Bear Witness to the Fall of Australian Rugby

James MortimerAnalyst IJanuary 23, 2009

Cancelled international programs, lack a strong domestic rugby structure, reports of severe financial troubles—is this the beginning of the end for the Wallabies?


In recent years, Australian rugby had no doubt made significant ground.  As a pure sporting code, they exist in a sporting landscape of competition (AFL, NRL, Soccer, Cricket) that no other rugby union nation has to bear. 


It is difficult, as an insider, to speculate on what a governing body or union achieves.  But without the obvious, speculation will always occur.


In 2003, Australian Rugby had reached a pinnacle.  Against the odds they had made the World Cup final and almost defeated a very impressive England team. 


For the year ending, the ARU had posted a $32.9-million surplus.  This was compared with a near half-million-dollar surplus in 2002.  Such a result, benefiting from the coup of gaining sole hosting RWC rights, ensured that the governing body held close to $110 million of assets, supported by over $80 million cash.


This ensured that the coffers were bursting, enough to bankroll the continued advancement of Australian Rugby. 


It was here that the failure to immediately (in 2004) implement a high level domestic competition hurt Australian rugby.


The following year in 2004, the ARU went from the financial cushion of the RWC to crash into a $4.3-million deficit for the financial year.  Total assets dropped just over $43 million.


Over $60 million in assets, most of it in cash was spent that year.  Were their tangible benefits to Australian rugby in the whole not so much which was obvious to the general rugby public?


In 2005, the ARU posted a $3.2-million deficit.  Assets dropped another $4 million.


In 2006, another deficit was posted, nearly double the previous year.  Again, assets dropped.  It was in 2007 and on the heel of these results that Australian rugby made their worst decision.


Implementation of the Mazda Australian Rugby Championship; although it is crucial that Australian rugby has a strong tier below the Super 14. 


Why would you implement a new tournament in a World Cup year?


John O’Neill said the following remarks in 2007.


“While we are working hard at reducing costs and maximising revenue at the ARU, it is difficult in a World Cup year.”  Was implementation of a new championship a way of reducing costs?


“Of course this 2007’s budget is further impacted by the start-up costs of the Mazda Australian Rugby Championship.”  A contradiction of his previous sentence, said in the same interview.


 “We always do better financially in the three years when there is no World Cup and each Nation’s team is at full strength.”  This contradicts the ARU’s poor financial performance from 2004-2006, following record levels of revenue in 2003.  It also proves that Australia themselves were not at full strength—that is, their Wallabies were never going to compete in the ARC in a World Cup year.


 “However the position has been exacerbated by other influences, including the Welsh and Springboks sending us second-string teams.”  But he must have already known this, from his previous comment, so would this not have been budgeted?


He went on to say, “The Board made that decision in the full knowledge of the cost to the ARU.


“There are always establishment costs and these will be amortized over the period of the tournament.


“I have also said that the competition must be viable and sustainable, and that we will review it at the end of the year. That does not mean it will be dismantled, nor does it mean it will not change.”


The ARC, as we know is now ancient history.  This is against what O’Neill had said and envisaged.


When the ARC was scrapped, Matt Caroll, ARU deputy chief executive said, “This decision should not be seen as a return to the pre-ARC status quo.”


“In resolving the matter of ARC, the Board has directed ARU management to immediately commence in the New Year a full review of all professional rugby programs and funding arrangements involving national talent squads, Australia A, Sevens and grants for academies and premier rugby.”


The Australian A team, has been scrapped this year.


And the Australian Rugby Shield has been “put on hold.”


“There are alternative playing options for fringe Wallabies currently under consideration," the ARU said in a statement at the end of last year.


But all of these playing options have been cancelled.  Based on their recent track record, Australian rugby supporters should not hold their breath.


With New Zealand and South African teams looking so strong (both in the Super 14 and internationally), it could be a terrible build up to the 2011 World Cup for Australia.



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