Australia’s Super Rugby cull heads to arbitration
SYDNEY: The Australian Rugby Union’s messy and protracted process of axing one of its five Super Rugby teams enters a potentially decisive phase today, when the governing body and the Western Force go into arbitration.
The ARU said in mid-April that the Perth-based Force or Melbourne Rebels would be culled, along with two teams from South Africa, to allow the southern hemisphere competition to contract from 18 back to 15 sides for the 2018 season.
Their initial hopes of an announcement within “48 to 72 hours” were quickly dashed when the Force, overwhelming favourites for the chop, launched legal action to defend their position.
The Rebels were always unlikely to be closed down, given that it would cost anything up to A$13 million (about R135-million) to buy out the franchise’s private owner and pay back the Victorian state government for their investment in the game.
That remains a prohibitive sum, given the cull was initially embarked upon as a cost-cutting exercise, aimed at allowing the ARU to focus investment and talent on the remaining four teams, as well as the struggling grass roots.
The Force concluded their Super Rugby season with an emotional 40-11 victory over New South Wales Waratahs. After the match, Andrew Forrest, one of Australia’s richest men, came down onto the pitch to pledge his support.
Regardless of how or whether the initiative works, any backing for the Force is potentially bad news for the cash-strapped ARU, who are already facing mounting legal bills.
Their lawyers should be prepared for an even bigger windfall should the arbitrators find in favour of the Force and their contention that they were guaranteed Super Rugby until 2020 under the terms of an ARU takeover last year. – Reuters