By Lee Stace
ONE THING that has become painfully evident since news broke that the Otago Rugby Union will cease trading on Friday due to its inability to service debt of more than $2 million dollars is a lack of accountability.
As was the case when Rugby Southland struck serious financial trouble at the tail-end of 2010, no-one has been prepared to put their hand up and admit fault for the union’s current state of affairs.
Make no mistakes about it. The problems at the 131-year-old ORU are not new. It has been struggling financially for a number of seasons, but it is only now that we know the full extent of its problems.
So far we have been told that it was a combination of factors that have led Otago to this point. Silly business decisions and poor fiscal management – to the point where the principles of basic economics (that is, don’t spend more than you earn) had become a forgotten art – have all played a part.
All of which leads us to ask the most obvious questions: where is the accountability and who is responsible?
The blame clearly lies with those who have been or were running the ORU ship in recent times, even if the New Zealand Rugby Union says it is pointless pointing fingers because it won't change the current situation.
That might be true, but the passionate and good rugby people of Dunedin and its surrounding areas have every right to know exactly how their union has got to the point where it can no longer trade as a business. They have every right to know the names of those were making and signing off on the poor business decisions that have ultimately seen the ORU dig itself into a massive financial hole.
Moreover, those people in charge or who were responsible for the running of the union should have the decency to come forward and own up to their mistakes.
Sadly, though, that appears unlikely to happen.
The current board is blaming decisions made by previous administrations and former ORU baord members do not wish to comment.
None more so than the ORU’s former chief executive, Richard Reid, who refused to speak on the situation in January after it was revealed in the Sunday Star-Times that the union had axed staff and sold any assets that weren't nailed down to the floor as part of its cost-cutting measures –despite those measures being the direct result of some bad business decisions made during his tenure in charge.
“I don't work there anymore. It's up to the board to comment,” said Reid. “You'll have to do your own digging.”
Former All Blacks coach Laurie Mains resigned from the ORFU board earlier this month and was also reluctant to comment on financial matters. So too was Ron Palenski, the ORU chairman between 2003-10.
The current board members will walk away from this mess when the clock strikes 4pm on Friday, free to sit on other boards or take over the running of different companies.
Where is the justice and fairness in that?
As far as bailouts go, the New Zealand Rugby Union is right not to come up with a rescue package. Like any business operating in this tough economic climate, it has its own financial problems to deal with and simply cannot afford to take on Otago’s as well.
Likewise for the New Zealand Government, whose priority it is to use taxpayer money to fund key infrastructure projects and public services, not help private companies out of self-inflicted financial jams.
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.