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ARU expresses ‘concern’ over Super Rugby senate inquiry

The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) has expressed its surprise at the news it will face a senate inquiry over its conduct in the affair that has seen the Western Force franchise cut from the Super Rugby competition, adding that the Australian government’s entrance into the matter is “concerning” for the entire sports industry.

Western Australia senator Linda Reynolds put forward a motion in the national Senate on Wednesday, which was carried, to probe the ARU’s decision-making process and transparency surrounding it.

The development came after billionaire mining tycoon Andrew Forrest this week announced plans to establish a rebel rugby union competition after the Western Force failed in a court appeal to remain in Super Rugby.

Forrest, who has supported the Force’s legal battle to stay in Super Rugby, said that the new Indo-Pacific competition would feature six teams from “key countries” across the region. He added that the competition would begin with an international game, although he urged Force players to “stay strong” to give him time to be fully briefed.

The Force had appealed against the ARU’s decision to axe the franchise by claiming in an arbitration process that the club had signed an agreement with the union to guarantee a place in Super Rugby through to the end of the current media-rights deal in 2020. However, the ARU said that a new media-rights deal would be in place from 2018 due to the tournament contracting.

Following news of the senate inquiry, the ARU issued a statement today (Thursday) in which chairman Cameron Clyne (pictured) said: “ARU has absolutely no concerns about the integrity of the process that has been run. While it is a highly unusual step for Government to single out a national sporting organisation for this type of process, particularly when there is no policy or legislation under review in relation to Australian Rugby, we welcome the opportunity to address the committee.

“To-date the ARU has enjoyed a productive working relationship with the Federal Government. Throughout, the Government has made it abundantly clear that it does not want to interfere with the way in which sports operate and make decisions, but it appears this stance has now changed – this is a concern for the entire industry.

“Certainly, there will be questions asked as to whether an inquiry like this is a suitable use of public funds.”

The Force and Melbourne Rebels had initially emerged as the two Australian franchises under threat, with one of the country’s five Super Rugby teams facing the axe as part of a restructuring of Super Rugby from 2018 that will reduce the total number of teams from 18 to 15.

Two South African teams, the Cheetahs and Southern Kings, have also left Super Rugby – which is operated by Sanzaar, the umbrella organisation of major southern hemisphere rugby unions – to join what has become the European Pro14 for the 2017-18 season.