WA ARU board member resigns, Forrest demands complete overhaul

Josh Elliott Editor

By Josh Elliott, Josh Elliott is a Roar Editor

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    Western Australian ARU board member Geoffrey Stooke has resigned from his position in protest of the ARU’s decision to cut the Western Force from Super Rugby in 2018 and beyond.

    Stooke has accused the ARU board of reclusing him from all discussions regarding which Super Rugby team should be cut, and claims he is the sole ARU board member who voted against the decision to remove one Australian Super Rugby team from the competition.

    Stooke released the following statement regarding his resignation on Saturday:

    At approximately 3.30pm (WST) yesterday afternoon I resigned from the Australian Rugby Union Board.

    I did this as a consequence of the Australian Rugby Union Board’s decision to remove the Western Force from the Super Rugby competition. I did not participate in this decision, as over the past two months I had been recused from all Board meetings, teleconferences & discussions on the Super Rugby ‘culling’ process. Yesterday I advised that I would no longer recuse myself but the Chairman believed I couldn’t do that & agreed to provide me legal advice supporting his opinion. It was never forthcoming.

    I joined the Board in 2012 as the Director nominated by the ‘Other Member Unions’ & I was subsequently reappointed as an Independent Director when the major governance reform occurred. I would like to sincerely the ‘Other Member Unions’ for their early support & all Members of the Australian Rugby Union for their ongoing support.

    Whilst I always acted in the best interests of all Australian rugby, my background has enabled me to also offer contributions with a perspective that included the needs & issues relating to the community game, Super Rugby & non-heartland Member Unions.

    Over the five & a half years I have been on the Board, there have been times when I have had very different views on issues to those of some of my fellow Board members & those of management. However, I always believed it was better that I be ‘inside the tent’ rather than offering commentary from ‘outside the tent’. Importantly, whilst I expressed my views within the Board, once decisions were taken I then supported them privately & publicly. As was my fiduciary responsibility!

    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. 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.

    Sadly, I lost the battle & I was the only dissenting vote on the Board earlier in the year when the Board resolved to remove a team. This resolution was subsequently supported by an extraordinary meeting of the Australian Rugby Union.
    Today’s decision means that over sixty players & staff will lose their jobs, have their families disrupted, a Member Union will lose its elite rugby team & the pathway to elite rugby for Western Australian players will be lost. I believe they all deserved better. We can talk about investing in this & that but just remember, we are not talking about a corporate overhead but a team that is made up of hardworking & committed people!

    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 & demands from various vocal rugby interest groups in relation to community rugby funding. Unfortunately, the demands were not fact base 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.

    I was opposed to the inclusion of an Argentinian team & a Japanese team in Super Rugby. Without doubt, the failure of such an unwieldy, unattractive & more expensive competition has contributed to the demise of an Australian Super Rugby team & the future demise of rugby in Western Australia. They did not deserve this!

    Opportunistically, concerns regarding the competition structure provided the leverage to negotiate the removal of an Australian team! Removing a Super team & retaining the same level of broadcasting revenue was attractive to some.
    When the Rebels were experiencing significant financial issues prior to private ownership, the need for a national footprint for our game & the avoidance of reputational damage were high priorities. Significant financial assistance was provided. This has certainly changed now, with the loss of our national footprint & the players, fans & supporters in Western Australia being denied the opportunity to watch live or play elite rugby in Perth.

    I never wanted to throw any team under the ‘bus’ but to create a situation that considers retaining a team that has lost almost $30million (including nearly $17.5million additional cost to the ARU) since 2011 at the expense of a team that has incurred additional cost to the ARU of only $5.5million since 2005 is outrageous! We should be rewarding success not failure. To introduce financial criteria that have nothing to do with the financial viability of each term is less than appropriate.

    An appropriate consultation process was never in place & in my view the Western Force was always being targeted for removal. 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.

    My passion & love for the game goes back over sixty years & has never diminished- & will not diminish! It has been a long journey with over 50 years playing, over 40 years coaching & over 30 years as an administrator. However, without a doubt today is my all-time low point in the game.

    However, my thoughts are with the people who will be impacted by this decision today. I wish them all the best in what I know is a difficult time. They may only be a ‘desk top study’ at St Leonards but they are real people, they are many & they deserved so much better.

    The Australian Rugby Union is the custodian of the game of rugby in Australia, not simply the custodian of the business of rugby.

    In conclusion, all the best to RugbyWA in their future efforts to address the very difficult events of today.

    Kind regards,
    Geoffrey Stooke OAM

    Force benefactor Andrew Forrest was quoted in a RugbyWA statement shortly after, demanding sweeping change amongst the board.

    “I, like members of the sporting community all over Australia, demand a complete overhaul of the board,” Forrest said.

    “The ARU insists the process used, to choose a team to axe, was critical to the future of Australian rugby,” Forrest said.

    “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.”

    The remainder of the statement, released by RugbyWA, reads:

    The selection process, and board discussion, was made when one director – a Western Australian – was constantly excluded. This was not a fair and open decision and the Western Force have been denied the most basic principles of transparency and natural justice.

    Geoff Stooke quit the board in protest of the decision to axe the Western Force – the country’s second most successful team and one that has produced no less than six Wallabies this year.

    Mr Forrest said the ARU board has not published its reasons for its decision because it knows that it will be vilified for its lack of even the most basic credibility.

    It’s time to appoint an independent board to allow Super Rugby to have a chance to repair and to succeed and, that means, with the Western Force firmly in place.

    Josh Elliott
    Josh Elliott

    Josh Elliott may be The Roar's Weekend Editor, but at heart he's just a rusted-on North Melbourne tragic with a penchant for pun headlines - and also abnormal alliteration, assuredly; assuming achievability. He once finished third in a hot chilli pie eating contest. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshElliott_29 and listen to him on The Roar's AFL Podcast.

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    The Crowd Says (139)

    • August 12th 2017 @ 8:32pm
      Jules said | August 12th 2017 @ 8:32pm | ! Report

      So damning of the ARU..

      • August 13th 2017 @ 7:16am
        Rob Sinclair said | August 13th 2017 @ 7:16am | ! Report

        It is all about advertising money.

        There is none in Western Australia. Sorry.

        • August 13th 2017 @ 8:59am
          Bakkies said | August 13th 2017 @ 8:59am | ! Report

          Got another log in Turdy?

          • August 13th 2017 @ 10:41am
            matt dustby said | August 13th 2017 @ 10:41am | ! Report

            thats quite the statement

        • August 13th 2017 @ 11:28am
          Realist said | August 13th 2017 @ 11:28am | ! Report

          Forrest can pretend to be a hero as much as he likes however where was his support months and years ago when it was needed?
          The Force are gone for the next few years but one day they may come back in a different form (hopefully with a better name).
          A good protest against the ARU would be to get behind a non-heartland side like the Rebels or Brumbies. A few years of working hard on junior development and a few Wallabies later – you will have a team back in a professional comp

          • Roar Pro

            August 13th 2017 @ 2:47pm
            robel said | August 13th 2017 @ 2:47pm | ! Report

            I’ll refer you to comments made earlier:

            He’s been there since the start of the Force, FMG, his company, has been a sponsor of the Force for many years. He has also been sponsoring the Force and other WARU initiatives.

          • August 13th 2017 @ 2:54pm
            Glenn in Perth said | August 13th 2017 @ 2:54pm | ! Report

            You have never actually been to Perth or met anybody from there have you Realist. Firstly Andrew Forrest can not save or contribute to every cause all the time. If you have a look at how much money he puts in to WA at many levels, Aboriginal causes, the arts community various charities and community issues, not to mention the $400 million he recently donated to a fund for national charities. $400,000,000.

            Also the chance of Brumbies and Rebels getting support from here is less than 0. The Rebels are the team we would regard as having the place that the Force should have and anything from ACT will get no love in WA purely because it is from Canberra, not a place dear to West Australian hearts.

            The chances of getting local support for anything that is touched by the ARU in WA are slim at best now so forget about ever having a professional rugby side in the West again.

            • August 14th 2017 @ 3:55pm
              Buk said | August 14th 2017 @ 3:55pm | ! Report

              Thanks for adding that post, Glenn. Nothing like a bit of reality regarding Andrew Forrest & his support of Australian causes.

          • August 13th 2017 @ 5:41pm
            Jacko said | August 13th 2017 @ 5:41pm | ! Report

            Realist who cares when he came on board….Who is on board with the Rebels or Brumbies…Reds or Tahs for that matter…that has his ability to fund a team? Rebels lose money hand over fist and its a financial decision to get the Force out? Silly silly silly….More to this saga still to come and BEST OF LUCK TWIGGY

    • August 12th 2017 @ 8:41pm
      Ex force fan said | August 12th 2017 @ 8:41pm | ! Report

      Is there anything more to say?

      Pulver resigned now waiting for Clyne, Eales, Robertson etc to also do the right thing. This Board created the problem and a different level of thinking is required to fix it. You have done enough damage and needs to take responsibility!

      If you know the ARU got this wrong, please wear blue to test matches to support the Force. If you are in Perth go to the public marsh on 26 August at the Western Force HQ and boycott the WB-Bok game in September in Perth. Every $ spend will go to the ARU and will be used in thr legal battle to fight the Force.

      • August 13th 2017 @ 7:22am
        Gurudoright said | August 13th 2017 @ 7:22am | ! Report

        I already have my ticket for the Bledisloe, but I like the idea of wearing blue to show support for The Force. Maybe that can be an uniform way rugby supporters can show their displeasure at the ARU.

    • Roar Pro

      August 12th 2017 @ 8:47pm
      robel said | August 12th 2017 @ 8:47pm | ! Report

      Shame, shame, shame on the ERU.
      They are dispicable.

    • August 12th 2017 @ 8:49pm
      Ex force fan said | August 12th 2017 @ 8:49pm | ! Report

      The ARU Board should at least tell us what the so called financial criteria was that they used to pick the Force and how the teams that were considered weigh-up.
      My view is that Clyne f-ed up at SAZAAR when he agreed to cut a team and then realised the Force was the only team he could legally cut. Stop treating rugby supporters as mushrooms and tell the truth …or resign like coward Pulver.

      • August 12th 2017 @ 10:39pm
        allblackfan said | August 12th 2017 @ 10:39pm | ! Report

        Clyne didn’t go to the SANZAAR meeting in London when the decision to cut the competition was made.

        • August 13th 2017 @ 8:51am
          Ex force fan said | August 13th 2017 @ 8:51am | ! Report

          He was in London for an IRR meeting and as I understood offered to cut a team from Australia.

      • Roar Guru

        August 14th 2017 @ 4:06pm
        Cadfael said | August 14th 2017 @ 4:06pm | ! Report

        I agree. What was the ARU’s financial criteria used to pick who would go. Also, why were the Brumbies told they would not be dropped. What was the criteria keep them in and others out.

        • Roar Guru

          August 16th 2017 @ 3:38pm
          Train Without A Station said | August 16th 2017 @ 3:38pm | ! Report

          Cost to cut the Force: $0

          Cost to cut the Rebels: Unknown

          Able to cut the Force: Yes

          Able to cut the Rebels: Dependent on owners consent.

    • August 12th 2017 @ 8:52pm
      IKnowEverything said | August 12th 2017 @ 8:52pm | ! Report

      T Forrest should just bugger off. I’ve not heard his emotional support for the Force in previous seasons, he’s just come on the scene when the decision to axe the Force had already been made.

      Additionslly, think a major Australian sport will go bust in the next couple of years, because broadcasters won’t be able to continue to pay the stupendous amounts they are currently paying for broadcast rights, and these broadcast rights have become the major sources of income for the ARU, NRL, AFL, FFA and CA. I think the ARU will be the major sport to fail, because Australian Super Rugby teams and the Wallabies are now dismal, substandard, unsuccessful teams. This is a real shame, because once upon a time, Australian Rugby was an internationally strong and successful sport.

      • August 12th 2017 @ 11:51pm
        Clyde said | August 12th 2017 @ 11:51pm | ! Report

        Actually it won’t be such a bad thing if rugby dies in Aus. Let’s face it for the past 21 years professional rugby only ever existed because of Super rugby and because SARU and the NZRU have been subsidizing and carrying Aus rugby. The rugby global season is coming and Aus can switch to league. You will not be missed.

        • August 13th 2017 @ 5:52am
          soapit said | August 13th 2017 @ 5:52am | ! Report

          thankfully those whose opinions matter in nz have a bit more knowledge/sense

        • August 13th 2017 @ 12:02pm
          S Finch said | August 13th 2017 @ 12:02pm | ! Report

          FMG has been as sponsor for MANY years actually. In case you’re not aware FMG is Andrew Forrest!

      • August 13th 2017 @ 6:00am
        Bill said | August 13th 2017 @ 6:00am | ! Report

        I agree. I think what might save rugby is international $$$ while the AFL wins the domestic money.

      • August 13th 2017 @ 9:01am
        Bakkies said | August 13th 2017 @ 9:01am | ! Report

        Forrest has been behind the scenes sponsoring the players and team as well as funding the Force development programs.

        • Roar Guru

          August 16th 2017 @ 3:41pm
          Train Without A Station said | August 16th 2017 @ 3:41pm | ! Report

          So putting in a little bit of money, but nothing near the level he has committed to now?

    • August 12th 2017 @ 9:29pm
      Pieceofmerce said | August 12th 2017 @ 9:29pm | ! Report

      What a shame. What a mess. What a decision. What an end.
      But just as in New Zealand, when Graham Henry and Co were reappointed. Some emotional Deans fans hoped that the wallabies would beat the ABs (which they did first up) in the long run it proved to be inspired.
      Time will tell.
      I hope this unites Wallabies fans and PLAYERS.
      The game is struggling. It needs attention. Who’d have thought this outcome would have been seriously on the table if the teams were dominating.
      Bring on the backlash. ABs will be wary.
      And im an AB fan.

      • August 12th 2017 @ 11:48pm
        Ben said | August 12th 2017 @ 11:48pm | ! Report

        There won’t be too many Wallabies fans left in WA. Unfortunately, this decision proves unocquivocally that the nation’s governing bodyhas no regard for rugby in West Australia. Biggest punch in the guts we could’ve received from the ‘custodians’ of our game. Pack of self serving (b)ankers that couldn’t give a F what happens outside their pathetic incestuous little circle of squabbling east coast tw@t$

        • August 13th 2017 @ 5:48pm
          Jacko said | August 13th 2017 @ 5:48pm | ! Report

          Ben I agree that they are pathetic as humans and I dont think they have the best interests of Aus rugby let alone WA rugby…They have done a big dump on ALL rugby fans and basically said Up Yours…There has been zero transperancy in their decision making and they aseem to be hiding the truth from the fans…dumb and dumber in control

          • Roar Guru

            August 13th 2017 @ 5:54pm
            jeznez said | August 13th 2017 @ 5:54pm | ! Report

            Unfortunately the set up of needing to take over the clubs, in order to take over the states, in order to break the boys club and take over the ARU is a broken structure.

            Change needs to happen but I can’t see our way forward.

          • August 14th 2017 @ 3:21pm
            Hertryk said | August 14th 2017 @ 3:21pm | ! Report

            I believe the ARU wanted the WA team out since 2011 when the Rebels started! The amount of support given to the Rebels compared to the Force is laughable! The cojoled and lied to get our licence to make it easier for them to dump us! They were in on the $1 takeover to VRU when they said they weren’t! The Rebels and other Eastern States teams have had bail out after bailout! The Force $5m! Before you shooter your mouths off look at the ARUs financials (as we have done – thanks to the work of Alison Foskitt) and then ask where the bloody money had gone! Not forgetting the outrageous salaries of the Board!!!

            • Roar Guru

              August 14th 2017 @ 3:40pm
              Train Without A Station said | August 14th 2017 @ 3:40pm | ! Report

              What evidence is there that the ARU were involved in the sale to the VRU?

              It’s ludicrous that people like you think it’s some massive conspiracy to try and remove a team that is doing well.

      • Roar Guru

        August 13th 2017 @ 1:22pm
        jeznez said | August 13th 2017 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

        I’m a Tahs man and can muster almost no enthusiasm for the coming test.

        Poor selection going on from the top while the ARU make clangers like this.

        As a guy who has played for 32 years and coached for 8 I’m awfully fed up with the game.

        Will keep involved in grass roots but will take a break from watching the Tahs or Wallabies

        • August 13th 2017 @ 9:14pm
          rock said | August 13th 2017 @ 9:14pm | ! Report

          Jez, these are my sentiments exactly.

          I won’t be giving up on my local team, but be buggered if I’ll take any interest in the professional side of the game. And it’s not just the ARU who is the problem, the WHOLE rugby structure needs a change in this country.

          Yet, it’ll never happen as there’s always too much self interest at play and absolutely no foresight or thought about what’s good for every rugby participant in this country.

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