Otago rugby union buys more time for rescue

POSITIVE DEVELPOMENTS: ORFU Chairman Wayne Graham addresses media at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium.
POSITIVE DEVELPOMENTS: ORFU Chairman Wayne Graham addresses media at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Otago rugby has bought another week's time to thresh out the details of a rescue package, after "fruitful" discussions this week.

The Board of the Otago Rugby Football Union (ORFU) said it had decided to delay until Friday March 16 the filing of an application to liquidate the union to allow more time for discussions.

This follows a one week delay agreed by the Board last week.

The prospect of the ORFU digging its way out of the $2.35 million financial crisis it had found itself in appeared improbable. But, in what would be a remarkable turnaround, the 131-year-old province may now field a team and retain its place in this year's 14-team competition.

The New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU), Dunedin City Council, Dunedin Venues Management Ltd, the New Zealand Rugby Players Association and the Bank of New Zealand have spent the past week working through the details of the recovery package.

NZRU Chief Executive Steve Tew said discussions this week had been fruitful.

"We are certainly more hopeful than two weeks ago so that is good progress. 

"As we said last week the options we are looking at are very complicated, there are many moving parts and all have to come together to ensure we have a viable plan. The extra week will give all parties the time they need to make final decisions.

"While it is not appropriate to discuss the shape of any plan, what we have said all along is that any deal must be very clear on a number of counts. It must put the union on a sustainable long term financial footing and must put in place appropriate governance arrangements to ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated."

It is believed the NZRU board was not unanimous on plans to help out Otago with some members worried a bail-out would open the way for other struggling unions to come cap-in-hand to the national body.

It's understood, that after intensive lobbying, the Dunedin City Council is considering writing off $400,000 in debt owed in rentals for use of the Carisbrook rugby ground.

The council has a strong vested interest in seeing the union stay afloat with the $203m Forsyth Barr Stadium set to lose a key tenant had no agreement been reached.

It's thought last week's electric match between the Highlanders and Crusaders was a turning point. Such a unique roofed venue should not be wasted. In many respects, the council stood to lose the most from the union's widely predicted closure.

ORFU Chairman Wayne Graham, in announcement at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium, said the ORFU had now completed a business plan, the first of three crucial aspects in preventing union liquidation.

The second was working with creditors behind the scenes, and the third was fielding an ITM Cup team.

He would not be drawn on whether the union was negotiating a clean slate from its larger creditors like the Dunedin City Council.

However, he did say he was confident the union would be backed by sponsors Speight's and Silver Fern Farms.

He confirmed financial assistance was being offered by ORFU president Sir Eion Edgar and former board member Laurie Mains who were dipping into their own pockets to make the solution work.

Fairfax Media