New developments, allegations and rumours continue to fly in thick and fast regarding the aptly named “Lionel Mapoe Saga”. If I were Rudi Straeuli, I’d be secretly ruing the day this particular pile of poo landed on my doorstep…
Just to recap, here’s the story the way I have it. Mapoe and his agent, Jan-Harm van Wyk, approach the Sharks towards the end of the Super 14. Mapoe has been sitting on the sidelines after injuring himself early on in the tournament and was reported to be bitterly unhappy about the fact that the Cheetahs were paying him a pittance of a salary – rumoured to be anywhere between R2 000 and R20 000 a month, depending on who you believe. Mapoe believed that the Cheetahs were unfairly holding him to a junior contract that he had been coerced into signing without any proper guidance – his illiterate father being the only other person present during the negotiations. Further allegations of favouritism and unfair labour practices have also been mentioned, with the Cheetahs paying other players of similar pedigree to Mapoe vastly increased sums of money.
Why Straeuli didn’t simply tell them to sod off is anybody’s guess. Fact is, despite all of Mapoe and van Wyk’s protestations to the contrary, the player did, in fact, have a binding contract with the Cheetahs at the time he picked up and moved to Durban. “Legal and binding”, in this case, are unfortunately not the same thing as “just and fair” and while any right-thinking individual could only be appalled at the shocking manner in which the Cheetahs treat the players they claim to love, they, unlike the Lions, do actually seem capable of drawing up a binding contract. Taking the pair at face value, though and (I believe) genuinely accepting that there was no valid contract in place, the Sharks agreed a very generous deal with Mapoe, gave him a place to stay, started paying a salary, paid all the medical costs related to his rehabilitation and began to integrate him into the squad.
The inevitable legal battle ensued and when Mapoe, not once, but twice, point blank refused to return to Bloemfontein following court rulings in the Cheetahs’ favour, the Sharks continued to provide support – most tellingly in the form of covering the frankly staggering legal fees that were beginning to mount. The one common factor throughout the sordid affair, though, was Cheetahs president Harold Verster’s intransigence in the face of all rational argument. Anybody with half a brain will tell you that it is simply impossible to hold on to a player who will defy an order of the court rather than return to train with your team. For all their other rumoured sins, the Sharks have never held a player to a contract against his will, because they know that such a dynamic is utter poison to a team environment. Given that Mapoe was earning R200 000 a year at the absolute most, the Sharks’ offer a transfer fee in the region of 3.5 times that (we’re told) should have seemed like manna from above to Verster. After all, his own structures and business practices had created the situation in which he now found himself – that of having a player who felt so exploited and undervalued that he would simply walk out and refuse to return. Surely in this situation it’s better to cut your losses and move on. Getting some money out of the bargain is an added bonus.
Not our Harold, though. True to form, he began throwing his weight around, making frankly ridiculous demands for transfer fees that were close to an order of magnitude greater than what he himself was prepared to pay the player. This in itself was perplexing, though – because on the one hand he steadfastly refused to enter into any process of negotiation, insisting that Mapoe was a “son” of the union and that they could never let him leave, while at the same time speculating in the media about what sort of transfer fee he would consider acceptable.
Needless to say, the matter ended in a complete impasse, with the Sharks posed to go to court again for the player on 12 November to try and overturn the earlier ruling that the player must return to Bloemfontein. The news broke this week, however, that Mapoe and his agent had suddenly done a complete about-face and cut a deal with the Lions that would see him immediately released from his Cheetahs contract to take up employment with the Johannesburg franchise. The more details that emerge, the more one can only shake one’s head in shame for the way Harold Verster does business; no longer is Mapoe an “indispensable player and son” of the Free State. It seem all that Harold wanted was “to bring closure” to the matter, which he could have done 6 months ago if he’d just been prepared to negotiate a reasonable transfer with the Sharks. Even more baffling is talk from the Lions camp that they paid no exorbitant transfer fee for Mapoe, but simply offered to settle his contract. That would mean that they picked him up for less than R500 000, when the Sharks had already offered R700 000.
One of two things happened here. Either Harold has no grasp of basic accounting (possible – nay probable), but what I feel is more likely is that we are seeing yet another common media tactic from our friends the Lions. It’s what we, in the trade, call a “bare-faced lie”. Shady forces are at work here and as Dan Retief points out, the fact that the Lions’ new backers, Robert Gumede and Ivor Ichiowitz were the ones going in to do the negotiating, rather than the CEO and Union President, raises some key questions about exactly what sort of business practices we can expect from the cash-flush union from Gauteng.
Craig Lewis of the Daily News caught up with Sharks CEO Brian van Zyl earlier this week to fill in the blanks and figure out what the Sharks will do next. “He’s left here and his integrity and credibility is in question, while he has also jeopardised the respect he had from us. We re-habilitated him from injury and incurred significant costs while he was here, and so we will need to take legal advice and will consider taking action against him,” van Zyl told Lewis.
“One thing you can say is that we don’t want him back here now,” Van Zyl said. “He’s 22-years-old and he came down this road quite a long way. So to now suddenly have a change of heart and sneak out in the middle of the night certainly puts his morals, integrity and credibility in question.”
One thing that does, of course, throw a potential spanner into the works for the happy back-stabbers is that, in his darkest hour, Mapoe was only two happy to put his paw-prints all over a 2.5 year contract with the Sharks. That, together with the fact that Mapoe and van Wyk clearly deceived the Sharks and led to the union incurring significant costs, whether medical, legal or salary-related, raises the possibility of further legal action being taken by the Durban union. “The Lions have clearly been very opportunistic and although they may have received a clearance certificate from the Cheetahs, we still have a contract with Lionel. So this whole thing can get quite messy. Their role in this is also questionable.”
An interview with Mapoe’s former counsel, Frikkie Erasmus, also hinted at a strong possibility that the Sharks will seek reparations from Mapoe and will possibly also launch an action against the Lions.Tweet