Chris Rattue on sport
The latest sport analysis and comment from Herald columnist Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue: Rugby has its own state assets sale plan

Steve Tew. Photo / NZPA
Steve Tew. Photo / NZPA

Well, there's a surprise. The New Zealand Rugby Union's "privatisation" scheme has been revealed as - if reports are correct - a prospective raid on their major unions' bank accounts.

We must rely on sketchy media reports here. As per usual, information is scarce out of the Kremlin but the five (some unconfirmed) bidders for the four available Super 15 franchise licences are, wait for it, the North Harbour, Auckland, Waikato, Wellington and Canterbury rugby unions. The Waikato bid has been linked with a consortium of private money.

So, not only will rugby continue to be run by the same people running it now, but this "privatisation" will involve scooping cash and energy out of the provincial arena and moving it into the NZRU's grasp. In return, the unions will get Super 15 licences which will look lovely framed on a wall. The story so far, from what we can gather, might be termed raising bridging grants from junior partners in tough times.

In return, the provinces will get four-fifths of stuff all, with the NZRU continuing to control everything that counts, particularly the player contracts.

Worse still, you could argue the unions have been coerced into hiring something that belonged to them anyway when you consider the importance of old unions in forming the base of the professional era.

Steve Tew, the NZRU's boss, claimed to have been "heartened" by the interest, which indicated "the attractiveness of the franchises as a commercial proposition".

"Given this was a step into the unknown we have every reason to be encouraged."

Really? We await full details of this long and extensive list of five. And few sports teams qualify as an attractive commercial proposition anyway - many owners are in there for a joy ride. Adventure born out of private money can do wonderful things for sport. Privatisation is not just about money - it is about a new energy, new ways of doing things, taking risks - as even Tew has acknowledged. When revealing the plan last year, Tew said the process would:

* Test the market.
* Look to go beyond New Zealand's borders.
* Reinvigorate and bring fresh ideas.
* Bring fresh capital.

Once again, if reports on the bidders are correct the brave new world is the old one with a bit of tinkering, with not one fully independent expression of interest from a commercial enterprise or sugar daddy to enthuse over. Provincial union men conditioned into subservient roles to the NZRU are hardly going to strike the best commercial deal either.

On form, the national body would fear new, vigorous, hard-nosed and financially successful people sticking their noses into the national obsession and challenging the head office dictates.

This leaves a funny taste in the mouth, that the NZRU suspected the subservient unions would end up as the bidders for something they kind of owned anyway. This deal will transfer significant money from one part of rugby to another, to help the NZRU through tough economic times.

It has also brought the internal Blues rivalry to the fore, with North Harbour said to be bidding against Auckland for the right to control four-fifths of stuff all. The idea that the NZRU - having enabled the wasting of our money on the outdated Eden Park monstrosity - would then allow the Super 15 team to shift to Albany is a good laugh.

A lot of hot air is keeping this party-political-broadcast balloon afloat.

Reporting of the bids was excitable, reflecting the NZRU's PR tone. "At least one bid" had been received for each franchise. Of course, this could be reinterpreted as only one bid for three, and two for the other. The NZRU, swamped as it is by these expressions of interest, will have to draw up a shortlist. How impressive.

If the franchises are so "commercially attractive", we've got it wrong and the bidders won't be limited to the aforementioned rugby unions.

Otherwise, lads, give us a break and stop pulling our legs.

- NZ Herald

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