Rebels issue extraordinary statement to ARU

Super Rugby
by Sam Phillips and Beth Newman

The Rebels have issued an extraordinary statement which "unequivocally rejects" the ARU's right to "cut" or "chop" them from Super Rugby in 2018.

The statement, which is penned by the Melbourne Rebels Rugby Union board, calls upon the ARU to "immediately state" that the Rebels are safe amid speculation they could be cut from the competition as part of the restructured 15-team competition next year.

Their fury, according to the statement, seems partly rooted in the fact that ARU chairman Cameron Clyne revealed the national body had long believed the five-team structure was unsustainable, and failed to mention that when selling the franchise to Andrew Cox’s company Imperium Sports Management.

Last Sunday evening, ARU Chair Cameron Clyne advised MRRU Chair Jonathan Ling that the ARU had decided to reduce the Australian representation from five to four teams and, further, that the Brumbies were ‘safe’ and that either the Rebels or the Force would be “cut”," the statement reads.

"This was contrary to advice that MRRU had previously received from ARU management.The future of the Rebels has been up in the air since Sunday. Photo: Getty Images"We unequivocally reject that the ARU has any ability to “chop” or “cut” (ARU words) the Melbourne Rebels Super Rugby licence.

"Any representation by the ARU, including its Chairman, to that effect is legally incorrect and in complete conflict with the constitution of the ARU.

"The ARU’s continued use of these terms and perpetuation of this myth continues to cause significant damage to MRRU and its players and staff."

The conflict with the constitution that is referenced suggests the ARU is in breach of is section 3.2 (d), which reads: “The Company may expel or suspend a Voting Member by a resolution passed at a general meeting of the company by a unanimous vote of all voting members, other than the Voting Member proposed to be expelled …”

The voting members are the state and territory rugby unions, the Super Rugby licensees and the Rugby Union Players Association.Rebels owner Andrew Cox, pictured here with Ian Botham, questioned the ARU's decision earlier this week. Photo: Getty ImagesThe Rebels are a voting member but the Force, who are controlled by the ARU, are not.

So, in theory, if the ARU decided to "cut" the Rebels, the Victorian Rugby Union, which is also a member, would have to vote against it.

Given the unlikelihood of such an event, the ballot would theoretically stand very little chance of passing.

"MRRU is steadfast in its stance that the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) does not have the legal right to ‘cut’ MRRU from the competition and that MRRU is in full compliance with the requirements of its Super Rugby Participation Deed," the statement reads.

"Further, MRRU will continue to perform all of its responsibilities to the Australian Rugby Union under its licence, and fully expects the Australian Rugby Union to do the same."

The statement then goes into detail about how the board believes the continued speculation is detrimental to the value of the club and that the MRRU would "seek compensation".Amanaki Mafi and the Rebels face the 'chop'. Photo: Getty Images"Patently through no fault of our own MRRU has suffered significant damage (financial, reputational, commercial and personal) by the ARU’s handling of this whole process and its unnecessary public statements and actions," it reads.

"Given these actions MRRU has notified the ARU of its intention to seek compensation and at this time has reserved all rights."

It also questions the ARU's call to draw surplus funds from the broadcast deal, stating that it should go to the Super Rugby licence holders.

"This money is generated by the Super Rugby licencees and should be going back to the Super Rugby licence holders on an equal basis to ensure that they can be financially independent going forward – a stated ARU objective.

"Growth of the game at all levels relies heavily on the success and sustainability of the Super Rugby teams and with their success will come greater participation and a profile for the game.

"The ARU has substantial revenue outside of this broadcast money and a judicious and unbiased allotment of this money will be sufficient to fund the direct investment they wish to allocate to the grassroots level of the game."

This latest jab from the Rebels follows the Force’s legal action against their potential culling - the WA franchise filing for an injunction over the ARU’s move with the belief that their 2016 alliance agreement protected them until the end of the current broadcast deal in 2020.

Clyne said later in the week that circumstances had changed since that agreement.

When the ARU announced that either the Force or the Rebels would be cut from Super Rugby in 2018, Clyne said the decision would be finalised in ’48-72 hours’, a deadline that was scrapped just a day later with the Force’s fury over a meeting that presented ‘inconsistent’ criteria to decide their fate.

This saga, already into its ninth month after SANZAAR first announced a competition review, looks far from over as the two franchises battle for survival.

The ARU is yet to respond to the statement, which came as a surprise to many on Friday night.