RUPA CEO Ross Xenos says ‘disrespect’ from East Coast clubs towards the ARU may have sparked the process that led to cutting a Super Rugby team.
Xenos appeared at the senate inquiry into the future of Australian rugby and suggested that the ARU’s decision to cut a Super Rugby team may have been partly in response to criticism of its grassroots strategy.
The ARU was forced to review its five-year strategic plan after vocal criticism from former players last year and Xenos said that may have been a contributing factor into this year’s decision.
“I think the domestic context of this conversation is important because there has been for a number of years, a groundswell of significant disrespect from various grassroots stakeholders particularly on the East Coast to the ARU,” he said.
“I strongly believe the ARU has felt the need to respond to the way that those grassroots stakeholders perceive the ARU and also to be seen to be doing more for those grassroots stakeholders.
“I believe the pressure from SANZAAR may have come at an opportune time to be able to perhaps message it back to the grassroots that there was in fact a win for them in the rationalisation of the competition model.
“I guess the challenge with that view, that we would posit,” is how can we claim that grassroots is winning, when we have taken a professional team out of a state.
“Because the grassroots of that state are suffering intolerably.”
Xenos said that to-and-fro that had occurred was reflective of a wider conflict in Australian rugby, where clubs and the national body have clashed.
"If we look at the structures within Australian rugby, we have not really adapted any of our underpinning competitions or platforms to embrace professionalism,” he said.
“To the point where it could be said club rugby on the EC has never really fallen into an integrated pathway in terms of how it supports the professional game and how it supports it.”
Though he maintained that RUPA’s stance was always to keep five teams, Xenos said a poor Super Rugby season had potentially limited the ARU’s ability to veto a decision at the SANZAAR level.
Xenos has often pointed to a report that recommended Australia move to a trans-Tasman competition with New Zealand and though he said the ARU had been receptive to that change, they had little power when it came to the wider SANZAAR.
“Those papers and conversations were always welcomed,” he said.
“At the same time, there were roadblocks presented by SANZAAR which made it very difficult for the ARU to press on beyond that.
“Where they struggled was their influence around the SANZAAR table and their capacity to convince the SANZAAR partners that perhaps Australian rugby’s best model was also a model that SANZAAR more broadly could adopt,” he said.
Asked about discrepancies in funding between each team, Xenos said the Force’s late call for a loan in 2016 likely came at an unfortunate time, as the ARU began to move away from simply handing additional funding to teams, through loans.
WA Sports and Recreation Minister Mick Murray opened proceedings on Wednesday morning, with funding differences dominating the conversation.
The promise of a reported $25 million deal from the Victorian Government to the ARU was believed to be a key factor in the governing body’s financial projections when deciding on Autralia's Super Rugby future.
Murray said,though, the WA government had offered in June to restructure its own deal in a bid to try and keep the Force in the competition.
“The way I see it was things like Bledisloe Cup, funding could have been brought forward so if there was a shortfall of funding for the ARU, that could be covered off," he said.
“Those are a staged out process - it was spread out over some time. June 6 2017, negotiations were held.
“It wasn’t about providing additional funding, but rather rearranging it.”
“The whole idea was to keep the Bledisloe Cup going (in Perth) but also keep the Force in the ARU.
Victorian Rugby Union president Tim North and former ARU chief operating officer Rob Clarke will be the next to speak to the committee, via teleconference.