REACTION: A court battle is on the cards should the Newlands stadium be declared a heritage site.
That was the message from Rian Oberholzer, who was appointed by SARU in October 2021 as the administrator to regulate the affairs of the Western Province Rugby Football Union.
After the Western Province and Stormers teams started a new era at Cape Town Stadium in 2021, Oberholzer has been hard at work trying to finalize the sale of Newlands Stadium – which was one of the major tasks assigned to him when the union was placed under administration .
Some headway was made in February last year when the stadium was to be placed on the market in a sealed bidding process.
However, former Springbok captain Wynand Claassen threw a spanner in the works when he launched a bid in June to have the stadium declared a heritage site.
The Heritage Western Cape committee, which met with both Claassen and SARU representatives on the matter, could have a decision by February.
If they rule in favor of Claassen’s crusade, Oberholzer said the union has no option but to go to court.
(Article continues below Oberholzer interview …)
“We will have to. We cannot allow this thing to go through,” Oberholzer told reporters on Thursday.
“We have to use whatever we can to make sure that we secure the future of the Western Province Rugby Football Union.”
Oberholzer said they would not bow down to people who feel they have a claim to something based on “nostalgia”.
“Our legal opinion that we received from a heritage specialist says there is absolutely no grounds on which Newlands can become a heritage site,” Oberholzer.
“The only thing is maybe nostalgia.
“Are we going to destroy the WPRFU because of nostalgia? And whose nostalgia is it? A small minority who were able to go to Newlands and enjoy it.
“Is that small group with nostalgia going to destroy this proud rugby union, which is Western Province?”
With debts that need to be paid, there will be no future for Western Province and the Stormers if Newlands Stadium is not sold.
“What are the consequences of a successful heritage application? It will absolutely mean the end of the Western Province Rugby Football Union as we know it,” according to Oberholzer.
“There is an outstanding amount of money that was received by the WPRFU from Flyt/Dreamworld that needs to be repaid. If Newlands cannot be sold, where is that money going to come from?
“That is the one very important issue. It will affect not only the WPRFU but obviously the company and the Stormers.
“It is essential for us to build on the success of the move to Cape Town Stadium.
“There is also a fallacy that Newlands can be revived and rugby can be played there again. It can happen – rugby can be played there, but the Stormers will never play there again. That is because of the agreement that was reached between the WPRFU, WP Rugby [Pty] and the city.
“We are in a 30-year agreement with the city to play our games at Cape Town Stadium.”
The WPRFU and SARU are also still in the dark over what Claassen’s actual end goal is as WPRFU will still own the property if it is declared a heritage site.
“We still don’t know what Wynand wants to do with the property once he has successfully turned it into a heritage site. The one thing that cannot happen, is Western Province can never go back there again. We have to understand that,” Oberholzer said.
“Who is going to upkeep the stadium? Who is going to pay for whatever great plans Wynand has?
“The property still belongs to the WPRFU and then the WPRFU will have some kind of an obligation towards the upkeep of the stadium.
“The decision was taken to mothball that stadium many years ago. That is the second challenge that we face.
“What we are concerned about is that an ill-informed process to turn it into a heritage site is going to be so detrimental to Western Province Rugby that I cannot foresee how they are going to succeed in digging themselves out of that hole.
“We are also concerned by the motive of the heritage application. It’s from someone who has got no affiliation with Western Province Rugby Football Union or Newlands Stadium and he is now the speaker of the heritage of the stadium.
“We must be careful that we don’t fall into that rhetoric that this is the history that needs to be saved.
“We have moved on and we are not going back and I think people must understand that. That decision has been taken. That bus has left. It’s not going to happen again, so we are not going to go back.”
Dobbo on Newlands
Meanwhile, except for some of the more experienced Springboks like Frans Malherbe and Steven Kitshoff, Stormers coach John Dobson said most of his current squad only knows Cape Town Stadium as home.
“I love Newlands and I got amazing memories. but the transition to here [Cape Town Stadium] has been spectacular, from a team point of view,” said Dobson.
“From a team’s perspective, we are incredibly happy here.
“These guys have no affiliation with Newlands whatsoever. There is no interest going there and there are no fond memories with this team.
“They got very fond memories of the Cape Town Stadium already and they are going to have much more.”