Where to now for Rugby Australia? Survey that reveals fans’ staggering levels of pessimism


On Monday 29th April, at the Rugby Australia 2024 AGM, the Voting Members of Rugby Australia endorsed the proposed two new Directors and two out of the three re-nominated incumbent Directors to RA’s Board.

This, as would be clear to those who read my earlier articles, was not the outcome we advocated. Whilst we (the Supporters of Australian Rugby Reform) called for a full spill of the Board or at the least a rejection of the re-nominated three incumbents, we fully respect the fact that under the present system the Voting Members have, in the large part, endorsed the wishes of the existing Board and not supported the changes recommended by us, thus supporting the status quo.

Secondly, we would like to emphasise that our criticisms were not personally directed to the Board Members but primarily to the constitution which we strongly believe lacks direct democracy and no input or involvement of the Australian rugby community and encourages a “closed shop” through its Nominations Committee; also to the need for Board renewal as a matter of good governance

Thirdly, as part of our campaign we conducted a survey on pertinent issues. The summary of the survey findings is outlined here for your consideration:

96% of respondents said the current state of the game was declining or freefalling.
Comments on the state of the game focused on the need to strengthen the grassroots and clubs with emphasis on junior development.Problematic governance was a recurrent theme. One comment noted: “The current RA Constitution is incapable of being effective. It is too easy for state Unions to act egregiously and in their own self-interest to the detriment of the game in Australia.”

89% of the respondents favored a centralised model of governance whereby Rugby Australia has full control of the sport throughout Australia.

This is clearly a challenging proposition but one which would need to be addressed in any Governance review.

The “URGENT PRIORITIES” identified by the respondents were, in order of importance:
1. Investment in grassroots/club rugby ; and address and improve the financial situation;
2. Improve the Governance structure;
3. Reduce the size and cost of the RA bureaucracy;
4. Development of existing Rugby talent;
5. Improve high-performance pathways;
6. Improve coach education and skill development. In terms of governance focussed issues for future consideration 40% of respondents felt the Voting Members of RA should be the current voting members and the Affiliated Unions. While 20% wanted the current voting members and 19% the Clubs.
On the question of weighted voting rights, 56% were against this proposition.

How Directors should be nominated did not draw a majority view, but the strongest support was for “By the Rugby community” (33/77) with nominations by current Voting Members and Affiliates attracting 19/77. A nominations committee only drew 10/77.

On the pertinent question of the efficacy of current Nominations Committee membership and structure, and more particularly the process of the take-it-or-leave-it choice of candidates, there was a resounding rejection (75/77).

Rugby Australia Chair Dan Herbert. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

Recurring themes were: Conflict of interest; old boys club; nepotism; no room for choice – undemocratic; no transparency; not conducive to change.

The general tenor of the responses was best summarised by the comment: “It’s a big problem when no choice is the only choice.”

97% (74/77) of respondents are calling for a complete review and reform of RA’s governance.

A discerning comment states: “…review of governance procedures is necessary to facilitate change and encourage constructive and imaginative decision-making in the face of the need for change.”

A provocative comment suggests: “(States) have to look beyond their parochialism and bring everyone together”.

Another, even more provocatively, proposes: “Abolish state unions and move to AFL centralised model with independent Commission… just have RA State offices.”

Respondents were also afforded the opportunity to offer any other thoughts regarding the issues raised and for solutions to fix the current state of the game.

“Complete revamp…rugby in Australia needs to be rebuilt from the ground up”.

“(RA) needs to embrace all stakeholders, rebuild trust with the States and Unions… RA are a closed door to ideas and run with the ‘we know best’ attitude…I just don’t see the level of intent required to really make change coming from the current structure.”

In the interest of fair and reasonable disclosure we note one respondent had this to say in regard to our campaign:

“SOARR’s ideas show you are living in the past and the entitlement of this group to think you can snap your fingers and solve anything while there are actually people working tirelessly across all areas of the game to make it better reeks. All you SOARR guys had your turn and failed the game, let someone else try and make it better.”

False AND true! Some core members of SOARR have had a turn but we dispute that they failed the game. In fact, most were in office when Australian rugby was riding high and winning World Cups and Bledisloe Cups.

Moreover, we have never “snapped our fingers”. We have endeavored to reflect the views of the rugby community with whom we have engaged and to offer constructive pathways to improve the condition of Rugby Union in Australia.

While it has to be acknowledged this was a straw poll, we submit it nonetheless delivers some very strong messages. We concluded the loudest and clearest message is that urgent change is needed to the governance structure and processes of Rugby Australia and by extension Australian rugby.

Fourthly, we hope that the issues raised in our campaign and in the survey results (which we have submitted in full to the RA Board and its Members) will help with the challenges at hand. In this regard based on our members’ views and the findings of the survey, we urge – and recommend as fundamental KPIs for the new Board – that the following proposals be undertaken as a matter of urgency:

Review the governance structure and Constitution of RA in consultation with the wider Rugby Community
Conduct a forensic review and analysis of the RA and Super Team finances including financial risk analysis with FULL disclosure to the MUsConduct a detailed financial risk analysis of the forecast net revenues to be achieved from the Lions Tour and the two RWCsImplement a policy of ‘spending within our means’Review the competition structure of the Super competition and the viability of the franchises.Overhaul the coach education and elite youth development systemsReview the organisational structure of Australian Rugby.

Fifthly, and above all, we sincerely hope that the Board will show in the coming term that our concerns have been addressed, as irrespective of how it is done or who does it, we all want a fruitful resolution of Australian Rugby’s challenges and to see our sport once again prosper on and off the field. We feel full and frank disclosure of all the issues above should be published and feel the fact reports such as the Slack Report and review of the 2023 World Cup report are kept secret is an insult to the Australian rugby community.

However, in conclusion, we are compelled to say, in the event that this Board does not deliver, the Voting Members must also be considered accountable as it was they who voted to refuse the option of a complete spill and to retain two of the three incumbents and thereby failed to deliver a substantially renewed Board when they had the opportunity to do so.

And furthermore, it is hard to imagine a scenario with a more compelling case for far-reaching governance changes. That is, the Voting Members need to ensure that the RA Board performs, otherwise it is reasonable for the rugby community in Australia to expect, if not demand, that they and the Board should be removed from their positions of power and control for the sake of Rugby Union in this country.

All being well, it will not come to that, but we stand ready to urge for such radical action if our sport’s governors do not achieve the changes needed to save our sport from its demise in Australia that so many fear and dread.

All that said however, we are encouraged by most of the on field performances of the Super franchises, the State club competitions and from these, hopefully the new Wallaby coaching panel can produce a competitive on field Wallaby team and we wish them good luck.

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