Bevan Sanson is a former Horowhenua representative, journalist, documentary producer and coach of the Levin College Old Boys Under-9s. He wonders when it comes to NZR's Silver Lake deal, are there any Orwellian forces at play?
"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
When George Orwell wrote these words for his dystopian novel, 1984, he could have been describing events at the recent Annual General Meeting of New Zealand Rugby.
One has to ask if those in attendance felt as if "Big Brother" was watching them.
All the talk in rugby at present is about "The Silver Lake Deal" and NZR, acting as the Super State, are telling what they 'want' us to know.
We're told Silver Lake, an American private equity firm, will get 12.5 per cent stake in a Limited Partnership (LP) with NZR.
In return Silver Lake will pay $387.5 million.
En masse all 26 provincial unions voted yes to the deal New Zealand Rugby chairman Brent Impey describes as a "No brainer".
However, the Orwellian nature of the message, and its delivery, reveal something troubling about our national game.
In truth the provincial unions were not asked to vote on a deal. They were asked to vote in advance of a deal.
In the meeting's notice of business, item 13, under the heading "Project Future", contained the following statement:
"The AGM will be asked to approve the proposal relating to private equity investment in NZR, as set out in Attachment two. While the board is requesting approval from affiliated bodies now, negotiations do continue with the NZ Rugby Players Association, and with Silver Lake Partners."
Meanwhile, from the latest NZR Annual report:
"The board and management have entered into a process prior to balance date to consider private equity investment into the commercial assets of NZR. NZR has received a final offer from one party. This position has not been accepted, with further due diligence and agreement required by parties, including NZR members and board."
Why would you vote yes for a deal that has not been finalised?
Would you pay for a house to be built without a written guarantee it came with a roof?
Provincial union bosses say the decision was "made in due diligence with all member clubs, involving consultation with clubs, schools, referees, and Māori rugby representatives".
How could it have been given the provincial unions voted on something they don't know all the details of?
It's yet to be finalised?
Under the proposed deal Silver Lake will receive 12.5 per cent of the revenue generated by the LP, rather than 12.5 per cent of its profitability.
It's like a mate buying a 12.5 per cent stake in your boat. You're responsible for all the maintenance. You supply rods, berley and bait.
You do all the fishing and they take 12.5 fish for every 100 you catch.
But if you only catch 13 fish all year, you're left with little more than the head of one barely legal snapper.
Playing the role of The Brotherhood (the resistance movement in 1984) is the New Zealand Rugby Players Association (NZRPA). They don't like the Silver Lake deal.
They propose NZ Rugby sell 5 per cent of the company to the New Zealand public, via the share market and they've got investment company, Forsyth Barr, to come up with what they think is a viable alternative.
Having had previous ideas dismissed, and sensing that NZ Rugby is determined to push the Silver Lake deal through no matter what, the NZRPA made their plan public.
Cue accusations of thought crime and outrage by NZ Rugby and their provincial union Thought Police.
Northland Rugby chairman Andrew Richie accused the NZRPA of acting "immature", and "not in good faith".
NZR CEO Mark Robinson said he was "shocked" that the NZRPA want to destroy the Silver Lake deal.
Of course, they want to destroy it. They think it's a bad deal.
Why has the idea of allowing New Zealanders to buy a stake in the game being so vehemently opposed by NZ Rugby?
Or as NZRPA president David Kirk put it: "It's not logical not to want to look at all the offers. They said to us and they said to the provinces ... 'there is only one option, that's Silver Lake. We've looked at the other ones and none of them stack up'. Well, that's not true."
Kirk, a former All Blacks halfback, knows that a dart down the blindside is one option. But you don't do it before checking to see if your backline as an overlap.
Regardless of what is the best deal, from a rugby fan's perspective what is concerning is the manner in which NZ Rugby tried to force the Silver Lake deal through.
Was it the promise of cash to the provincial unions that saw them vote "yes" to a yet-to-be finalised deal?
Numbers ranging from $875,000 for smaller unions and $3.1m for the likes of Auckland, Canterbury and Wellington are being bandied about.
Or does the willingness of the provincial unions to vote with such unanimity reveal something more unnerving?
Over the past two decades many working in provincial unions have succumbed to the Mind-Forged-Manacle created by the myth of centralised power within New Zealand Rugby.
Have they forgotten that whilst the money flows down from NZR, the general power structure of rugby in New Zealand has stayed the same for over a century?
If even partially unified, provincial unions have the power to reject, ratify or ask NZ Rugby to rejig any recommendations bought forth.
Have the provincial unions, and indeed clubs, bought into the myth that money is power?
Money is not power. Power is power. NZ Rugby understands this.
They have spent years dividing and conquering the provincial unions and have tapped into the survivalist nature of some of those working at provincial level.
Games might often be played on cold, wet evenings. But it's warm and cosy in those corporate boxes.
For the provincial unions is it now a case of, buy into the "Totalitarian Superstate" or you'll be sent for "Re-Education"?
-"And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth." (G. Orewell,1984)
With the biggest change coming to rugby since the birth of professionalism in the mid-90s, fans, volunteers and players deserve more.
Crikey! It's 13 O'clock!
I expect the Thought Police will be knocking on my door soon.
•Bevan Sanson is a former Horowhenua representative, journalist, documentary producer and coach of the Levin College Old Boys Under-9s.