Sharks on the move


SuperSport spokesman Clinton van den Berg said they were following the negotiations between the professional rugby franchise and eThekwini Municipality, which runs Moses Mabhida, “with interest”.

“This has been on the table since Brian van Zyl was chief executive of the Sharks. We support these negotiations,” he said.

SuperSport owns 49 percent of the Sharks Pty (Ltd). The majority share of 51 percent is held by the KwaZulu-Natal Rugby Union. The Sharks comprise half of the union while the other half runs amateur rugby in the province.

It is believed that the cost of running a professional sporting franchise and maintaining a stadium in physical decline has finally forced the Sharks to look to their neighbour.

After the World Cup in 2010 former city manager Mike Sutcliffe asked the Sharks to consider moving to the soccer stadium but, while Van Zyl was in charge, they were resolute about staying put. This was because the city did not offer enough of a financial incentive.

In 2013, Sutcliffe’s successor Sbu Sithole made a new approach and, while there were those who were keen, it was shelved again.

On Friday, as the city concluded its Social Cohesion Conference, a surprise “package” was Sharks chief executive John Smit, who declared the rugby franchise open to leaving their ancestral grounds of Kings Park for the modern facilities and financial carrots that would come with a partnership with the city-run stadium

This was provided certain issues were resolved, not the least of which would be income from private suites and advertising.

The issue of the suites, which will now have to be addressed head on, is a concern that Moses Mabhida would not be able to house the same number of suites as Kings Park, a major source of revenue. And, across the road, they would have to be paying tenants.

Further, rugby fans agree Kings Park is not always a pleasant experience. The stadium, in use since 1958, and which seats 52 000, was overhauled 21 years ago for the Rugby World Cup. It needs money spent on it again and, whether or not the Sharks have these resources is open to speculation.

There is a strong sense though, that the facility has become its own worst enemy – and that its poor condition is one of the reasons the stadium is seeing ever diminishing crowds for the Sharks’ matches.

It is known that a third party, Edward Griffiths, has been working behind the scenes to broker the deal between the Sharks and the city.

Griffiths, a one-time South African Rugby Union chief executive and latterly the chief executive of the London club Saracens, is assisting Smit, who was a player at Saracens in the twilight of his career.

There has been a strong connection between the Sharks and Saracens since Smit took over from veteran administrator Brian van Zyl in mid 2013.

It is known that Smit had the option of having Van Zyl stay on as mentor for six months while he learned the ropes but he declined this and threw his lot in with Saracens and the likes of Griffiths.

eThekwini municipality’s head of parks, Thembinkosi Ngcobo said considerable mediation had still to take place before the move could become a reality.

Not least of which will be about making Moses Mabhida a rugby-friendly venue. There are some concerns from fans about the difference in gradients of the stands, as Moses Mabhida has a less steep gradient, the fans may feel further away from the action.

Additional reporting by Nkululeko Nene

– The Sunday Tribune

Original source: Sharks on the move