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League's Commission not so independent

Roar Guru
3rd October, 2010
29
1632 Reads

An agreement has all but been reached which will see rugby league in Australia be controlled by the 16 current NRL clubs – with no effective representation from grass-roots clubs and non-Sydney regions.

The deal effectively protects the financial interests of the 16 current NRL clubs at the expense of the game of rugby league throughout Australia by controlling how profits from the national premiership are distributed and by denying the future inclusion of teams from regions such as the Central Coast, Coffs Harbour, Redcliffe, Logan and Ipswich in the national competition (not to mention any expansion outside NSW and QLD).

Assisted by non-reporting of the details by ex-player commentators and journalists, the truth about the proposed “independent commission” is that it is actually LESS independent than the current control arrangements – and rugby league players, fans and officials are being deceived by well-executed emotional appeals without being provided accurate details of what is actually being proposed.

The proposal to introduce the Independent Commission wraps several issues into one – but most importantly for the structure and future of rugby league, the proposed IC will replace both the NRL and the ARL organisations and isolate the NSWRL and QRL.

If you are not sure what this means, basically the NRL currently manages the 16-team national competition and that is all – whereas the ARL is the peak body responsible for the game of rugby league throughout Australia (under guidance from the NSWRL, QRL and other state bodies) and controls the distribution of proceeds from the game. This obviously has serious ramifications.

Many fans rightly support ‘independence’ in order to limit the power of financially self-interested groups (such as News Limited and their well-documented and self-identified conflicts of interest following the Melbourne Storm scandal). However most rugby league fans are blindly supporting the current Independent Commission proposal simply because of its title and assuming it is independent.

So what deal has been reached? While the QRL was steadfast for most of the year in order to protect the interests of its clubs (and, ironically, regional NSWRL clubs), their representatives have suddenly back-flipped allowing the takeover of rugby league to progress in the off-season – with little media coverage, if any. I note now that these ‘representatives’ are now being touted as becoming paid commissioners by the model they have now decided to support.

The QRL’s original model provided a voice for grass-roots clubs and for the interests of the game by providing a counter-balance to the all-powerful 16 current NRL clubs. The below table shows the votes allocated to each group under both the original QRL proposal and the deal that has been struck this week:

Original Current
QRL Agreement
Proposal
Current NRL Clubs (1 each) 16 16
“Independent Commissioners” * 16 8
NSWRL and QRL (combined) 16 2
TOTAL VOTES 48 26

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So why would the ARL (the rugby league oversight body) agree to being disbanded and taken over by the 16 current NRL clubs – who will naturally seek to retain the profits of the game and prevent expansion beyond the current clubs? This is a good question and perhaps could be answered by the ARL CEO, Geoff Carr, or perhaps the Sydney-based NSWRL CEO, Geoff Carr.

Hang on – how can Geoff Carr be independent if he holds two positions that do not have the same objectives? Alternatively, you could ask the ARL Chairman, Colin Love, or the Sydney-based NSWRL Chairman, Colin Love. Everyone should note this conflict of interest when reviewing any proposal put forward by these non-independent personalities – especially when these Sydney-based appointments are at odds with the rugby leagues of other regions.

Importantly, rugby league fans may want to find out how the “independent commissioners” in the new structure will be appointed. Under the current agreement, the original members will be decided by the current ARL and News Limited board members – and subsequent appointments will be decided by those independent commissioners being replaced. That is, the commissioners that will be selected by non-independent parties will self-select all future commissioners. How is this independent?

The truth is that the only currently independent parties – that is, those representing the best interests for rugby league in Australia – are the QRL, the NSWCRL as well as the rugby leagues of the other states as these bodies represent the grass-roots of the game (not the NSWRL due to the obvious and disgraceful bias of the current board’s incumbents). While both proposals are not independent of self-interested clubs and do not give full ownership to “the people”, the QRL’s original proposal best serves all clubs of Australia and the game of rugby league and its future. Conversely the current agreement reached only serves the interests of only 16 clubs (predominantly Sydney-based) at the expense of all other clubs throughout Australia and at the expense of the game of rugby league.

It has been fortunate that the QRL has had the strength and resolve to ensure the interests of rugby league beyond the interests of the 16 current NRL clubs. However it appears that this resolve has recently been influenced by unknown parties. It is important that all players, fans and club and regional officials throughout Australia become more knowledgeable on the details of the so-called “Independent Commission” proposal; and more active in their own resolve to protect the interests of their clubs, their regions and their game.

What can you do?

Forward this email to those who are passionate about rugby league.

Individuals can email or write to your local MP highlighting your concern that the rugby league Independent Commission may reduce support to your local club and negatively impact your local community. Your MP’s contact details can be found at: http://www.aph.gov.au/house/members/memlist.pdf

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Individuals can email, write to or phone your local radio station to highlight the lack of detail being provided by any source on the Independent Commission (note that ex-player feedback columns may not publish articles supporting regional representation). If you don’t know the contact details for your regional media, google them now! Club and league officials throughout Australia should seek official clarification from their regional and state-level league headquarters – and they should provide this feedback back to all players and members in their clubs.

Club and league officials, irrespective of what level competition they represent, should protest any proposal that seeks to consolidate control of rugby league to the NRL clubs which will minimise the distribution of profits among all clubs and regions. They should be encouraged to stay and fight – and not be bullied into resigning their position. They are representatives of the grass-roots regions and therefore the game of rugby league.

All players, fans and officials should become informed of this issue. While the details are largely being misrepresented by ex-players in the media, the changes planned for the off-season should be monitored in rugby league and sports media in the coming months to ensure any mandatory disclosure does not sneak through unchallenged.