Shortly before 2pm today, your correspondent broke the sad news to the rugby world that RugbyWA had lost the arbitration case with the ARU. Within minutes of that story being posted, the ARU had moved to axe the Force from the Super Rugby competition.
But as your columnist suggested at the time, the game is not over. As the Force’s billionaire backer Andrew Forrest surmised: “This could be a try against us, but it’s not the end of the game.”
As flagged earlier today, expect a Supreme Court appeal and injunction to be lodged later tonight, or soon thereafter (weather permitting). And just as your columnist predicted, the WA Government has also confirmed it is examining the undertakings provided by the ARU in relation to the funding commitments made to upgrade nib Stadium.
Don’t be surprised if a very pre-eminent QC by the name of Allan Myers pops up in the Force’s corner.
When there is a seismic upheaval of the magnitude which has occurred today in Australian rugby, someone must die. (Figuratively speaking of course). And when the dust finally settles on this saga, your columnist believes that someone will be the institution formerly known as the ARU.
The writing is already on the wall. Since the decision to attempt to axe the Force was made, the ARU has degenerated into what former Prime Minister Paul Keating might refer to as “unrepresentative swill.” The condemnation of the ARU’s decision is universal. And the list of casualties is mounting. ARU chief executive Bill Pulver has tendered his resignation, becoming the third ARU executive with fingerprints all over this sordid affair to flee the ARU. How’s that for accountability.
Long-serving ARU director Geoff Stooke, who has been sidelined by the rest of the ARU Board throughout this affair, has resigned in disgust. Here’s a couple of interesting lines from Stookey’s resignation letter:
“I never wanted to throw any team under the bus, but to create a situation that considers retaining a team that has lost almost $30million (including nearly $17.5million additional cost to the ARU) since 2011 at the expense of a team that has incurred additional cost to the ARU of only $5.5million since 2005 is outrageous! We should be rewarding success not failure. To introduce financial criteria that have nothing to do with the financial viability of each term is less than appropriate.”
“An appropriate consultation process was never in place & in my view the Western Force was always being targeted for removal. This was simply because they were seen to be the easiest to remove contractually but they were not the team that deserved to be removed. The process lacked due diligence & contained significant levels of bias.”
“I was opposed to the inclusion of an Argentinian team & a Japanese team in Super Rugby. Without doubt, the failure of such an unwieldy, unattractive & more expensive competition has contributed to the demise of an Australian Super Rugby team & the future demise of rugby in Western Australia. They did not deserve this!”
Those comments cut straight to the heart of the issue – which is that the decision to axe the Force does not stand up to any sort of scrutiny whatsoever, financial or otherwise.
Put simply, today’s decision by the ARU does not go even close to passing the pub test. In fact, it wouldn’t even make it through the front door of most public bars. And that is why, in your columnist’s view, the Force will survive. And the ARU won’t. As former Wallaby Brendan Cannon stated tonight: “Everyone must follow Bill Pulver out the door.”