West Australian ARU board member Geoff Stooke confirmed his resignation on Saturday night, blasting the governing body over the Super Rugby process.
Stooke was the only board member who voted against axing a Super Rugby team back in April, 124 days ago, and recused himself from much of the process.
In a statement on Saturday night, Stooke said he asked last week to no longer be recused but said in his resignation statement that ARU chairman Cameron Clyne told him that was impossible.
Stooke described the ARU’s financial argument as ‘outrageous’ citing figures of Rebels’ losses amounting to close to $30 million, $17.5 million of that footed by the ARU, as opposed to the Force’s $5.5 million strain on the national body.
“To introduce financial criteria that have nothing to do with the financial viability of each term is less than appropriate,” he said.
Stooke had served as RugbyWA chairman from 1988 to 2011 before joining the national board but said his opposition to the process and the ultimate decision was separate to his past.
“Recent events have been difficult for me & I have fought strongly to retain five Super teams, to honour various commitments to players, fans, governments, sponsors & others, to maintain a national footprint for our game & to avoid possible expensive
& brand damaging legal actions,” he said.
“It was not simply me trying to save the Western Force because of my previous association with that team.
“I strongly believe it is not strategically sound to remove a team, particularly given recent positive financial initiatives with the two ‘at risk’ teams.”
Stooke said he felt the ARU had caved in to certain vocal groups at the grassroots level.
“This decision is not about the financial viability of teams but an opportunity to reallocate financial resources in what I believe is in response to pressure and demands from
various vocal rugby interest groups in relation to community rugby funding,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the demands were not fact based but the damage is now done.
“Of course, we would like to invest more in grassroots & other areas but removing a Super team to do this is not the answer.”
Though ARU CEO Bill Pulver said on Friday their analysis had been ‘exhaustive’, Stooke’s view was the opposite.
“An appropriate consultation process was never in place & in my view the Western Force was always being targeted for removal,” he said.
“This was simply because they were seen to be the easiest to remove contractually but they were not the team that deserved to be removed.
“The process lacked due diligence & contained significant levels of bias.
“The Australian Rugby Union is the custodian of the game of rugby in Australia, not simply the custodian of the business of rugby.”
Mining billionaire Andrew Forrest added to Stooke’s statement, calling for the current board to follow Pulver in stepping down.
“I, like members of the sporting community all over Australia, demand a complete overhaul of the board,” he said.
“The ARU insists the process used, to choose a team to axe, was critical to the future of Australian rugby.
“However, if such a decision was made through an unfair and, what is emerging slowly to light, a secretive process then the Chair, and the remaining board members, must stand aside immediately.”