Geoffrey Stooke OAM
At the recent Annual General Meeting of RugbyWA, I had the privilege of being elected to the position of Joint Patron of RugbyWA. It is also a privilege that I share the position with my fellow Joint Patron, Malcolm McCusker AC CVO- a distinguished Western Australian and passionate rugby supporter.
The events of the past twelve months have been very difficult and challenging for the Western Australian rugby community and the Western Australian community in general. The loss of the Western Force from the Super Rugby competition was a devastating blow to rugby in Western Australia and it resulted in rugby losing any legitimacy to having a truly national footprint.
A feeling of loss was felt by many and my feeling of loss was profound, given I was Chairman of RugbyWA for twenty-three years and Chaired the Committee that successfully bid in 2004 for the fourth Australian Super Rugby team to be based in Perth. I also resigned from the Board of the Australian Rugby Union (now Rugby Australia) following the announcement on 11 August 2017 to remove the Western Force. Importantly, this because I believed the process to remove a team was manifestly flawed and not simply because of the outcome.
However, that is now history and we in Western Australia must move on and we must ensure the future of rugby in Western Australia. This includes the future of elite rugby in Western Australia and the development and maintenance of rugby pathways for all rugby participants in our state- men, women, boys and girls. We can’t simply get angry about what has occurred, we must fight back!
This ‘fight back’ can be demonstrated in various ways but one significant way is to all get behind and support the ‘new’ Western Force.
Through the generous support of Andrew and Nicola Forrest and the Minderoo Foundation, the ‘new’ Western Force has been established. A core of elite players has been recruited and they will be complimented by outstanding local talent. The team will provide the pathway to elite rugby for local players and those through the Future Force Foundation.
The team will be competing in World Series Rugby matches over the next few months. These matches will be against international and elite teams from Australia, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, New Zealand and Japan. It is going to be exciting and entertaining rugby.
All matches will be at nib Stadium and our support of these matches could largely determine the future of elite rugby in Western Australia. Please be there to support your Western Force!
Whilst the Western Force did not deserve to be removed from Super Rugby, the dwindling support for the team was certainly a factor that did not assist in its retention. Our attendances at home games had dropped from an average of 25,000 per game in 2006 to around 10,000 per game in recent times. Too many people who were angry and upset when the team was removed, had not attended many games at nib Stadium. We cannot allow this to happen again.
The future of the Western Force will largely depend on the support it receives from the Western Australian rugby community!
The Super Rugby competition continues to struggle with poor crowd attendances and poor television ratings. Some crowds have been less than 6,000 and few over 10,000. The structure of
elite rugby in Australia, after the end of the current broadcasting agreement, is likely to be a lot different to what exists at present with the Super Rugby competition. An opportunity exists for World Series Rugby, the Western Force and Western Australia to play a lead role in developing Australia’s future elite rugby competitions. However, to do this Western Australia needs to demonstrate that the necessary support is here.
That simply means supporting all World Series Rugby games at nib Stadium this year!
The first game is against Fiji on Friday 4 May 2018, with the kick off at 6.30pm. Please join the captain, Ian Prior, the coach, Tim Sampson, and the team as they commence an exciting new phase of elite rugby in Western Australia. Join the now famous ‘Sea of Blue’ and demonstrate to Australian rugby that the game is alive & well in Western Australia- the Member Union with the third largest playing population in Australia! Demonstrate that elite rugby can succeed in Western Australia, despite the treatment Western Australia has received in recent times.
With apologies to Uncle Sam and JFK, I leave you with the following:
‘YOUR TEAM AND STATE NEEDS YOU!!’
We look forward to seeing you at the games.
Yours in Rugby,