To those of you familiar with the Otago region, you may know that it is located in the south of New Zealand and has one of the oldest and proudest rugby heritages in the country. You may also know that the Otago RFU recently ran into quite a bit of financial trouble. With a yearly loss of $862,000 (£430,000) and debts of $2.35 million (£1.17 million) the Otago RFU was very seriously looking at having to apply for liquidation from the High Court. There were many reasons for the debt – one of the main ones being that previous administrators borrowed $8.2m against the Carisbrook stadium which was due to be dismantled and replaced by the Forsyth Barr Stadium, but it was sold for $1.2m less than that in 2009, which created a large deficit.
This deficit combined with continued lack of income meeting expenditure came to a head this February when the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) and Otago RFU announced it was in serious financial trouble and would need to cease trading. The union simply couldn’t continue to operate under its massive debts. The union relied upon a NZRU loan (they didn’t expect to recover) to pay staff and player wages. It was looking very grim for the Otago RFU and the doors looked to be closing on the proud union when the NZRU released a full liquidation report.
Fast-forward two weeks and somehow the Otago Union had been saved at the eleventh hour, but it was at a large cost. The council had to write off debts of $400,000, the NZRU loaned them another half a million, the board had to resign, the constitution rewritten and severe cuts had to be made at the Union – but it would live. Even then, one of the main reasons that it was saved is that the new Forsyth Barr stadium that was built for the Rugby World Cup would lose up to 4 million per year without professional rugby being played in it, and that would be too much to fall back on the tax-payers, so a deal had to be made.
One of the many cuts made at the Otago RFU was the dropping of their women’s team, Otago Spirit, which cost the Otago RFU about $20,000 per year to operate. Due to the severe cuts that needed to be implemented, the union could not afford to support the team anymore and along with a development team which merged into a youth team, it was cut to save money.
Cue the people of Otago and New Zealand – a campaign was set-up to get the Otago Spirit rugby team the needed funds to compete in this seasons Women’s Championship. Former Otago and New Zealand Women’s international Farah Palmer wrote an article on the plight of the team to raise awareness of the cause. Soon after former players of Otago and expats from the Otago region pitched in to get the team back playing this season through donations and collection buckets were taken around rugby clubs up and down the country to raise funds for the team.
The campaign to save Otago Spirit Women’s Rugby was well underway and assistance was given by politicians, the Otago players and All Black and Highlanders Super Rugby star Adam Thomson in particular. Adam set-up his own just-giving page and raised around $7500 by taking to an online auction site to sell personal kit, including a RWC ball signed by the All Blacks and even a meeting with some of the Highlanders team themselves. They had until the end of April to raise the money needed for the team, and on the first of May, the NZRU confirmed the Otago Spirit would be reinstated to the Women’s Championship that starts in September this year.
It is great news for Women’s Rugby and the Otago union and shows that interest in women’s rugby is still strong despite the fact that it still does not get anywhere near the coverage that the mens game does. The Otago Spirit will now look to put in a good showing in the Women’s Championship later this year to repay the faith and goodwill shown by all those who donated to keep the Spirit alive.
If you want to donate to Adam’s site, click here.