WA ARU board member resigns, Forrest demands complete overhaul

Josh Elliott Editor

By , 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.