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 entered a potentially decisive phase yesterday when the governing body and the Western Force went into arbitration.
The Melbourne Rebels were always unlikely to be closed down given it would cost anything up to A$13million (R136.285m) 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 the Waratahs and after the match Andrew Forrest, one of Australia’s richest men, came down onto the pitch to pledge his support.
Yesterday, the Force announced that support had been manifest in an offer of interest-free loans for thousands of fans who have said they will buy team shares, with the money repaid to Rugby WA rather than the mining billionaire.
“We are looking forward to sitting down with Andrew to work through the implementation of the proposal,” Rugby WA chairman Tony Howarth said in a news release.
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. That could leave the ARU in the invidious position of having to return to their partners in Sanzaar – South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina – and tell them they are unable to get rid of one of the teams.
That scenario has not been ruled out by ARU chairman Cameron Clyne, even if they are still committed to the cull. The Australian players’ union, which has understandably been vehemently opposed to the loss of an entire team’s worth of roster positions, has suggested replacing Super Rugby with a new competition without the South Africans.
Union boss Ross Xenos said there was no “clear vision” for the future of Super Rugby and proposed a new competition post-2020 featuring teams from Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the Pacific islands.