27 October 2023

The Brumbies are digging in for the fight of their lives against a takeover by Rugby Australia

| Tim Gavel
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The ACT Brumbies supporters and fans

The ACT Brumbies are the most successful Australian rugby franchise – will Rugby Australia take them over? Photo: Brumbies Rugby.

Rugby in Australia is on its knees and the governing body wants to take total control of the most successful franchise in Australian Super Rugby history.

Not only does Rugby Australia want to take control of on-field operations, but it also wants the commercial and corporate functions and the Brumbies’ intellectual property.

This includes the Super Rugby licence held by the ACT and Southern NSW Rugby Union.

What could go wrong? Plenty – if the governing body’s handling of the Wallaby program is anything to go by.

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There appears to be a lack of understanding from ‘the suits’ at Rugby Australia about the reasons behind the code’s current parlous state.

The Wallabies’ failures at the 2023 World Cup and the dwindling support for the game in Australia have brought to the surface many problems, which have been glaringly obvious for years.

There has been a long-held belief among supporters and the grassroots that the game had become corporatised.

This is definitely the case in Canberra where there was a perception that the team had lost sight of the community footing on which the Brumbies had been established.

The Brumbies worked hard to restore community confidence, but the code’s overall woes in Australia have made the going tough.

The last thing the Brumbies need is further evidence that corporate aspirations have again overtaken the values the team has been working hard to emphasise. That is based on the Brumbies being Canberra’s team – proudly independent – with a rugby program that is to be envied.

The Brumbies sing the team song surrounded by fans at GIO Stadium. Photo: Tim Gavel.

The Brumbies sing the team song surrounded by fans at GIO Stadium. Photo: Tim Gavel.

There have been mistakes along the way, including taking the ‘ACT’ off the playing jumpers, which has thankfully been restored.

Now, Rugby Australia wants to take the ACT’s Super Rugby licence.

Understandably, this has raised concerns about the Brumbies’ long-term future in Canberra. And understandably, the ACT board has said thanks for the offer, but no thanks.

Part of Rugby Australia’s strategy, it would appear, is to raise doubts about the Brumbies’ financial viability, hence the plan to take over the commercial and corporate functions, leaving the club as a shopfront in Canberra.

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As the Rugby Australia auditors go through the Brumbies’ books, there will be a black hole, much of which is of Rugby Australia’s own making.

When the Western Force returned to the competition, the Brumbies’ allocation grant was reduced from $5.5 million a year to $3.9, with a promise that it would be restored.

That is yet to happen, and the Brumbies have worked hard to fill the hole, which has been made harder with a drop-off in crowd numbers.

A Brumbies home game in 2020. Photo: File.

A Brumbies home game in 2020. Photo: File.

If Rugby Australia takes total control, it is hard to imagine anything but a drop in support, giving the governing body a reason to relocate the team.

It will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The current dysfunction within the code could have enormous consequences with the potential to unsettle players resulting in an exodus to richer pastures in Japan and France.

Even the UK is looking attractive.

Clearly, there are many reasons why the Brumbies shouldn’t be acceding total control to Rugby Australia.

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Graham Philp9:32 am 31 Oct 23

I have to dissuade you of the observation towards the end of your article ” Even the UK looks appealing. As an Englishman – where we ve lost – bankrupt – 3 of 12 Level 1 clubs plus 1. Level 2 club recently I can assure you England’s situation is ****. Wales the same. England’s remaing 9 top level clubs have total debt of about £500 mios. Unsustainable. The RFU is hopeless and consists of imoenetrable silos of oncompetence according to an insider. Global player salaries are out of control. We can not afford £500k salaries – let alone the £ 1 mio Bath pay Finn Russell and close to that paid by Bristol to Charles Piutau. The income is simply not there.

Margaret Freemantle3:14 am 26 Oct 23

Let’s hope Joe Roff goes into bat for us

Vinson1Bernie4:07 pm 24 Oct 23

Private schools are keeping the game alive and there will be enough disgruntled other code players to give Rugby a try (at least at a social level) and to maintain its amateur status. The pro game has changed and Aussies athletic backlines are now being challenged by other countries monstrous and athletic backrowers. How we overcome this to get back to our previous advantage is a moot qn but the rise of AFL and lesser extent soccer means it will be tough

Lefty Boomer7:21 am 24 Oct 23

The problem goes back to rugby’s roots being firmly embedded in the Old Boys culture of the private schools. This has led to the game being an extension of wealth and privilege with its attendant myths and legends that cloud the minds of the ‘leather elbow patch’ brigade who idolise any ex-wallaby player and generally ry to steer them into the world of big business and corporate power. There is little about the grass roots that is essentially about a fair go and egalitarianism and as an ex-player, schoolboys’ coach and referee my perspective is that there is a distinct lack of ticker at all levels of the game.
Hope the Brumbies can ‘buck the trend’ but beware the old boys web.

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