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The Roar


'Previous chairman can not be a scapegoat': First salvo fired in bid to spill the Rugby Australia board

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26th March, 2024
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The lobbying for a board spill at Rugby Australia’s Annual General Meeting next month has kicked off, with a group including a former RA director, at least two former Wallabies and a constitutional expert contacting the Super Rugby teams and state unions who will decide the RA board’s fate.

A group calling itself the Supporters of Australian Rugby Reform (SoARR) has written a letter titled ‘Major Issues Of Concern For The Attention Of The Members Of Rugby Australia’ to the key stakeholders.

It opens by stating:  “The unit of governance – i.e. the Board of RA – that either created or failed to rectify Australia’s rugby problems, is not the appropriate group to fix them.

“The previous Chairman [Hamish McLennan] cannot be the scapegoat and we therefore need a spill of the RA Board and a constitutional review including a change to put appropriately qualified and skilled directors in their place (other than the CEO).

Hamish McLennan and Phil Waugh(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

“The Member Unions, Super Rugby teams and RUPA (RA Voting Members) owe it to the supporters of Rugby Union in Australia to bring this about, thereby giving the game a fresh start and improving democratic principles.” 

“That is a big call and the group advocating it makes no apology for detailing the long story of mal administration in dealing with the many problems and own-goals that have beset the sport in Australia.

 “All those who have played rugby know what it is like to be dropped from a team after a poor performance and this practice should equally apply to administrators and governors.”


 The letter describes SoARR as “a group of people small in number but rich in rugby experience.”

“The group also contains professional expertise and experience in constitutional formulation which significantly relates to rugby in particular. That is very pertinent as in talking to the wider rugby community the group has determined that governance is considered at the root of our woes and governance to a large extent is structured and influenced by the constitution,” the letter says.

The letter’s signee is University of Technology Sydney associate professor Paul Jonson, who is a governance and constitutional adviser for Oceanic Rugby and the co-author of the 2022 published book Sports Law.

While he said he was not authorised to release the full list of SoARR’s backers, Jonson told The Roar those who had consented to be publicly named were former RA director Geoff Stooke, former Wallaby and inaugural national coaching director Dick Marks and fellow former Wallaby and ex-NSW Rugby committee member Russ Tulloch.

The Roar has also been told two other former Wallabies support the changes SoARR is advocating for.

Stooke resigned as a RA director in 2017 in protest after more than five years on the national board due to governance concerns with the process in which the Western Force were axed from the Super Rugby competition that year.

Among its list of concerns, the letter states that RA’s financial problems “go back to when the Rebels were established, and it was insisted by the ARU that it be privately owned.


 “After three years of operation and one year of set up costs, the private owner exited after losing approximately $12 million. Through obligations under the SANZAR Agreement, the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) had to pick up the costs and as of 2017, it had lost a further $17.5 million. Unfortunately, without government or philanthropic support (or RA support), the Rebels were always going to struggle. RA never recovered from this financial hit.”

 The SoARR also claims the RA directors were all party to the controversial decisions which led to McLennan being sacked as chairman.

 “The recent removal of the Chair of the RA Board presents a major concern to many,” the letter reads.

“He joined the Board to be the Chair, and this was after some major upheaval at RA and the brief tenure of his predecessor. Also, RA did not have a broadcaster, or a major sponsor and he was clearly instrumental in securing both.

“Various decisions in relation to the contracting of players, the removal of the Wallaby coach and the appointment of a replacement were described in the media as, ‘Captains Picks’. The facts are that the various decisions were ‘Board decisions’, given they were all endorsed by the Board.

“In fact, the current Chair and the current CEO were directors who were a so called ‘Board Rugby Committee’ and they supported the action to dismiss the Wallaby coach and the appointment of his replacement. When the role of the Chair was challenged by voting members, as co-authors of the actions, the remainder of the Board should have stood behind him. Unfortunately, subsequent comments by the Chair in the media about some voting members, gave the Board leverage to remove him as Chair.”

Rugby Australia Chairman Hamish McLennan talks during The Rugby Championship 2021 Fixture announcement at Parliament House on September 24, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Former Rugby Australia Chairman Hamish McLennan. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

 In its summary, the letter states: “It is difficult and possibly not helpful to apportion blame for the current state of Australian rugby. However, the same people now attempting to provide all the answers to address our problems is not appropriate.

“We need changes in personnel, changes in the game as a spectacle, changes in programs, changes in spending behaviours, changes in how we develop internal and external relationships and an acceptance that we are a game in the first instance and a ‘product’ second. Above all, we need change to our governance processes and structures. In saying that, change must start at the top! We were and can be again, ‘the game they play in heaven’.

“There must be changes if Australian rugby is to survive and eventually prosper. What has been outlined indicates existing issues and offers suggestions to be considered as we attempt to move forward. They relate to the current systems, programs, and various other aspects of our game, and are not directed at any specific individuals. However, it is time for the Voting Members of Rugby Australia to take control of the agenda. RA is only one of the custodians of our game but is not the owner.”

 The SoARR letter represents an opening salvo ahead of the RA AGM on April 29, when three incumbent directors – Matthew Hanning, Karen Penrose and Jane Wilson – must secure 10 of the 14 votes to win the necessary two-thirds majority to stay on the board.

Those 14 votes are held collectively by the Brumbies, Western Force and Queensland Reds Super Rugby franchises, the state unions and the RU Players Association. They will also decide whether the new candidates vetted by the RA nominations committee to fill the vacancies left by former chairman McLennan and Phil Waugh (following his move from a director to chief executive) are endorsed or not.


While the Melbourne Rebels no longer have a vote after going into voluntary administration, the Victorian Rugby Union is almost certain to vote against the re-election resolutions given their threats of civil war against RA, which on Friday walked away from negotiations with Rebels to end any chance of a financial settlement with the national body to help save the club from liquidation.