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 @ 9:50pm
      Wayne said | August 12th 2017 @ 9:50pm | ! Report

      It is painfully obvious that the ARU board (except (Geoff Stooke) made a rash and ill conceived decision without considering the full and truthful facts. They decided very quickly the Force would go when SANZAR determined to restructure the Super Rugby completion. This information was leaked well before the official announcement as I heard it from people in the know associated with SANZAR from South Africa. So when the ARU announced publicly that a team from Australia would be culled and said a decision would be announced within 48/72 hours it showed they clearly had a team lined up which was the Western Force. What they didn’t expect was the passionate support from the Western Force that would defend against such a decision. Anyway we waited along time and arbitration went against the Force but it does not mean that the right decision has been made. It just shows complete and utter weakness from Pulver, Clyne and the other board members of the ARU. They have behaved and shown such extraordinary levels of deceit, ineptitude and in their processed. In any organisation such unethical behaviour would provide due cause for dismissal with severe legal consequences. What is of greatest concern is we are talking about the governing body of Australian rugby who are supposed to have the best interests rugby union as their prime interest. That does not mean cowing to the interest of selected groups, it means making decision based on open and honest communication and dealing with the facts. These factors alone are enough when considered as they currently stand are enough to show that a grave injustice has been committed by the people who are supposed to have the best interests of Australian Rugby as their primary reason for their employment. I am gravely saddened for Australian rugby as as whole and the people who are directly affected by thus ill conceived, under handed decision. It is a step backwards as we all know that if a team had to go it should have been the Rebels who fall behind the Force if the criteria is reviewed in an transparent and honest way. Shame on you the ARU and all that committed to the removal if the Western Force

    • Roar Guru

      August 12th 2017 @ 9:52pm
      Train Without A Station said | August 12th 2017 @ 9:52pm | ! Report

      Stooke is making straw man arguments.

      The demise of the Force is nothing to do with the introduction of the Jaguares and the Sunwolves.

      Their demise is due to the decline in interest and performance (only because of it’s impact on interest) across the competition that has pre-dated the change from 15 to 18.

      Almost all the problems we have with 18 teams we also had with 15.

      Uneven draw.
      Don’t play everybody once.
      Just as many games in different time zones.
      Just as many games vs the lesser known teams.
      Conference system where top of conference automatically makes finals.

      Had we sacrificed the money to spurn the interest of those teams we would still likely be in the same situation.

      Just potentially without the option of cutting 1 team to save costs and maintaining the revenue.

      People are losing interest due to greater entertainment options, and declining team performances, driven very much by wage competition in Europe and the UK.

      Had these factors not impacted on Super Rugby in Australia, we’d still have 5 teams.

      He we not included the new teams, these factors still would have impacted Super Rugby in Australia.

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

        twas the change to 18 teams exacerbated those issues at a time when they should have been worked through, too much change too quickly. main effect from introducing those teams was increasing the ammount of the compthat is invisible in the two SA conferences. maybe the added interest from SA compensates?

        how is he making straw man arguments specifically btw?

        • August 13th 2017 @ 9:57am
          Train Without A Station said | August 13th 2017 @ 9:57am | ! Report

          Did it exacberate it?

          It was already on a decline. Was interest in the Force any better in 2015?

          It’s not like everything just fell off a cliff at the start of last year.

          It was all trending down and the Waratahs in 2014 just provided an outlier.

          For example the Waratahs are claiming their worst ever crowd actually occurred in 2010.

          The Force had not posted a profit since around 2010. Based on everything that occurred 2011-2015, they were always going to need to be bailed out pretty soon it would seem. They were close to $4M in debt at the end of 2015 rememeber.

          2016 didn’t suddenly put them in a bad financial position. It just didn’t improve their poor position.

          • August 13th 2017 @ 11:32am
            Ex force fan said | August 13th 2017 @ 11:32am | ! Report

            In 2017 the Force made it clear that they will not need to be bailed out again as a billionaire underwrite the franchise and secured money from the,rugby fans. All the other franchises will stil need to be bailed put, however the ARU was hell bend that the Force has to go. Financially tJe Rebels is still a basket case, but you know as well as I do that this was never about what is best for rugby.

            • August 13th 2017 @ 1:26pm
              Train Without A Station said | August 13th 2017 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

              This was after the decision was already mate to cut a team and the Force were the only team that could be cut.

              The Rebels could be about to go broke in week 1 of the 2018 season. But the ARU has no mechanism to cut them unfortunately.

          • August 13th 2017 @ 8:31pm
            soapit said | August 13th 2017 @ 8:31pm | ! Report

            maybe not in the force but in the competition overall which is where the need to cut teams comes from primarily at this point. from personal experience and from those i know the latest change was too much too soon after the change to conferences. i think the 15 team model would have gain stability as a comp in time or certainly more likley too.

            as you say interest in the force has been roughly comparable so why is it only necessary to cut them now? the comp is failing overall.

            may not have saved the force long term as the three country format means aus was always eventually going to end up in the toilet from it without the fanatical base to get them through lean years and a salary cap to bring them back up the pecking order as a country. but wrt to the current situation i cant see it eventuating if theyd consolidated at 15 teams for10 years

      • August 13th 2017 @ 9:34am
        Dubaikiwi said | August 13th 2017 @ 9:34am | ! Report

        TWAS You just show your true colours all the time with these rubbish statements, the demise of the Force has everything to do with expansion from the time the Rebels were introduced as this is the team that has cost the EARU the most financially.
        If this decision was based on financials then going forward there should hever be one more cent thrown at the Rebels from the coffers of the EARU but we all know they will still need assistance and what happens when the Victorian government decides they can no longer support them, the demise of the Rebels is just around the corner.

        • August 13th 2017 @ 9:47am
          Train Without A Station said | August 13th 2017 @ 9:47am | ! Report

          That has nothing to do with my comment or what Stooke has said…

      • August 13th 2017 @ 1:56pm
        Gazza said | August 13th 2017 @ 1:56pm | ! Report

        TWAS, you are a cretin without knowledge or access to the real story. Instead you are fighting an argument no one believes for reasons no one believes. Stop pretending you are of importance, stop hiding behond the keyboard and go make a worthwhile contribution to rugby, you know, like all the hard working grassroots volunteers in WA your beloved ARU board has just screwed over.

        • August 13th 2017 @ 2:00pm
          Train Without A Station said | August 13th 2017 @ 2:00pm | ! Report

          What part of the story don’t I have?

          The Force were $4M in debt when we had 5 teams.

          Their problems are due to the period 2010-2015, not since we introduced 18 teams.

        • August 13th 2017 @ 6:11pm
          Jacko said | August 13th 2017 @ 6:11pm | ! Report

          You say the Force are or were 4 mil on debt…How much has the Rebels cost? Are you saying Stookes is lying when he stated the financial assistance received from the ARU…Which clearly stated the Rebels have cost millions more…Also why would Stookes be cut from any input to the ARU…Oh and as usual why dont you ignore my questions and come up with some …The force had to be cut BS…

      • August 13th 2017 @ 3:17pm
        Rhys Bosley said | August 13th 2017 @ 3:17pm | ! Report

        I would note the irony of TWAS cheerleading for the reallocation money at the behest of and probably to Shute Shield clubs, whose arguments for more support he has stridently opposed. Check out his profile, he has even written articles about it. You don’t appear to me to know whether you are Arthur or Martha TWAS.

        • August 13th 2017 @ 5:48pm
          Train Without A Station said | August 13th 2017 @ 5:48pm | ! Report

          No.

          I’m just not foolish enough to take the words of Roger Davis, the head of the NSWRU, as the planned actions of the ARU.

      • Roar Guru

        August 13th 2017 @ 3:28pm
        Timbo (L) said | August 13th 2017 @ 3:28pm | ! Report

        TWAS,
        If anyone would know a Straw man argument, it would be you, In fact you have just used at least one.

        The comments of an EARU insider carry weight.
        They confirm the perceptions that the public has been railing against since the decision was first made.

        • August 13th 2017 @ 5:47pm
          Train Without A Station said | August 13th 2017 @ 5:47pm | ! Report

          They carry weight if you ignore the fact that the damage was done to the Force before the change to 18.

          They ended $4M in debt.

          How did the Sunwolves and Jaguares impact them?

          • Roar Guru

            August 14th 2017 @ 11:53am
            Timbo (L) said | August 14th 2017 @ 11:53am | ! Report

            Umm, because Stooke made no mention of the Sunwolves or Jags in the article above.

            This is your Straw man/Scarecrow/Haystack, not his.

            That said it is pretty clear the addition of the Jags and sunwolves has required the elimination of other teams.

            I am not saying the Sunwolvers or Jags should go, My understanding is that they are self funding and subsidizing other teams with viewer numbers. Tokyo games are usually full. without their viewers we might have lost the Rebs as well.

            The counter argument is that very few Aussies watched the games live in Argentina due to the broadcast time, significantly denting the viewer stats.

      • August 13th 2017 @ 8:57pm
        In Brief said | August 13th 2017 @ 8:57pm | ! Report

        Ironically, it is you who has presented the ‘straw man’ argument, by misrepresenting Stoke’s views. “The typical straw man argument creates the illusion of having completely refuted or defeated an opponent’s proposition through the covert replacement of it with a different proposition.”

        There is no doubt the convoluted super rugby structure contributed to declining interested. The key issue here however is the way in which the ARU removed the Force. In short, Stokes did correctly represent the ARU’s argument – (that removing the Force was a financial decision). Therefore Stokes very well put repudiation of the ARU’s decision is not based on a straw man argument at all.

        There has been a complete lack of due diligence in this decision, as Stokes’ correctly points out. To say it the decision is based on some mysterious financial measure, when another team (the Rebels) has performed far worse financially, is ludicrous.

        The fact that Stokes was not allowed to contribute to the decision surely proves beyond doubt that ARU was not basing this decision on transparent, evidence based process. As Stokes notes, the Force were the easiest team to kick out, based on contractual matters, not performance.

        • Roar Guru

          August 13th 2017 @ 9:16pm
          Train Without A Station said | August 13th 2017 @ 9:16pm | ! Report

          To say it the decision is based on some mysterious financial measure, when another team (the Rebels) has performed far worse financially, is ludicrous.

          No it’s not.

          The far worse performing team owned their licence, so could not be get.

          I don’t understand why this is such a difficult concept for people to comprehend.

          The ARU only had the power to cut one team. The Force. It was not a decision between which team had the best (or more so least worst) financials.

          It was a decision to cut the one they could for the greater good of the state unions and remaining 4 franchises.

          The ARU had no ability to cut the Rebels, other than by purchasing the licence off Cox, who could not be compelled to sell any other way.

          • Roar Guru

            August 14th 2017 @ 11:59am
            Timbo (L) said | August 14th 2017 @ 11:59am | ! Report

            A true statement.

            It was easiest to cut the Force.

            But that is the core of the problem. Is that it wasn’t the best thing to do for Australian rugby. In short, it was just Lazy.

            A merger, whilst ungainly would have maintained pathways in 2 centers, but instead it leaves a desolate AFL wasteland.

            If Stooke is to be believed, the EARU did no analysis on the validity of a merger, only reacting to the idea after the press queried them on it.

        • Roar Rookie

          August 14th 2017 @ 12:53am
          lewismarsh said | August 14th 2017 @ 12:53am | ! Report

          This sums up the salient points nicely. Well said.

    • August 12th 2017 @ 10:01pm
      Peter said | August 12th 2017 @ 10:01pm | ! Report

      What are the Players Association doing other than writing strongly worded press releases?! They need a clean out also. I here both the Force and the Rebels haven’t had a welfare manager for over a month. Aren’t they supposed to be looking after the players?

    • August 12th 2017 @ 10:23pm
      Rhys Bosley said | August 12th 2017 @ 10:23pm | ! Report

      “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”

      This is the statement that confirms what so have always thought and which kicks me in the guts at the same time. Rugby in Australia fancies itself as the code which best reflects standards of integrity, yet at the first opportunity the vested NSW interests make a grubby cash grab, irrespective of the consequences for others. It is revolting behaviour akin to the public bullying of McKenzie and Patston, and it shows up all the subsquent virtue signalling on every trendy cause imaginable as fake ethics. You can fool me once, but now I want nothing to do with these people.

      • Roar Guru

        August 13th 2017 @ 10:02am
        PeterK said | August 13th 2017 @ 10:02am | ! Report

        I will be even more disgusted if the financial reallocation to community rugby is politics speak for more money for shute shield clubs.

        I would not be surprised though.

        • August 13th 2017 @ 2:02pm
          Train Without A Station said | August 13th 2017 @ 2:02pm | ! Report

          I would be absolutely disgusted if that is the case too.

          The departure of Pulver, the main opponent of this, doesn’t bode well though.

          • August 13th 2017 @ 6:15pm
            Jacko said | August 13th 2017 @ 6:15pm | ! Report

            Regardless of anything which may or may not happen from this point on the departure of Pulver can be nothing but a major blessing for Aus rugby…Now if a couple more useless F wits could move on that would be great

            • August 13th 2017 @ 9:02pm
              In Brief said | August 13th 2017 @ 9:02pm | ! Report

              I do wonder how much influence Pulver had over all these issues. Was the really the man pulling the strings? He did achieve some positives for Australian rugby, but the Force affair unfortunately means all this will be forgotten. I would feel a lot better if the rest of the Board resigned as I am not confident Pulver really was the puppet master.

            • August 15th 2017 @ 2:00am
              Ex force fan said | August 15th 2017 @ 2:00am | ! Report

              Pulver is p!ss weak anyway. He will not be missed and the fact that he still hangs around like a bad smell while everyone is maneuvering for his job makes him even weaker.

        • August 13th 2017 @ 3:08pm
          Rhys Bosley said | August 13th 2017 @ 3:08pm | ! Report

          I would be surprised if that didn’t happen. A year ago Pulver correctly identified that giving them more money would be “p1ssing it up against a wall”, but given his form on backing down I reckon the Shuties getting the Force’s cash is as near to a dead cert as I can without a crystal ball.

          My enduring memory of Pulver will be as a bloke who usually robustly advocated the right solution to begin with, such as when he said Beale would likely be sacked or that Cooper couldn’t box, only to wilt under pressure. I call him Backdown Bill and just hope the next scmuck has more of a clue, though I doubt the job is attractive enough now for anybody decent.

          • August 13th 2017 @ 5:50pm
            Train Without A Station said | August 13th 2017 @ 5:50pm | ! Report

            He didn’t backdown under Beale.

            He implemented the RUPA agreed process, where an independent person gave a finding many of us disagree with.

            Oh enlightened one, do tell what Pulver should have done?

            Broken the agreement?

            • August 15th 2017 @ 2:08am
              Ex force fan said | August 15th 2017 @ 2:08am | ! Report

              TWAS, here are some quotes from Pulver that just illustrate how p!ss weak he is as he was rilled by the ERU Board and backed down on all his commitments to the WA Rugby public. Then he literally cut and run without the guts to face the music. The only decent thing his done IMO was to resign.

              “No chance in the world that there will not be a Western Force.
              “We are 150 per cent committed to the franchises that we have. The future development of rugby, unquestionably in my mind, will involve the Perth team.
              “The five franchises are non-negotiable. I don’t think I can make that any clearer. It is crystal clear in my mind there will always be five franchises.”
              “I would be very confident in telling you that the Western Force are going to be a successful part of the Perth sporting scene for a long, long time.
              “I still am very much a supporter of a national footprint for Super Rugby and you do not want to do anything that’s going to have any negative on the local community engagement.”

    • August 12th 2017 @ 10:24pm
      Wallace footrot said | August 12th 2017 @ 10:24pm | ! Report

      The ARU board and its management team have completely lost the confidence and trust of the rugby public and professionals. It is a shambles and they cannot continue in their roles. Twiggy is correct and all should resign on mass. Australian rugby needs a completely fresh start and the force need to be immediately reinstated. Not only that but a complete forensic audit needs to be conducted to determine if due process was correctly followed. It looks apparent there has been great inconsistencies in the decision making and it is very clear there were lies and breaches of governance, throughout the last several months. They must be held to account, and the sooner the better or Australian rugby will continue it spiral.

    • August 12th 2017 @ 10:49pm
      ScottD said | August 12th 2017 @ 10:49pm | ! Report

      The fact that the ARU announced the decision to axe the force in the way it did shows that they had already made up their decision and the “consultation” was a sham. I note that they didin’t go into arbitration or even discussions with the VCU/Rebels so there was never any intention to axe them.
      Clyne stated 3 months ago that the ARU had reservations for years about the viability of the Rebels so a bit surprising that he stated yesterday that the Rebels had “significant financial backing”. The ARU needs to tell everyone (or at least the state unions) what this new financial support it. I don’t see that it can be any better support than Australias wealthiest man guaranteeing to underwrite the costs of the Force so that there was no cost to the ARU.
      The Force (and the Rebels) were tasked with 3 key things when they gained their licenses;
      1. Grow the game in their state;
      2. Produce potential Wallabies; and
      3. Be financially viable.

      Hard to fathom that the 3rd largest rugby state with the fastest growing rugby participation level, successfully producing home grown Wallabies and financially secure would be the team to axe……..

      Very clear that the ARU intended to axe the Force when they agreed to take over the license at the end of 2015. At the very best they didn’t act in good faith and lied about their intentions. Very difficult to support the ARU board when they act like that.

      If the criteria and decision was transparent it would be still sad but much more palatable for Force supporters and rugby lovers in general.

      • August 12th 2017 @ 11:09pm
        ForceFan said | August 12th 2017 @ 11:09pm | ! Report

        Well said ScottD

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