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Australian Rugby Union under threat as influential group pursues rebel competition

10 September 2017 1:14 AM
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The Australian Rugby Union is under threat — squeezed by a Senate inquiry and a small but well connected and influential group pursuing a rebel competition that is more closely aligned with World Rugby's vision for global expansion than its own.

A motion tabled by Liberal senator for Western Australia Linda Reynolds was carried this week without dissent and will look into the facts around the ARU's decision to axe the Western Force from the Super Rugby competition.

Senator Reynolds told The Ticket she had discussions with mining magnate Andrew Forrest — who is expected to bankroll the rebel competition — and with Federal Sports Minister Greg Hunt.

"Look I have discussed it with Minister Hunt but I think the important point to note is this is an inquiry of the Senate, not of the Government," she said.

"I have had some discussions with Andrew Forrest directly but most of my discussions have been with Rugby WA and also with Western Force officials.

"The sport is federally funded, in fact quite handsomely federally funded, and West Australian taxpayers have also put in over $120 million into supporting rugby union in WA so we want to know what's happened."

The Australian Sports Commission's investment allocation for 2017-2018 shows Rugby Australia will receive $2,176,629 from the Federal Government, an increase of about $500,000 due to the success of the Australian women's sevens team winning the Olympic gold medal in Rio last year.

"Clearly I think the best result would be is if Western Force was able to be re-instated into the ARU but we'll have to wait and see," Senator Reynolds said.

The three-person rebel competition steering committee features Mr Forrest, recently resigned ARU board member Geoffrey Stooke and the first WA-born Wallaby, now-investment banker John Welborn.

Mr Stooke told The Ticket several nations in the region have strong rugby foundations and are ripe for regular, international competition.

"Well I think China is the most obvious one given that rugby is now one of the official sports of their military forces," he said.

"There's been a massive amount of money injected into rugby in the last couple of years.

"South Korea's quite strong, obviously there's Hong Kong, Singapore — they're all very strong in rugby — and I think the opportunity to grow would see them as being possible candidates for this competition.

"I think World Rugby has demonstrated a desire to take rugby to the Asian region and certainly what's been proposed will do that."

Standing in the way is the globally accepted tradition that any competition requires the sanctioning of the national and international governing bodies — in this case the ARU and World Rugby.

The ARU would not comment on the rebel competition when asked and World Rugby referred The Ticket back to the ARU.

While the rebel competition is not viewed positively by the ARU it does mirror the world body's desire to expand and invest in the Asian region.

Last year, at the Shanghai launch of a $100 million national investment into rugby, World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper said he believed China was in a strong position to become a major force on the international stage.

"World rugby's strategic mission is to grow the global rugby family, China is central to that mission," Mr Gosper said.

Mr Stooke is convinced the Indo-Pac competition will find a way through the sport's monopoly.

"I can't really give you an idea of the push back we will get," he said.

"One would hope it'd be encouraged given that Western Australia has been cut off from the rest of Australia.

"However, we'll be pushing on regardless of any pushback we may get there and we'll certainly be talking to national unions throughout Asia and I know there's probably more than six teams that we intend to start with who are keen to participate."

Also read: Justine Damond: Police union boss defends officer who killed Australian woman

Source: abc.net.au

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