Super Rugby Saga Goes to Arbitration

Last week readers of this column were given the heads up on yesterday’s visit to Perth by ARU chief executive Bill Pulver. Seems Bill wasn’t hanging around in the west any longer than he had to. He flew into town in the morning, met briefly with the Force players and officials, along with representatives of the Road Safety Commission (sponsor) and the WA Government, and was back on the flight to Sydney in time for the afternoon tea service. From all accounts, Bill’s visit provided no more certainty to anyone.
However, there was a much more important meeting which also took place on Tuesday – after Bill had boarded his plane back east.
That meeting was between the Force hierarchy and the club’s legal team, which is headed by leading silk Malcolm McCusker QC. And it resulted in one of the most critical decisions made to date in the Australian Super Rugby Saga.
After much discussion, by late evening those at the meeting had agreed that instead of advancing their legal claim against the ARU in a hearing scheduled for 10am today in the WA Supreme Court, they would instead agree to an independent arbitration process with the ARU to “fast track” a resolution. (Note: Presumably the term “fast track” is being used in the context of the glacial-like speed of the judicial system).
The arbitration hearing is scheduled to be held in the week commencing 31 July and could take up to a week. At issue will be whether the ARU, under its alliance agreement with the Force, has any legal grounds to even consider culling the Perth team from the Super Rugby competition before the current broadcasting agreement ends in 2020. Keep in mind that Malcolm McCusker agreed to act for the Force pro-bono after reviewing that alliance agreement, so you’d have to think (or at least hope) it is a pretty clearly-worded and unambiguous document.
While the week starting July 31 is still a while away, it will of course give the ARU negotiators more time to continue their now very hush-hush discussions with Rebels owner Andrew Cox to buy back his Super Rugby licence – which, despite all the denials, remains a very live option.
To your columnist, Cox still has the look of a willing seller trying to maximise his commercial leverage. And despite all the bluff and bluster, his financial outlook as owner of the Rebels is no less dire – his team is still losing (his) money with no sign of a turnaround on the horizon. What’s more, it is difficult to even contemplate the scale of the backlash which would occur if the ARU was to axe the Force for financial reasons, only to then be forced to provide further financial support to a private businessman to keep the Rebels afloat…
The other issue to be played out before the arbitration hearing remains the process being run in South Africa to decide which two Super Rugby teams from the republic face the axe. That decision – and the aftermath – is scheduled for later this month.
Stay tuned…