ARU pull plug on Australian Rugby Championship
December 18, 2007

The Australian Rugby Union has decided to terminate the Australian Rugby Championship (ARC).

The ARU Board considered a thorough review of the 2007 tournament which revealed a A$4.7 million loss for the ARU, more than A$2 million over the budgeted investment.

Even allowing for cost cutting measures, forecasts for next year also suggested further losses of A$3.3 million.

The ARU Board resolved that to continue with the ARC given the financial outlook - a cumulative loss of A$8 million over two years - would be fiscally irresponsible.

"Strong leadership is paramount to the success of our game and, to that end, there are times when tough decisions need to be taken," said ARU deputy chief executive Matt Carroll.

"Continuing with the ARC was considered by the Board to be an untenable financial risk for the ARU and Rugby as a whole.

"The Board noted that the ARC had achieved many of the player development goals including quality rugby for players, coaches and referees and an excellent opportunity to identify and trial talented players in higher level competition.

"They also noted the ARC was popular amongst its limited audience."

Carroll emphasised while the ARC would not continue in 2008, the ARU Board remained committed to improving the talent pathways for players and coaches, and expanding the game nationally.

"This decision should not be seen as a return to the pre-ARC status quo," he said.

"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.

"While the format of ARC and the stakeholder investment strategy has proven to be flawed, the concept of an affordable high quality rugby competition remains a key strategy."

Carroll said the forthcoming review would be carried out in conjunction with member unions, senior clubs, the Rugby Union Players Association (RUPA) and other key stakeholders.

"We want to reach a full understanding and agreement on the most appropriate structure for the game in this country," he said.

The decision to end the tournament after just one year was greeted with disappointment by the Australian Rugby Union Players' Association.

"The ARC had proven in its early stages that it had the potential to achieve on its stated objectives - namely player and coach development, talent identification and the retention of players in our code," it insisted in a statement.

"The survey results and general feedback from the ARC's key participants - the players - was overwhelmingly in support of the competition's values and achievements. It enabled the players to compete in a professional sporting environment and prepare them for Super 14 and Test rugby. The ABC TV were extremely happy with the ratings and the indications from rugby supporters nationwide were very positive. The ARC was gaining momentum despite its A$1.3 M overrun in budgeted costs.

"The RUPA remains concerned at what signal this decision sends to rugby followers and whether they will maintain confidence in rugby's decision makers to develop consistent sustainable competitions into the future."

Tony Dempsey, Chief Executive Officer of the RUPA added, "We can't help but feel this decision is premature. We understand the need to be fiscally responsible in the current environment however there has existed since October this year the opportunity to embark upon a rationalisation of the key development programs that exists in Australian Rugby including the Australian 7's, Australia A, Premier Rugby, National Talent Squad and State Union Academy programs in consultation with other key stakeholders including the State Unions and players.

"This would have enabled this sport to endeavour to reduce development costs overall with a view to making a final recommendation to the ARU Board on the ARC in say March/April next year. Given that ARC was not due to commence until August next year such a process of rationalisation is not unreasonable. The RUPA has not had enough input into the decision and gauging b y our discussions with our key stakeholders we note we are not the only stakeholder to feel marginalised by the process."

Leading players were also disappointed with the news with David Croft, Super 14 Reds player and Captain of the Melbourne Rebels commenting, "As a current professional rugby player but more importantly as an avid Australian Rugby supporter this decision stirs many emotions in me as I am a big advocate of this concept - primarily disappointment and frustration.

"This competition was seen by rugby administrators, spectators and players as a stepping stone to Super 14 and it has certainly proven to be of the high standard that all were crying out for!

"As custodians of the game of rugby I believe that we as a community need to look further into this competition than merely a financial balance sheet and its true success can not be fully measured at this early stage.

"There are many long term important benefits of this competition that cannot be recorded on a balance sheet, not least of which giving our fringe non Super 14 players an opportunity of staying in this country and giving them every chance of fulfilling the ultimate goal of playing for their country.

"The players and I all bought into this concept and built teams and established cultures that we can all be proud of.

"It doesn't seem right for it to be that easily taken away. We are competing against nations with national provincial competitions that deliver a standard of rugby that benefits both supporters and players and as a result they have a stronger game.

"I believe that the decision to withdraw this competition is a big step backwards after gaining the momentum that we were able to in 2007, especially given the combined performance of the Australian sides in the Super 14 in the past few years.

"I can only hope that this competition is replaced by something that will make our game stronger moving forward and to continue to develop and nurture the middle tier Australian players".

His sentiments were echoed by Alastair Campbell, Super 14 Brumbies player and Canberra Vikings Player, who commented, "The ARC has been a fantastic development and recruitment tool for players. The review undertaken by the ARU senior management should have been more inclusive of stakeholders including clubs, state unions and the players.

"We should be able to have spent several months over the summer discussing ways to reduce development costs of other programs and explore all options so that we collectively come up with the best option for Australian rugby."

Wallabies and Waratahs' star Adam Freier added, "We are disappointed that such a valuable development tool in the ARC has been terminated. The younger future generation of Wallabies and Super 14 players benefited enormously from this tournament.

"The cost of the loss of player development opportunities is hard to measure. We believe the players should have had greater input into such a decision given its impact on our ability to develop younger players."


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