RugbyWA has lost its appeal against the axing of the Western Force from the Super Rugby competition.
The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) announced its intention to cut the Force from the competition last month.
RugbyWA challenged that decision in the New South Wales Supreme Court, arguing the ARU had broken a commercial contract giving the Force a place in Super Rugby until December 2020.
Judge David Hammerschlag today dismissed the appeal, ordering RugbyWA pay costs.
He found in favour of the ARU’s argument that a renegotiation of a broadcast agreement gave it the right to reduce the number of teams in the competition from 18 to 15.
In delivering his judgment the judge said the ARU had the authority to take the action because it owned the Western Force.
“If the alliance comes to an end, it owns the Force unconditionally without any potential obligation to sell it back in the future, and can do with it what it likes, even destroy it.”
RugbyWA weighs appeal
RugbyWA management said in a statement it was evaluating legal options and considering grounds to seek leave to appeal to the NSW Court of Appeal.
“As we understand, the ARU had formed the view in February this year that the Western Force were the only team that could legally be removed from the competition.
“For the ARU to suggest there was an objective and transparent process, evaluating the merits of both the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels, was misleading and disrespectful to both RugbyWA and the Victorian Rugby Union.
“This has caused significant damage to both the game and the Super Rugby competition and reflects poorly on the ARU’s own values of honesty and integrity.”
The statement said the ARU agreed to expand the Super Rugby competition to 18 teams in 2015 to “appease” international partners, despite protests from local franchises.
“It would appear the ARU’s decision to cut a team has once again been based on prioritising the preferences of the [southern hemisphere rugby governing body] SANZAAR’s partners rather than a respect for the domestic game,” it said.
Forrest plans breakaway league
The announcement prompted Western Force backer and mining billionaire Andrew Forrest to announce he would carry through with threats to set up a breakaway Indo-Pacific rugby competition.
WA Premier Mark McGowan welcomed the move after hearing of the court ruling, which he described as disappointing for rugby fans, taxpayers and the state.
“I hope it is successful and I hope the ARU suffers as a consequence,” he told radio station 6PR.
“They have treated Western Australia so badly and we did so much for them.”
Mr McGowan said the State Government was still seeking advice on whether it will be able to sue the ARU to recover money it has spent on the Force, through stadium upgrades and the building of a new headquarters.
‘They will go overseas’
WA-based former Wallaby turned investment banker John Welborn said he was very disappointed by the court decision.
“You’ve got a vibrant, successful sporting culture here in Western Australia, you’ve got a wonderful team, and it’s just a tragedy that the future of this team currently is uncertain,” he said.
He said Western Force players and staff faced a difficult decision.
“You know the great shame is that the reality is many of those high-quality Australian men will be lost to Australian rugby, because they will go overseas,” he said.
“The view that going from five teams to four concentrates the talent in Australia, and will make more competitive teams unfortunately is a fallacy.”