He’s back! Greg Growden’s ‘Ruck and Maul’ column appeared in Friday’s Sydney Morning Herald for the first time in years.
And Rugby Australia is again getting the grilling in the mainstream it deserves.
The lead story revealed just how much money Michael Cheika has lost in ‘incentive bonuses’ from the pathetic play of the Wallabies in the last three years.
Then there was an interesting item describing how over the Christmas break “notable Australian sporting identities were approached by Rugby Australia powerbrokers asking whether they would be interested in taking over as RA chairman.”
After lambasting (correctly, in my opinion) RA chairman Cameron Clyne for “near invisible direction and dreadful media persona,” Growden noted that “Clyne would be genuinely shocked if he knew the identities of those wanting him out of Fort Fumble.”
There was also an update on the Israel Folau ‘gays will go to hell’ controversy noting that in the week’s “most important rugby development,” Georgina Robinson in the SMH had revealed that the Wallabies star has had to accept some “beefed-up social media protocols” to curb the expression of the controversial aspects of his religious views.
A key element of Robinson’s article was that third parties have been contributing to certain star Wallabies’ contracts via the Australian Rugby Foundation.
The article revealed the Salteri family, co-founders of Transfield, topped up Folau’s salary. But after Folau’s controversial comments on gay people, the arrangement stopped.
Robinson had also revealed earlier this month that David Pocock’s salary was being topped-up by David Paradice, of Paradice Management Investment.
Pocock has described Paradice as a ‘fellow environmentalist.’
“He’s [Paradice] been involved in a number of things over the years and I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent with him. We’re interested in similar things, one of his sons is very interested in conservation so we’ve had a few catch ups,” the star loose forward said.
Pocock apparently won the respect of Paradice after his arrest in 2014 “for chaining himself to an excavator in protest of the controversial Maules Creek coalmine in north-west NSW.”
These quotes come from an article published in Friday’s SMH written by the Canberra journalist Eamonn Tiernan.
The article detailed Pocock’s recent attendance in Canberra at a rally protesting against the Adani coal mine.
“Rightly or wrongly,” Pocock told the rally, “sport has a privileged position in Australian society. I personally think is that it’s best when challenging society to be more inclusive.”
When I read this article I felt that the arrangement between the ARF, RA, Paradice and Pocock smacked somewhat of a ‘pay for comment’ arrangement.
So early on Friday afternoon, I sent some questions to the chief executive of Rugby Australia, Raelene Castle:
“What are the details of David Pocock’s part-salary arrangement with Mr Paradice? How much is he being paid? What are the requirements on David Pocock from Paradice Investment Management for this payment?
“Were the details of this arrangement made public? If so, where and when? If not, why not?
“Is it the policy of Rugby Australia to allow any activist movement or individual pushing a cause to pay part of the salary of a Wallaby to encourage that individual Wallaby to campaign, as a Wallaby, for that cause?
“What causes does Rugby Australia allow to be supported and what causes does it disallow?”
Now, at this point in this article, I want to make it extremely clear that Raelene Castle contacted me virtually as soon as she received my questions.
I want to acknowledge this and applaud her for her promptness in discussing, on the record, these questions with me.
Her openness, I have to say, is in marked contrast to that of most RA officials in recent years.
I will also say that our telephone conversion was robust, from both parties involved.
Castle told me that the arrangements regarding players like Folau and Pocock were confidential because the people paying the money wanted them to be confidential.
I suggested that given the political nature of the payment to Pocock that this payment should not be confidential. The rugby public had a right to know that Pocock’s top-up was based essentially on his activist views and activities.
Castle told me that the important elements in the top-up arrangements were that RA faced a “highly competitive” environment in trying to retain its best players and that there is “no contractual relationship” between the players and the donors.
I put it to Castle that if Pocock suddenly became a climate sceptic that it was most unlikely that Paradice would continue his top-up.
Our discussion broadened towards the end with my familiar complaint that RA typically operates in a secretive manner designed to keep the rugby community fully in the dark on every important issue facing the game in Australia – a complaint Castle said she was conscious of, and that her organisation is working to improve its communication with rugby stakeholders.
I made the point that RA virtually never makes an official statement about matters of interest.
It relied, I suggested, on leaking decisions to selected journalists who tend to be very supportive of RA and its agendas.
The discussion ended with Castle insisting once more that RA was doing all it could to retain its best players and that ARF donors in no way imposed a ‘contractual obligation’ on their designated players.
Four hours later an email appeared in my inbox and, presumably, in that of the dozens of other people on RA’s mailing list:
RUGBY AU MEDIA RELEASE
Statement Regarding Australian Rugby Foundation (February 15, 2019)
Rugby Australia Chief Executive, Raelene Castle has made the following statement in light of recent reporting on the Australian Rugby Foundation (ARF).
“The Australian Rugby Foundation is the national fundraising body for rugby in Australia which invests across five key pillars – Community Rugby, Welfare, Women’s Rugby, Indigenous Rugby and High Performance.
“Donations received by the ARF are allocated to a pillar, or multiple pillars, as agreed by the donor. The ARF then grants funding to Rugby Australia to invest in those areas of the game.
“The ARF operates within the Australian Sports Foundation framework, which is endorsed by the Australian tax office.
“Some of the grant funding Rugby Australia receives from the ARF is invested in key areas of the high performance program, and has been used to support our top talent.
“While an ARF donor may choose whether their funds are used to aid in the retention of a particular player by Rugby Australia, there is no contractual relationship between the donor and the player.
“All player contracts are negotiated at market value between Rugby Australia, the player and his Super Rugby team.
“The ARF is an important vehicle for fans and philanthropic donors to support the game in the areas that they have a particular passion,” said Castle.
Like most media statements, although they are always welcome, this one opens up more questions and issues than it addresses.
So we come to another important article on this issue written by the SMH’s top sports columnist, Malcolm Knox, on Saturday.
The title of the article showed clearly what Knox’s attitude to the controversy was: ‘Top-up payments to stars shake rugby’s foundations’.
Here are some extracts from Knox’s devastating attack on the AFR’s top-up payment system:
“Leaving the political and personal biases out of it, rugby followers – and players – are entitled to ask: WTF? Why is a high performance, fund-raising foundation, given tax-deductible status because it is meant to act in a broadly defined national interest, used to channel anonymous individual salary top-ups? What does it do to a team’s dressing room culture to know that some players receive these extra payments, not from general revenue like everyone else, but as specifically ear-marked ‘philanthropic gifts?’ …
“Say what you like about Folau’s or Pocock’s or anyone else’s views, but should they be influenced through the financial arm of a high-performance ‘future fund’? …
“Once a businessman says to Rugby Australia, I want to donate to you, but I want that donation to go to Player X – and it is understood that Player X will lose that donation if he upsets me – and also that the taxpayer fund half of my donation – does that not sound like a recipe for a kind of unfairness and capriciousness that goes beyond the legitimate inequalities of player income? … Likewise, is it entirely fair to the pet project that he has to toe his patron’s line, a line that does not have to be followed by, and is not even known to his teammates? …”
It seems to me there are matters raised here that Rugby Australia needs to explain satisfactorily to all the players and to the rugby community.
Certainly, the statement issued by Raelene Castle and Rugby AU did not address these matters in a convincing manner.
It is clear that Rugby AU has a problem regarding top-up payments for its star players by third parties that threatens to enmesh the organisation in controversy.
This comes at a time when RA is regarded by most of the rugby community as an impediment to the growth and success of the game in Australia. There have been too many stuff-ups, on a variety of matters from coaching positions disputes and player behaviour to the axing of the Western Force, that have brought the game to its knees in the last few years.
The revelation that payment top-ups are essentially a result of said player’s political ideology and beliefs, a remit that should be outside RA’s supervision, will add to the growing anger.
All this discussion brings us back to Greg Growden’s ominous prediction that a spill involving the RA board is being put in place by dissatisfied interested parties.
To understand how the RA board has reached such a low ebb in the eyes of the rugby community that a coup against its chairman is reportedly being considered, we need to go back to the fateful meeting of the then-ARU board on December 18, 2015.
This is the meeting when former chairman Michael Hawker stepped down and was replaced by Cameron Clyne. The appointment of the former Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, as a board member was also announced.
It was clear from the statements made about this appointment that a knowledge of rugby problems and how they might be solved was not part of the skill set of the board member.
The new chairman stated that “we are delighted to have Liz Broderick joining our team. As one of the most influential people in Australia, she brings strong credentials from previous roles, most recently as the Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner from September 2007 to September 2015.”
Then-ARU CEO Bill Pulver endorsed Broderick’s appointment: “With Liz Broderick and Ann Sherry, we now have two of Australia’s most influential women on our board which bodes extremely well for the growth of women in rugby.”
Pulver revealed that he was engaged in the Elite Sport Male Champions of Change program, an initiative “devised by Ms Broderick during her tenure as the Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner.”
What were Broderick’s credentials, though, for understanding club and schools rugby problems, for understanding and finding answers to Super Rugby problems, for getting the best out of the Wallabies and a host of other rugby issues?
Her expertise was political activism. It was not in rugby matters.
Cameron Clyne and several other board members were in a similar situation.
The result of the changes made to RA’s board and its goals in December 2015, in my opinion, has been that Rugby Australia has won many plaudits for its position on social matters.
But it has won no plaudits for its lack of success on virtually everything connected to rugby, the real task of Rugby Australia.
Bring on the spill Growden is predicting, I say.