should EP Rugby have the money to give effect to payment to my players, the liquidation will be opposed. Should EP Rugby not have the money to give effect to payment to my players, then and in that event, we will support the liquidation and pursue other relief against other entities and persons, to the extent necessary,' he added.

Photo: Michael Sheehan/Gallo Images

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Craig Lewis