Super Rugby 2017

Week Eight

A Thought For The Week:

Who is Tony McKeever?

The British rugby media report that he is in the process of negotiating for the Cheetahs and the Kings to join the European based Pro12 league if and when they get kicked out of Super Rugby. The Pro12 runs from September to May every year.

Mr McKeever is quoted as saying “With the size of the current Currie Cup and Super Rugby squads, both the Cheetahs and EP Rugby could easily accommodate this schedule and start playing in September 2017.”

“I have already engaged the PRO12 CEO Martin Anayi and proposed he take these two teams and rebrand this as PRO14 and let the Cheetahs and Eastern Province Rugby be a part of this tournament, which starts in September.

“Martin is a visionary and seeks to expand PRO12 into new markets and grow the PRO12 TV audiences and spectators. This is a perfect synergistic way to accomplish that with South African Rugby.”

Mr McKeever wants a new Eastern Province Rugby brand to be established as “the Kings brand is so tarnished and damaged beyond repair, like Chernobyl, that no sponsor or corporate would ever consider associating themselves with the Kings.”

He believes the addition of the Cheetahs and Kings will be a shot in the arm for the PRO12.

“This would rejuvenate the PRO12/14 tournament with excitement,” he added.

“The addition of two South African Super Rugby teams would increase TV viewership in Europe and South Africa and especially on-site spectator audiences coming to Bloemfontein and the (Nelson) Mandela Bay Stadium, to watch their teams play against teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy, in this exciting tournament.

“It would be like the Cheetahs and EP Rugby each hosting six home ‘Tests’ a year.”

McKeever urged SA Rugby to “accept the news and the fact that two teams are certainly going to be cut and move on, like right now.”

So who is Tony McKeever and why is he negotiating on behalf of South African Rugby?

Well, Mr McKeever has something of a history.

He was the CEO of the ill-fated Southern Spears, the Port Elizabeth based predecessors to the Kings. The Southern Spears franchise was formed in 2005 with the intention of playing Super Rugby from 2007 after a unanimous decision by SA Rugby’s Presidents Council. That never materialized, however, and the Spears ceased to exist before the Southern Kings were eventually established in 2009. Mr McKeever and his Southern Spears organization did get involved in some lengthy and well publicized court room arguments with SARU, but lost.

Since his involvement with the Southern Spears, Mr McKeever has regularly popped up in Eastern Province rugby circles with unwanted or unforeseen interventions in the politics of local rugby.

A year ago, as the EP Kings management were scrambling to put a team together for their opening Currie Cup match of the season – against the Boland Cavaliers in Port Elizabeth – Tony McKeever emerged from nowhere as one of the role players in what appeared to be a new struggle for power in the region.

It was at this point in the turmoil of Eastern Province Rugby that Mr McKeever announced his “Mandela Bay Rugby Project” to the world.

A company or organization had been formed that claimed to be the “the custodian of all the commercial properties and professional teams of Eastern Province rugby”.

The organization placed online advertisements at the weekend – for positions in Port Elizabeth. The positions advertised by Mandela Bay Rugby included for a WebMaster, Marketing & Sponsorship Manager & Interns, Communications & PR Managers and Sales, Account & Marketing Managers.

The advertisements also claimed that Mandela Bay Rugby had seven teams in its stable.

There were reports that Mr McKeever had met with the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality and that they might be the initial source of funding for the project. Reports claimed that McKeever had meetings with ousted Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Danny Jordaan, SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux and Johann Mettler, the city manager of the Nelson Mandela Metropole.

All the parties concerned, except for Mr McKeever, quickly denied that there had been any discussions of any sort. A NMBM mayoral spokesperson Sibongile Dimbaza said: “The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality has no knowledge of MBR’s existence and as such, has no record of any dealings with the said association. We have not, in any way, provided support to this organization.”

Qondakele Sompondo – a spokesman for the Rugby Transformation Coalition – said his organization does not support McKeever.

“It is both disrespectful and undermining to the rugby community of the Eastern Cape,” Sompondo said. “Tony [McKeever] went about it the wrong way, because he did not consult us at all. First, he came here as someone who was concerned about the plight of players. Now he sees an opportunity for self-enrichment by creating a company to run our rugby without us. That’s completely out of line and he will not get away with it. As clubs, we will make sure this does not happen in our province. We endured pain with Tony during the [Southern] Spears [in 2006], which he ran to ground.”

The South African Rugby Union has no record of any Mandela Bay Rugby Project affiliation to SARU or the Eastern Province Rugby Union, and there is also no record of McKeever’s organization paying or preparing any teams in Eastern Province.

Shall we say that the Mandela Bay Rugby Project is a failed venture? An attempt to “capture” Eastern Province rugby that has failed?

This has not been Mr McKeever’s only venture into “privatized” rugby.

McKeever is currently listed as both CEO and a Director of “Super 20 Rugby World Series” – a venture that has failed to produce a single match or register a single player since it was launched in 2006.

Then there is his role in introducing PRO Rugby (United States) owner Douglas Schoninger to SARU President Mark Alexander, with the view that PRO Rugby would invest in the Eastern Province and Southern Kings teams. However, other than a couple of informal meetings between Schoninger and Alexander in London, nothing came of this ‘proposal’ either. In fact, Schoninger is fighting his own battles to keep his league, PRO Rugby, afloat in the United States.

And now Mr McKeever is suggesting that the Cheetahs and the Kings should go and play their rugby in Europe?

From September to May of every year.

At the risk of being repetitive, I quote him again, he says: “The addition of two South African Super Rugby teams would increase TV viewership in Europe and South Africa and especially on-site spectator audiences coming to Bloemfontein and the (Nelson) Mandela Bay Stadium, to watch their teams play against teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy, in this exciting tournament.”

Really? The Cheetah and Kings supporters are missing in action when really exciting teams from New Zealand visit their stadiums. If they are happy to miss out on the rugby played by the Hurricanes, the Chiefs and the Crusaders, why on earth would they stream in through the gates to watch Zebre, or Benetton Treviso, or the NG Dragons, or Edinburgh, Glasgow or even Leinster?

Based on his track record, I am guessing Mr McKeever’s latest venture will fade into obscurity, in the same way as the Southern Spears, Super 20 Rugby, and the Mandela Bay Rugby Project. (Perhaps it is time for Mr McKeever to follow in their footsteps.)

Do not hold your breath on this one.