ARU CEO Bill Pulver has faced a two pronged attack in the opening two hours of the WA Senate inquiry into the axing of the Western Force.
WA Senator Linda Reynolds was leading the line of questioning, which focused on the impact cutting the Force would have in providing financial aid to grassroots rugby, as well as the terms of the deal which was struck between the ARU and the Melbourne Rebels.
The final hour of Wednesday’s debate focused on the latter, with Pulver refusing to budge on confidential agreements with several parties when Senator Reynolds tried to pry details of the reasoning behind waiving $13 million in loans provided to the Melbourne based franchise.
Those loans were waived when Andrew Cox’s Imperium Sports Management purchased the Rebels in June 2015.
Pulver responded to queries about transparency regarding the financial relationship with the Victorian Government by pointing out every contract the ARU had signed with the Western Australian Government was stamped “confidential”.
“Would you be happy with me releasing information about the terms of the WA financial relationship in Victoria?” Pulver asked.When Senator Reynolds responded with a resounding “absolutely”, Pulver fired back.
“Every contract I have signed with the WA Government is marked confidential, just to be clear, so you would have to change the terms of agreement with your Government.”
Heated discussion ensued as Senator Reynolds pursued with the line of questioning regarding the $13 million in loans to the Rebels, which made up a large portion of the $28 million in “unbudgeted funding” that was provided to Super Rugby clubs in the time the ARU has supported the five club model.
Pulver explained that the loans were waived because of the transaction down with Cox’s ISM, before pointing to confidentiality agreements.
“We had signed an agreement with SANZAAR to field five teams in the Super Rugby competition,” Pulver said.
“We entered a relationship with a third party, the Imperium Sports Management Group, in order to have them run the Melbourne Rebels.
“We did that hoping it would be a better financial outcome than the Victorian Rugby Union running it.“When they came to us with that discussion and had to count for the historic losses, there was no way a private entrepreneur was going to pay for those losses.
“I’m not sure that we had any other alternative.”
When asked about Andrew Forrest’s involvement, Pulver said he did not have contact with the mining magnate until he issued a press release in support of the Force on the first day of arbitration, a point that was later refuted by Tony Howarth and Mark Sinderberry.
ARU chairman Cameron Clyne then met with Forrest in Adelaide, though Pulver did say it was “close to impossible” to save the Force by that point.
“By that point, the ownership of the Melbourne Rebels had changed hands,” Pulver said.
“Mr Clyne, to my knowledge, made Mr Forrest exactly aware of where we were in the circumstance.“Had Mr Forrest came into this discussion six months ago and effectively funded the purchase of the Melbourne Rebels licence, it may very well have been a different story.
“But unfortunately that is not how it unfolded.”
When questioned about the impact cutting a team would have in providing more financial aid for grassroots rugby, Pulver admitted there is work to be done.
“This year I believe we invested $190,000 in ARU funding for community rugby in WA and frankly, Senator, that’s not enough,” he said.
“We are not putting enough funding into the development of the community game and your question, I think, is a very relevant line.”
When questioned as to how much of the $285 million in broadcast revenue was being put back into grassroots, Pulver again conceded it was not enough.
“It’s probably only around a direct investment of $10 million but you have to understand that is an investment coming from the ARU,” he said.
The second hearing date is scheduled for October 11, with a report to be presented at the conclusion of the hearing.
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