Rebel risk assessment: The ARU’s nightmare

Dave Roar Rookie

By Dave, Dave is a Roar Rookie

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    History provides the greatest catalogue of lessons worth learning and applying.

    In the matter whether to favour the Melbourne Rebels or Western Force to be cut from Super Rugby, well, it has already been comprehensively dealt with.

    Wind back the clock, folks, to October 2004.

    That’s when the ARU under chief executive Gary Flowers undertook an intense scrutiny of bids to provide Australia’s fourth Super rugby franchise.

    On October 20 it culled the also-rans and declared a final showdown between Perth and Melbourne. Each state association was given a month to finalise its bid, including existing and future funding, and the proposals were presented to the ARU for a vote and decision on ten December.

    The Force bid was selected on the basis of greater community support and financial sustainability.

    The VRU proposal relied heavily on a raft of sponsors engaged in short-term State Government projects such as roads, giving rise to concern they were there for show only, whereas the Force landed Emirates as major sponsor, backed up by mining money.

    For several seasons, the Force worked well, albeit despite some horrible mistakes… Firepower, anybody?

    David Pocock (left) captain of the Western Force and coach Richard Graham. AAP Image/Paul Miller

    Re-enter John O’Neill. His second stint as ARU chief was not nearly as successful as his first, when he filled the organisation’s coffers with World Cup money.

    During his reign, the Force lost union funding for its academy and was lumped with coach Richard Graham, before what out West was considered the great betrayal: the creation of the Melbourne Rebels, complete with start-up benefits not given to the Force in 2006.

    That’s when rugby fans in Perth really started to debate whether the ARU was fair dinkum about the Force, and many let their feet do the talking.

    Did former banker O’Neill simply count the respective number of autobanks in each city, or did he truly consider the difficulty of taking on the AFL head to head in its own citadel?

    If he did, and thought he would succeed as he had done with World Cup campaigns in two sports, it was a mighty case of hubris.

    Right now the AFL will be delighted the Rebels exist. The club is bleeding dry its parent body. Perhaps the gurus of the SMH with strong connections into North Sydney can discover exactly how much money the ARU has spent propping up the Rebels and Force respectively per year of existence.

    Keep in mind the AFL is still maintaining a watching brief of the situation in Melbourne, whereas the WA Football Commission was overtly hostile to the Force for the first four years until rugby departed for Members Equity Stadium, curtailing the embarrassment of periodically outdrawing the Dockers at Subiaco Oval.

    When the true financials are published, let the experts then ask if the ARU has a big enough war chest to win the Battle of Melbourne against the AFL?

    Two words: no chance. If the ARU gambles and loses in Melbourne, it could itself become a bankrupted footnote in sporting history.

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