Geoffrey Stooke has followed chief executive Bill Pulver out of the door after resigning from his role on the Australian Rugby Union Board.
A day after Pulver walked away following the decision to axe Western Force from Super Rugby, Stooke has also opted to leave his post.
Stooke said Australia’s Rugby Union is the custodian of the game of rugby in Australia, not simply the custodian of the business of rugby.
He gave a lengthy and passionate statement regarding his decision to resign and wished RugbyWA well after the difficult events of Friday.
“I did this as a consequence of the Australian Rugby Union Board’s decision to remove the Western Force from the Super Rugby competition,” said a clearly disappointed Stooke. “I didn’t participate in this decision, as over the past two months I had been recused from all Board meetings, teleconferences and discussions on the Super Rugby ‘culling’ process. Yesterday I advised that I would no longer recuse myself but the Chairman believed I couldn’t do that and agreed to provide me legal advice supporting his opinion. It was never forthcoming.
“Over the five and a half years I have been on the Board, there have been times when I have had very different views on issues to those of some of my fellow Board members and those of management. However, I always believed it was better that I be ‘inside the tent’ rather than offering commentary from ‘outside the tent’. Importantly, whilst I expressed my views within the Board, once decisions were taken I then supported them privately and publicly. As was my fiduciary responsibility!
“Recent events have been difficult for me and I have fought strongly to retain five Super teams, to honour various commitments to players, fans, governments, sponsors and others, to maintain a national footprint for our game and to avoid possible expensive and brand damaging legal actions. It was not simply me trying to save the Western Force because of my previous association with that team. I strongly believe it is not strategically sound to remove a team, particularly given recent positive financial initiatives with the two ‘at risk’ teams.
“Sadly, I lost the battle and I was the only dissenting vote on the Board earlier in the year when the Board resolved to remove a team. This resolution was subsequently supported by an extraordinary meeting of the Australian Rugby Union.”
He continued: “Today’s decision means that over sixty players and staff will lose their jobs, have their families disrupted, a Member Union will lose its elite rugby team and the pathway to elite rugby for Western Australian players will be lost. I believe they all deserved better. We can talk about investing in this and that but just remember, we are not talking about a corporate overhead but a team that is made up of hardworking and committed people!
“This decision is not about the financial viability of teams but an opportunity to reallocate financial resources in what I believe is in response to pressure and demands from various vocal rugby interest groups in relation to community rugby funding. Unfortunately, the demands were not fact base but the damage is now done. Of course, we would like to invest more in grassroots and other areas but removing a Super team to do this is not the answer.
“I was opposed to the inclusion of an Argentinian team and a Japanese team in Super Rugby. Without doubt, the failure of such an unwieldy, unattractive and more expensive competition has contributed to the demise of an Australian Super Rugby team and the future demise of rugby in Western Australia. They did not deserve this!”
Stooke’s statement continued: “Opportunistically, concerns regarding the competition structure provided the leverage to negotiate the removal of an Australian team. Removing a Super team and retaining the same level of broadcasting revenue was attractive to some.
“When the Rebels were experiencing significant financial issues prior to private ownership, the need for a national footprint for our game and the avoidance of reputational damage were high priorities. Significant financial assistance was provided. This has certainly changed now, with the loss of our national footprint and the players, fans and supporters in Western Australia being denied the opportunity to watch live or play elite rugby in Perth.
“I never wanted to throw any team under the ‘bus’ but to create a situation that considers retaining a team that has lost almost $30million (including nearly $17.5million additional cost to the ARU) since 2011 at the expense of a team that has incurred additional cost to the ARU of only $5.5million since 2005 is outrageous! We should be rewarding success not failure. To introduce financial criteria that have nothing to do with the financial viability of each term is less than appropriate.
“An appropriate consultation process was never in place and in my view the Western Force was always being targeted for removal. This was simply because they were seen to be the easiest to remove contractually but they were not the team that deserved to be removed. The process lacked due diligence and contained significant levels of bias.”
In conclusion, Stooke said: “My passion and love for the game goes back over sixty years and has never diminished – and will not diminish! It has been a long journey with over 50 years playing, over 40 years coaching and over 30 years as an administrator. However, without a doubt today is my all-time low point in the game.”