Thursday, February 16, 2017 11:29AM
Australia’s professional rugby players have thrown their weight behind retaining Western Force in the Super Rugby competition.
Speculation has surrounded the future of the Force since a review ordered by SANZAAR, the competition’s governing body, made a number of recommendations that included a change of structure and a reduction in the number of teams.
Since then the Force has strengthened its financial position, striking a sponsorship deal with the Road Safety Commission.
The $1.5 million naming rights agreement is the biggest 12-month deal signed by an Australian Super Rugby franchise and has a three-year rollover renewal option.
They are also close to finalising the Own The Force campaign that is hoped to raise $5 million as the club becomes supporter owned.
With the ARU board meeting on Monday when the competition structure will be discussed followed by a SANZAAR meeting next month the Rugby Union Players’ Association has come out strongly to oppose any change that would see an Australian team cut from the competition.
RUPA Chief executive Xenos said there was a great opportunity for the ARU to advance the interests of Australian Rugby at the SANZAAR table.
“There is no denying that the current 18-team model has posed challenges that are real and which merit the consideration of alternatives,” Xenos said.
“The breadth of time zones, the lack of tribalism, and fewer home fixtures for each team to commercialise has perpetuated the economic pressure that the new broadcast deal was hoped to eliminate.
“Professional rugby is the economic engine of the game in Australia and we need more local content, not less, generating a larger revenue base to reinvest into premier and community Rugby.
“The ARU has a vision to inspire all Australians but there is nothing inspirational for any of the game’s stakeholders in voluntarily going backwards.”
RUPA president Dean Mumm said it was vital the game in Australia did not shrink.
“The players are engaged in ensuring that any new competition model genuinely remedies the current competition’s strategic failings and delivers more relevant, local derbies for Australian Rugby fans to enjoy,” Mumm said.
“Other codes in this country are growing their domestic competitions and fixtures at significant pace, and we simply can’t do the opposite in an attempt to shrink our way to success.
“It is vital that we preserve all opportunities for players and coaches to enter the professional rugby pathway all across the country. The game needs to inspire the next generation to play rugby and a successful national shopfront is paramount to that effort.
“Maximising elite opportunities for players and enhancing our state programs is the best strategy to fight the international player drain and develop our depth for Super Rugby and Wallaby competitiveness.
“By retaining five teams throughout the remainder of the current broadcast agreement, we allow time for a robust professional competition to be mapped out, and for the global season discussions to conclude, in order to develop a highly competitive and lucrative model to support Australian Rugby for all.”