rugby league painting by James Brennan

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The rugby league world watched and applauded the formation of the ARL Independent Commission last week – a new administrative body to replace the NRL and ARL. [art by James Brennan]

For several years, commentators and fans alike were angered by those who opposed the move and remained excited by the proposal put forward by the 16 NRL clubs.

Finally, they asserted, the game will be controlled by a truly independent body.

But as the 16 NRL clubs moved to formalise their alliance this week it is becoming clearer that the doomsdayers were right. Rugby league in Australia has not been liberated – it has been stolen.

You see, in the post-Super League era, the NRL was jointly owned by News Ltd and the ARL. The ARL used funds generated from the NRL competition to provide for the hundreds of grassroots clubs.

As the Independent Commission replaces both the NRL and the ARL, most people expect them to continue to provide for the regions and for the game’s future.

However, while the NSWRL, CRL and QRL still have votes on the NRL IC’s make-up, the 16 NRL clubs have a greater vote. So long as they vote together as a bloc, these 16 NRL clubs can remove any commissioner they choose – irrespective of the wishes of the league bodies that represent the other hundreds of clubs.

One week after the NRL IC began, this week’s announcement that the 16 NRL clubs are formalising their alliance (perhaps through a registered company) is the final detail to control the game’s resources.

The NRL commissioners will determine those funds that will be dispersed to the leagues and those that will be given to the 16 NRL clubs.

They will decide whether some of the current 16 NRL clubs will be removed from the NRL competition – or whether they will remain. But as it is the 16 NRL clubs that now determine the fate of each of the commissioners themselves, these decisions are already clear.

In its current form, the NRL IC will serve the objectives of the 16 NRL clubs – and this can only be at the expense of the grassroots clubs and of the game itself.

The deniers of this inevitable truth will be plentiful, but the facts of the NRL are not disputed. Commissioners cannot vote against the 16 NRL clubs’ wishes if they are removed from their post.

Altruism was a luxury afforded to the ARL, but not the NRL IC.

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