U-Turn if you want to

It’s not boring being a Cardiff Rugby supporter. Whether the team on the pitch is trying to run in tries from everywhere or whether the board is trying to work out whether its a property development company or a rugby club, things rarely stand still for long. Indeed, there are more jinks to come in this story than in a Halaholo line breaks so God only knows if this blog is anywhere near accurate for hows things stand right now.

Thanks to the detective work of CF10 – the Supporters’ Trust – and a couple of prime questions at the Cardiff Blues Ltd AGM (the annual meeting of shareholders of the company that owns and runs Cardiff Blues and Cardiff RFC) a story hit the newsstands that the keys for Cardiff Blues were to be handed to the WRU. Oddly, and this has upset many, more of the story emerged via a Simon Thomas interview with Peter Thomas than the Board were able to tell its shareholders. Peter Thomas called it “babysitting”, preferring to label his rugby club “a franchise” rather than admitting what we all knew – he didn’t want to pay for it any longer.

The accounts show that, over a period of 21 years as a professional rugby club, Cardiff Blues Ltd has been loaned £14m by Peter Thomas. And, as his right, he seemingly didn’t / doesn’t want it to cost him any more. However, instead of just walking away to let somebody else take over, he and the Board took a bizarre decision to just “give up” the team and dump it on to the lap of the WRU.

It’s probably worth noting here that the WRU didn’t really want to “babysit” the “Blues”.

This is a really bizarre course of action for a company to take if you look at it on face value. A business that cannot service its debts, or who knows its expenditure will be greater than its income and has no way of making up that gap, can be seen as trading insolvently. In such circumstances the business is normally put into administration or liquidation, but Thomas was clear in his interview that the business would still be able to service its creditors. So that’s ok then…. right?

What he didn’t explain was how or why the company would be able to service its creditors, of course. Why would a business lose its main asset (the rugby team) yet continue to trade? The answer is simple: because it is desperately trying to gain a 150 year lease on 7.5 acres of city centre land so that it can develop it. And, guess what, once it has that lease then it will have an asset it can sell. I wonder if the sale of the business with that 150 year lease would go someway to covering that £14m spend?

Now I have no issue with Thomas and his fellow directors making a penny or two out of any future redevelopment of Cardiff Arms Park. Why shouldn’t he? As the first custodian of the club in the professional era we owe him a debt of thanks, to a degree. It would extremely easy, of course, to argue that he has spent £14m because he has run the business so abysmally (let’s not forget that the Leckwith lunacy cost an estimated £3m of that).

However, what I would have an issue with is any lease deal not being in the very best interests of Cardiff Rugby and both its teams. Here, of course, is where this whole episode has let the cat out of the bag with the following phrases too often heard:

  • franchise
  • “we cannot guarantee the Cardiff name in the team beyond the end of the current RSA”

If we look at the first phrase, it’s completely nonsense. Only in this latest interview has Peter Thomas ever called Cardiff Blues a franchise because, frankly, it isn’t a franchise. At the end of the last Participation Agreement, the business traded happily before signing the Rugby Services Agreement. This is just one example of why it is not a franchise. Let’s not forget, £1m of Thomas’ £14m was to ensure that Cardiff Rugby stood alone in 2003.

It’s the second claim above, however, that is of the greater concern. Simply put, if the business cannot guarantee the name of Cardiff Rugby in the professional /primary / major team playing out of Cardiff Arms Park then I doubt any lease will be agreed. The ground belongs to Cardiff Rugby and it should be used for the benefit of Cardiff Rugby.

We know where the money will be coming from to fund the redevelopment, we know that a redevelopment (if done well) could propel Cardiff Rugby back to the top of the tree domestically and, potentially, in any cross border competition. What we don’t know is if the new owners of the lease will have the interests of Cardiff Rugby at heart, or the pockets deep enough to employ lawyers to rip through any lease agreement signed in 2017.

All this incident has done is to whip up more distrust. Firstly, the Board wasn’t as clear as it could be at the AGM of the plans it had to dispose of the first team to the WRU. Secondly, many supporters understand and remember the 21 years of fighting the WRU in the professional game so the idea of just giving the team to them is outrageous. Thirdly, CAC can now see the end game for what it is so have no incentive to complete this lease until after 2020 (the renewal date of the RSA) as no team called Cardiff equals no professional team playing out of Cardiff Arms Park. Fourthly, the Trustees of CAC have a duty to ensure the facility is used for Cardiff Rugby and its difficult to see how that could happen if the lease is sold to allow Taff Trailfinders to financially benefit from the asset of Cardiff Rugby.

And now we have the news that the babysitter has been cancelled. Instead, we could see more moves next season similar to that of Ma’afu and Knoyle this season.

There is such an easy way out of all of this to ensure that all parties win. However, it involves transparency, honesty and Cardiff Blues acting as the Scarlets do.

So, there’s your goal Uncle Peter. Make it happen.

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