New investment to awaken the lion’s pride

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International businessman, philanthropist and Paramount Group founder Ivor Ichikowitz joined forces with long time family friend, well known self made South African entrepreneur, IT mogul and Guma Group Executive Chairman, Robert Gumede, to pave the way for them to take a substantial stake in the Johannesburg rugby franchise.

In a move that signals an investment step change for the Lions the two businessmen have pledged to transform the Union’s fortunes, creating a new model for the future of South African rugby.

The partnership, in which Paramount Group and TransAfrica Capital Chairman, Mr Ichikowitz holds 49%, and Mr Gumede 51%, will see them purchase a 49.9% stake in the Lions Rugby. The investment is backed by undertakings to aggressively develop the Lions franchise over the next few years.

Mr Ichikowitz said: “Our investment in Lions Rugby is not merely about driving the future development of the Lions Rugby Franchise, but about driving the future development of the game.

“The Lions exhibit huge promise, our investment is about giving them the means, technical support and financial resource to deliver on that promise for the wider benefit of all those associated with Lions Rugby and rugby as a whole.

“Rugby is a unifying force in South Africa and we are determined to place the Lions Rugby at the forefront of such activity by marrying sound business acumen and expertise with a diverse talent pool that should be unrivalled anywhere in the world, on and off the rugby pitch.

“The Lions have a proud history of success, both from a business and rugby perspective. For many years the GLRU was the richest Union in the country and it is our goal to take them back there.”

“We are investing for performance,” explains Gumede; “our aim is to drive this team in every respect, so that we develop the franchise at all levels, from the junior ranks all the way to the Super Rugby team. We want the Lions leading the pack, taking it to its next level, and contributing Springboks to this country.”

Mr Gumede, who is no stranger to investment in sport having previously invested successfully in soccer and golf, added that he was inspired to invest in Lions Rugby by the Super 14 semi and final matches played at Orlando Stadium in Soweto in May and early June this year: “Those events convinced me of the potential of rugby and reminded me of the nation building ability of the game. Lions Rugby in particularly have such a proud history and have shown in the past the power it has to contribute to the game in South Africa in general.”

Mr Gumede revealed that he and his partner Mr Ichikowitz had been in negotiations with the Lions Board and Management for some time; “We started talking to the team long before they started winning again. To see what they have achieved over the past few weeks is a clear indication of the true potential for this brand.”

“We are convinced that this investment will be the catalyst to revive the Lions glory and to build on the incredibly strong foundations of an established sports brand and loyal fan base in the heart of South Africa’s largest economic region.”

Mr Gumede continued, “This investment is an opportunity not only to market Lions Rugby but to broaden the boundaries of rugby and expose the game to a wider audience as one of South Africa’s biggest national assets.

Both Mr Ichikowitz and Mr Gumede believe that one of the key tenets of this investment is that it brings true ownership transformation, where, there is currently no black ownership.

“We don’t want to bring just transformation in ownership,” commented Mr Gumede. “We want to create a winning culture with business-like cutting edge management that will ultimately transform the Lions into the Manchester United of world rugby."

Golden Lions Rugby Union President, Mr. Kevin de Klerk, welcomed the announcement, saying: “This investment catapults Lions Rugby into an entirely new era. It also demonstrates the reality that rugby is a highly professional sport and that we are now truly in the business of rugby.”

“In practical terms, the Lions will be better placed to recruit, nurture, and incorporate the best players at all levels of the game. For our loyal and patient fans it brings the prospect of sustained success on the pitch. This will in turn result in packed stadiums and stimulate a new generation of Lions supporters.”

“It also allows us to harness our local talent with the purpose of creating future Springboks.”

“This is the start of an exciting relationship, driven by a transparent strategy that will create new opportunities for our sponsors, Lions rugby as well as South African rugby as a whole. We now have serious businessmen to take care of the business performance of the Lions franchise, while the rugby experts take care of our rugby performance.”

In conclusion Mr Gumede confirmed: “A team of relevant professionals has been appointed and a team will work with the Golden Lions to bed down the details of the transaction and use their reasonable endeavours to implement the deal as soon as possible.”