Rugby unions eager but Players Union wants 'fair deal' from Silver Lake decision

updated By Te Ao - Māori News

In their most important annual general meeting ever today, provincial unions have voted in support of Rugby New Zealand's recommendation to sell a 12.5% stake of its commercial interests to California-based equity firm Silver Lake to cover losses that were in the millions of dollars due to Covid-19 lockdowns.

The deal includes Silver Lake injecting $387.5 million into NZ Rugby, with a large share of that money set aside for grassroots rugby.

But their eager support has been met with delaying tactics from the New Zealand Rugby Players' Association. It has already expressed concerns about the commercialisation of Māori and Pacific culture

Now, it has agreed to put collective bargaining/mediation meetings on hold for a few weeks to allow it to reconnect with stakeholders.

"Between us, we need to resolve what the collective will look like beyond this year in order for the players to respond to NZR’s request for approval of the proposed Silver Lake transaction," a spokesperson said.

Commenting on the need for a delay, a player represented by the NZRPA said "We train and get bashed around on the field till we're maybe like 35, then we have to find a new job.

"They (NZRU) can sit in their office till they're ancient. We want to make sure we get a fair deal."

Get in behind

Alongside the 26 provincial unions, the New Zealand Māori Rugby Board also voted unanimously in favour of the proposal.

NZ Rugby chair Brent Impey said the positive vote for private equity was one of the most significant in the game’s history.

“We are thrilled that our provincial unions and the Māori Rugby Board have recognised the importance of private equity in driving commercial revenue and enabling investment to ensure rugby thrives and survives into the future. Today’s vote for Silver Lake represents a transformational opportunity for our game and one we must grasp.”

However, Impey was disappointed that the NZRPA has not given its consent.

“Through swift action, good governance and hard work of our people we are fortunate to be one of the best-placed national unions in the world. However, we are at a critical juncture and need our players’ support if we are to make the most of the opportunity in front of us.

Reimagining rugby

“The game has to change, and Silver Lake’s capital injection would allow us to re-imagine rugby and invest in the areas of the community game that need it most, particularly teenage and women’s rugby, and to create better and more engaging experiences for our fans.

“The players are a critical part of this journey but we have to look at what is right across all levels of the game, our whole eco-system. We hope the NZRPA will realise the significance of the opportunity in front of us and will continue to work toward an agreement in coming weeks.”

The former all black and NZRPA member who spoke to Te Ao Māori news said of Impey's comments "Brent Impey to be sort of saying we're greedy is pretty unbelievable."

NZR chief executive Mark Robinson said the 2020 balance sheet was a reflection of rugby’s adaptability and resilience.

“A year ago we were facing a collapse of more than 60% of our revenue and had to make some hard decisions in a short time to keep costs down while getting our players on the field and keeping our stakeholders engaged.

“From the heartland unions’ decision to cancel their representative season to the extra hours our staff and players have put in, the past year has been difficult, and we acknowledge the hardships felt by our people at all levels across the game,” he says.

Board appointments

During the meeting, it was also revealed that Sir Michael Jones had stepped down from the NZ Rugby board to commit more time to his family, community and work.

Jones said it had been an honour to serve on the board.

“It has been a privilege to serve the game that has given me so much and I will continue to contribute where I can, particularly at grassroots levels.”

NZR chair Brent Impey thanked Sir Michael for his service. "He has provided a crucial Pasifika lens and ensured community was always at the heart of our discussions."

Meanwhile, New Zealand Māori Board Chair Farah Palmer was reappointed as the Māori representative on the NZ Rugby board.