Andrew Forrest’s offer of $50 million to save the Force was knocked back by the ARU. (AAP: Richard Wainwright)
A Senate inquiry has found Australian Rugby Union had already decided to cut the Western Force from the super rugby competition in April, well before it looked into the books of the Force and the Melbourne Rebels.
The Community Affairs References Committee into the future of rugby union in Australia found that the decision to cut the Force was effectively made on April 9, a day before the ARU, now Rugby Australia, met with Rugby WA.
The committee also found the ARU was resistant to changing their decision to axe the Force, despite the efforts of mining magnate Andrew Forrest and the West Australian Government.
In its report, the inquiry made several recommendations, including that the Australian Securities and Investment Commission review financial transactions involving the Melbourne Rebels, as well as investigating the annual reports of the ARU.
The inquiry was established by West Australian senator Linda Reynolds to investigate the future of the code in Australia, following the ARU’s decision to remove the Western Force from the Super Rugby competition.
“Australian Rugby Union … cut Western Force from the Super Rugby competition without appropriate explanation or justification in August this year,” Senator Reynolds said.
“Even before the inquiry had commenced hearing evidence, it was clear ARU representatives were resentful and contemptuous, even dismissive of this Senate inquiry.
“I believe there were also inappropriate and misdirected attempts by ARU officials to stop this inquiry.”
‘ASIC should review Melbourne Rebels deal’
The inquiry heard evidence from a wide range of people involved in the process, including former ARU CEO Bill Pulver, chairman Cameron Clyne and Western Force CEO Mark Sinderbury.
Much of the questioning revolved around the contract to sell the Melbourne Rebels to New Zealand businessman Andrew Cox for $1 — which included a $13 million write-off, $1.8 million cleared with creditors, $6 million in incremental payments between 2016-2020 and $750,000 in working capital grants.
It also heard West Australian businessman Andrew Forrest agreed to guarantee the future of the Western Force at a personal cost of $50 million, but when he met with Mr Clyne to finalise the deal, it was knocked back.
The deal included underwriting the Force for eight years, providing $6 million for grassroots rugby union over the next eight years and compensating the Super Rugby competition by $20 million to cover costs of keeping the franchise.
The report recommends the WA Government seek legal advice to review its negotiations with the ARU, which resulted in extensive investment from the Government, as well as proposing Rugby Australia transfer Western Force’s intellectual property to Rugby WA.
Thousands of Western Force supporters attended a rally in Perth in August to oppose the decision to axe the club. (ABC News: Garrett Mundy)
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