How the west was lost – and won

Daren Weippert Roar Rookie

By , Daren Weippert is a Roar Rookie

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    Let’s be clear: the ARU was always going to make the wrong decision. This is sadly not a surprise, but it demonstrates the lack of vision and courage that exists within the ARU.

    Today the ARU unintentionally committed a strong act of patriotism by cutting the Western Force.

    The Australian southern capitals have a long history of embracing our unique indigenous game of Australian rules football. Before the AFL emerged to unite almost all of the Australian states with representative teams in a national competition, Victoria, the birth place of Aussie Rules; Tasmania; South Australia; and Western Australia already had their own professional leagues for the great Australian sport.

    Today, in a move that can only be described as short-sighted, the ARU decided to make an ERU-centric decision – ERU meaning ‘eastern rugby union’, which is what West Australians, when they bother to mention it at all, will now call the ARU – and cut the Western Force out of the competition.

    Champagne corks must have been flying all over the AFL offices in Docklands, as this was surely a major victory for our unique domestic football code, hence the act of ‘patriotism’.

    This is a momentous win for the AFL, who have been spending tens of millions of dollars Australia-wide to ensure that their brand of football, Aussie rules, was number one in the hearts, minds and, most importantly, the wallets of all Australians. Thanks to the ARU’s decision to cut the Western Force and alienate that entire state, blackening their hearts and minds against rugby, the AFL can once again take solace that they remain the dominant football code in WA.

    Recently both Western Australia AFL franchises have featured in AFL grand finals and a new AFL stadium in Perth is scheduled to open for the 2018 AFL season, so with the ARU turning their backs on the people of Western Australia, who had spent over a decade building passion and support for their team and for rugby at the grassroots level, they can all forget about rugby union and go back to comfortably supporting the one footy code that they love – and the sport whose governing body loves them right back.

    Many who believe the Melbourne Rebels should have been cut because rugby will never be the number one sport in Victoria are wrong. They’re not wrong about rugby never being the top sport there – it never will be – but that is superficial reasoning.

    Rugby does not need to be the top sport code in each state, but it does need to be a viable option. The Force should stay so that kids growing up in WA have a team to aspire to as they progress through grassroots rugby in their home state. The same goes for Victoria – kids in Victoria need to have that professional side to aspire to.

    Having the current Wallabies play in Perth and Melbourne and visit for clinics will continue with more notoriety if there is a professional team in these cities to serve as the conduit. What Australian rugby does not need is two teams in the New South Wales catchment, including the ACT, if Western Australia or Victoria don’t have even one.

    (Image: Will Russell/Getty Images)

    What the ARU needed to do – and what it was never going to do – was cut the Brumbies.

    Yes, they are the most successful side in Australian rugby history, but who cares? The media, the ARU and sporting officials nationwide tell us daily that we need to keep our hearts in check because in the 21st century sport is a business.

    The Melbourne Rebels, until some recent slick dealing, were privately owned, playing in a nice new(ish) stadium and not costing the ARU anything. The Western Force are backed by the Western Australia government and a local billionaire. Companies are lining up to open their wallets and offer sponsorship money to the Waratahs, and the Reds seem to be on solid financial footing.

    That brings us to the Brumbies, who are perpetually tap dancing on the edge of financial ruin. Their stadium is a lick of mud between two dirt mounds with some bleacher seats on two sides, woefully outdated and clearly inaccessible to Brumbies fans since they couldn’t even get there to sell out a recent Super Rugby final against the Hurricanes.

    If these first two facts were not enough of a sign that the Brumbies are cooked – and disposable – the third should have been the nail in their coffin. ow can the ARU overlook that level of antipathy for the Brumbies and instead cut loose the passionate Western Force supporters?

    The Brumbies could easily have been cut and nobody would have cared – and by nobody I mean only the smallest percentage of the Australian rugby ticket-buying public. Sure, George Gregan would be on Kick and Chase every week railing against it, and Rod Kafer would have to be put on suicide watch, as he tears up anytime a penalty is called against the Wallabies or Brumbies in a match, but other than them there would be no major drawbacks.

    So the Brumbies couldn’t sell out a home final against a New Zealand rival, one of the most exciting teams in the world to watch play, and the Brumbies ‘faithful’ couldn’t even be bothered to come out to support their team in their home stadium. The ACT isn’t that big; they can’t hide behind the excuse of it being too far to drive to the game. No, they only have their lack of interest, their lack of passion, to point to as the reason that their home final was not sold out and heaving with Brumbies supporters. Shame!

    But the ARU took what they perceived as the easy way out and cut the team in Western Australia. As long as they don’t venture west of the Blue Mountains, they will never have to look a Western Force fan in the face – they can stay safely tucked in their Sydney offices and pretend that the Western Force never existed, and down in Melbourne, among the offices currently filled by the sound of popping champagne corks and joyous slaps on the back, the AFL is hoping that West Australians will forget that the ARU ever existed, too.