ROAR EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Peter Holmes a Court
John Sutton celebrates his team's win. AAP Image/Action Photographic, Renee McKay
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The Roar asked some questions of South Sydney Rabbitohs joint owner Peter Holmes a Court, about his association with the club, the controversial takeover at Redfern, and how he thinks the team is faring this season.
You remain a joint owner at South Sydney, but you are no longer a director. How actively involved are you with Souths these days?
“Nothing beats a live game, but league looks pretty good on my laptop. This week I watched the two ANZAC day games with a coffee in my hand, such is the time difference. [Eds note: Peter is currently based in Europe]
“Russell and I invested through a company, Blackcourt League Investments, and we appoint 4 Directors to the Rabbitohs Board of 7. We are extremely fortunate for the work of our appointees – Keith Rodger, Martin Crowe, media executive Angela Clark, and accountant Anthony Bell.
“Combined with the representatives of the Members and Souths Juniors, we have a strong team around the board table.
“The right way for an owner to interact with any investment is through its Board. That’s who management reports to and that ensures proper governance throughout the organisation.
“Our job as owners was to set up the structures, which is what Russell and I did after we bought the team, and then gradually step back to let the right people do their jobs.
“There are many impressive people in the Rabbitohs’ off-field team — on the Board, in management, in the coaching staff — and they must be given the best opportunity to do their job.
“I am, of course, always here to help when asked and I know Russell’s support to the Club has never been questioned.”
Looking back on it all, do you still think the takeover by you and Russell Crowe was the right thing to do at the time and was it all done the right way?
“I don’t mean this to sound dramatic, but it is my belief that if someone hadn’t done something, the Rabbitohs as we know them (an independent team, in Sydney, in red and green) would not be around today.
“Opinions will differ on this.
“But I saw an organisation with increasing annual operating losses, accelerating in its downward spiral in every measurement. Then the global economic slowdown hit in 2007/8.
“I just can’t imagine how they could have come through those years intact.
“Was it ‘all done the right way?’ An answer to your question is ‘yes.’ If you’d worded the question as ‘could it have been done better?’, then the answer would be, ‘of course it could have’.
“Let me explain.
“In an extended crisis, such as what we experienced, there are never perfect choices. Things are never able to be done ‘all the right way’. You just have to act.
“There are just things that have to be tried; strategies that have to be pursued. When the final whistle blows, when the dust settles, the historically inclined often ask: ‘Should the battalion have been ordered left or right?’ ‘Should the pricing been set higher or lower?’ ‘Should the captain have chosen to play into the wind or with it?’
“In reality, you fight what you can see, you do what seems right on the facts that you have in front of you.
‘In America, they call it Monday morning quarterbacking; sitting back after the game and calling the plays.
“In reality, the plays are always made on the field and they are never made perfectly.”
What do you make of Souths’ start to the 2012 NRL season?
“I reckon we’ve had a tough draw so far. We’ve tested some of the competition leaders and dispatched some teams that I hope we can finish above. The biggest challenges, as always, lie ahead.
“I have been enjoying watching the work of our new coach, Michael Maguire, and his development of players who have been with us for a number of years, as well as new recruits and younger players.
“I am looking forward to Michael writing his own piece of Rabbitohs history.”
What does coach Maguire bring to the club that Lang, Taylor and co. didn’t?
“Michael doesn’t say much publicly, but when he does say something, it’s careful and thoughtful. I’ll let him do his talking.”
Given the well-publicised problems at the Titans, and with several NRL clubs previously, does it make financial sense, purely from a business perspective, to invest significant money into a rugby league club or is it more an investment of passion?
“I’ve said before and I will say it again: sport isn’t a business, it is more important than that.
“What I mean by that is that we have to be much more than just a business. It is a given that we have to operate efficiently if we are to survive and do the important stuff a Club can do as part of our community.
“There is absolutely no logic to the idea that Clubs should operate as softheaded boys clubs when they are doing business with highly developed, ruthless corporations.
“Our media deals, our stadium deals, our sponsorship deals, are with the largest corporations and media companies in the world, and if we aren’t first rate, we won’t get a good outcome for anybody.
“The Rabbitohs were a long way from a world-class sporting practice. It is now well on the way to this standard.
“The game of rugby league in Australia has survived in spite of an outdated, inefficient structure that meant it has lagged its southern rival on most measures. This under-performance was the inevitable product of a structure that has now — thanks to much hard work on all sides — been changed.
“The creation of the Independent Commission is the biggest thing to happen to the game in many years.
“Rugby league once again belongs to everyone: from the coach of a junior team to an elite player in Green and Gold, to every Member of an NRL Club.
“The AFL, which formed its Independent Commission in the 80s, has got a 25 year jump on us. But I am confident that league can make up that ground in the next decade.
“The AFL has done a great job with game attendance and membership growth.
“The Rabbitohs will hopefully reach 22,000 members this year. If every member attracts, converts (or breeds) just one other member over the next five years, we will be at 40,000 members by 2017.
“The goal must be higher, but if every team can achieve similar growth, that’s a very exciting future for the game.
“It remains incredibly rewarding to be involved in this great Club and I look forward to a bright future for league and, of course, the Rabbitohs.
“But right now, I’m just looking forward to nursing a coffee on Saturday morning and watching the broadcast from ANZ stadium.”