O’Neill plays down Aussie Rugby ‘crisis meeting’




Australian Rugby Union chief John O’Neill has played down speculation over today’s gathering of leading rugby officials from the four Australian provinces saying that it is not a “crisis meeting” over the future of the game.

Over the past week there have been claims that some of the provincial rugby officials are angry with the ARU and in particular O’Neill’s control over the game and there are fears that a major rift has developed between some Super Rugby organisations and the national body.

The provinces are “demanding answers” from the ARU on several issues, including the location of the fifth Australian Super 15 team, where the new franchise’s players will come from, and what the provinces will receive from the new SANZAR broadcasting contract talks.

Chief Executives and the Chairmen of the Waratahs, Reds, Western Force and Brumbies will meet O’Neill and other ARU officials in Sydney.

O’Neill said that he was “bemused” by the threat of it turning into a “crisis meeting”.

“I’m scratching my head to understand why the tag ‘crisis meeting’ has been attached to what is really a routine meeting,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“What is the crisis? In terms of the ARU, whilst we are operating in very challenging times, we are not looking at a crisis.”

O’Neill accepted that the provinces did want an update on SANZAR’s broadcasting negotiations and said that “they will be given that”.

“We put our offer in before News Limited and SuperSport (South Africa) on June 30, and they have 60 days to respond,” he said.

“There is still 47 days to go.”

“They want a report on what our expectations are in terms of broadcast revenue.”

“We have some idea, but at the end of the day it’s like selling a house. You never know until the day of the auction.”

“Until the broadcast deal is done, we can’t indicate what the funding arrangements are.”

“We have to get the deal done first, and then we will understand what the size of the cake is.”

Possibly the most contentious issue is the location of the fifth Australian team, which will involve private equity, in an expanded Super 15 tournament from 2011, O’Neill said it was premature to provide an answer.

There have been rumblings that a football (soccer) team will be awarded the franchise in Melbourne on the condition that they give the ARU a share in the team. The fear is that when the current franchise agreement’s expire they will be given to consortiums that offer the ARU the most.

In addition in Queensland, there are concerns the new team will be based on the Gold Coast, which Reds officials believe would fragment their market. There are similar concerns at the Waratahs over the possibility of the team being based in western Sydney.

“There are demands that there shouldn’t be due process and that the franchise should just be located in Melbourne,” O’Neill said.

“My belief is that competitive tension will more than likely bring a much better outcome.”

” How do you know until you go to the market place that there mightn’t be a significant interest and funding from other locations?

“This is not to diminish Melbourne’s attraction, but there is also a new stadium on the Gold Coast, and a very good stadium in western Sydney.”

“Australian rugby only gets a chance now and again to expand its footprint. We had one in 2005 and went to Perth. We have another one now, and there were some real lessons to learn from Perth.”

“The Western Force did a lot of good things, but equally there were aspects in how they operated, particularly around uncontrolled third-party payments, that are not good for the game.

“The fear tactic that has been spread is that the ARU is going to own this fifth franchise.”

“No, we’re not. Our involvement may be a 10 or 20 per cent shareholding if it’s necessary to get the franchise up and running.”

“When the Western Force was established, the ARU had a completely hands-off role. And because we had a hands-off role and didn’t control the movement of players, the ARU abrogated its responsibilities.

“Now we’re trying to position ourselves to control the flow of players, whereby we can avoid the impact and damage on the four teams, through a 10 to 20 per cent shareholding, and we are getting criticized for that.”

“We are in a no-win situation. People want absolute precision at this meeting about where the team is going to go, and what’s the ownership model. These things are still evolving.”

There have also been concerns that the fifth Super Rugby team in Australia would stretch player resources in Australia too thin and this would knock on in the same way that the Reds suffered when the Force took a large percentage of their talent back in 2005.

O’Neill said that the squad was likely to comprise Australian players who are now overseas, rugby league recruits and players from the Pacific Islands and Japan.

“Can we put together a good team which doesn’t detract from the other four? I believe we can,” he said

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