HomeNewsBusinessRugby UnionAustralia

ARU faces down call for chairman’s exit over Western Force affair

The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) has today (Wednesday) hit back at calls for chairman Cameron Clyne to resign over the decision to axe Western Force from the Super Rugby club competition, denying claims that he had lied about the reasons behind the move.

New South Wales Supreme Court judge David Hammerschlag last week granted Rugby Western Australia leave to appeal the ARU’s decision to axe the Western Force from Super Rugby, with a verdict in the case expected as soon as this week.

RugbyWA claims that the ARU has broken an agreement to guarantee a place for the Force in Super Rugby until December 2020. Mining tycoon Andrew Forrest made a A$50m (€33m/$39m) offer to the ARU to keep the Force in the tournament. However, the ARU rejected the offer and decided to stick with its original decision, which was confirmed following the conclusion of a lengthy arbitration hearing earlier this month.

In the latest development in what has become an increasingly bitter battle, Forrest said he has obtained legal advice sent to the ARU board in February stating the Force was the best team to cut because the legal risk was low.

Dropping either the Brumbies or Melbourne Rebels without cause was said to constitute an unlawful termination, but the documents are said to outline “no legal obligation” to retain the Force once a broadcast rights deal was renegotiated.

“What I saw in that document dated late February made the whole thing a lie,” Forrest said, according to the Daily Telegraph newspaper. “It shows clearly that in late February this year, the advice was received and taken to cut the Western Force for no other reason apart from legal advice. 

“The Western Force was set up to be ambushed. It was going to be bullied into submission. I will always stand up to bullies, and I will always stand against injustice. And a great injustice was about to be wreaked on the Western Force. I call on Cameron Clyne (pictured) to resign. I call on the board of the ARU to drop the charade, keep the Western Force, let’s all move on and make this fabulous game very successful.”

The Force and Rebels had 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 will become the European Pro14 from next season.

Responding to Forrest’s comments, Clyne said: “The decision to discontinue the Super Rugby licence of the Western Force was made by the ARU Board on August 11, 2017 and this was communicated publicly immediately when that decision was made.

“For the record, RugbyWA has been provided several opportunities to put its best business case for the Western Force to the ARU Board, from April 10 right up until our final request for this information on August 2, 2017.

“Andrew, in his press conference this morning, referred to a document or documents which indicated that a decision had been made to remove the Western Force in February. This was not the case and there are no documents which contain this information.”