The political wars are hotting up in the rugby ‘ruling classes’ with the usual suspects revolting again.
The target of course is ARU CEO John O’Neill. Self-interest is always at the heart of these stoushes. It’s like the history wars played all over again, black armband and all.
Let’s make it clear right from the start, I’m no ARU or O’Neill apologist. But it seems to me that in their latest attempt to leak so-called ‘bad news’ to their journalist of choice, these Vic Rugby alickadoos and fellow travellers are fostering dissent right at the time when Australian rugby should be pulling together.
Sure, O’Neill might rub some people up the wrong way and there’s ‘bad blood’ on the floor from previous encounters, but is this undermining going to continue throughout the year, with breathless exposés about who earns what and spends it where? It’s self-defeating, you know.
The trouble is they’re leaking against a guy who has serious runs on the board and is regarded as one of the premier sports administrators in the land. More on that later.
It’s not surprising to me that the ARU Board have re-signed him for another two years – I would have too. Geez, he’s a guy that’s led the organisation to a Rugby World Cup win and made the Final of another. Why wouldn’t you with his record?
And why shouldn’t the ARU Board re-sign him when they see fit? That’s their job isn’t it? I’m sorry, but I don’t think there’s anything in their constitution that says they have to discuss it with us first. Who would you replace him with, anway? Gary Flowers?
Some have been saying that the ARU Board is a compliant tool of O’Neill and he’s got them by the short and curlies. If you’re trying to tell me that General Peter Cosgrove, John Eales, Michael Hawker, Mark Connors, Dr Brett Robinson and the like are spineless ‘yes men’ then I think you should pull the other one, it’s got bells on it.
Look, all is never sweetness and light in these outfits, especially when competing interests and wills are at issue (e.g. national v. grassroots in particular). But if anyone thinks that this stuff is damaging to O’Neill they’d need to think again. All they’re doing is highlighting their own inadequacies.
As for O’Neill’s salary package, which was reported as $1.2 million (including incentives), then good luck to him if that’s true. That’s about the same as he was on when he worked for Frank Lowy at FFA.
You remember, he led their organisation to a FIFA World Cup tournament after securing the services of the respected Guus Hiddink. Made the play-offs too. Oh, and he set up the national A*League competition as well.
AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou is on a salary package of $2.2m, FFA’s Ben Buckley earned about $850,000 in 2007, and the NRL’s David Gallop reportedly made $700,000 (also in 2007). I’d expect the latter two to be on close to a million by now, although Gallop should be paid a motza more with what he has to put up with!
So, O’Neill’s alleged salary package looks comparable to me. He runs a high profile corporation will an annual income of $76 million (2010). How many wingers will be arguing about his dosh if the Wallabies bring back the RWC from New Zealand this year?
This is the guy that banked $38m for the ARU as profit from the 2003 RWC held here. One of the reasons it was so successful was because of his politicking when the Kiwis’ ineptitude lost them the co-hosting rights. This tournament was brilliantly staged in Australian stadia and was the most successful to date.
O’Neill’s first stint as CEO lasted for eight years between 1995 and 2003. He arrived during the difficult transition to a professional game, when the outcome could have gone another way. He was in charge of the ARU during its most successful era (1998 to 2002). RWC, Bledisloe and Tri-Nations silverware abounded.
Let’s not forget that he also took over the NSWRU from near bankruptcy in 2000, pumping in $5m to save it from the knacker’s yard. When he departed the ARU in 2003 (with some acrimony I might add), the national administration was sitting in a very good space.
When he returned in 2007, that certainly wasn’t the case. After three years of the Flowers regime there was a leadership vacuum; the Wallabies had been on the slippery slope for some time and critical aspects of their game had been neglected; we were knocked out of the RWC in the quarter-finals; playing numbers were down; Super crowds were slumping; Queensland and NSW were on the bottom of the Super 14 table, and the proceeds of that RWC hosting triumph had been squandered.
On the plus side, the ARC had been introduced as the much-needed third tier competition, and from a playing perspective was a great success. However, financially it was a disaster and had been unsustainable from the start. The Western Force had been established as a Super franchise, but only at the expense of Queensland (who have only just recovered).
Going out on a limb, O’Neill recruited Robbie Deans from Canterbury to coach the Wallabies. I don’t think that anyone could argue that Deans isn’t a world-class coach and has proved to be a good fit over here. It’s taken some time but he’s developed a pool of playing talent that looks far more impressive than the squad he inherited.
The Wallabies are back up to No. 2 in the rankings and they had a relatively successful season in 2010 (that is, compared to recent years). There are continuing issues with aspects of our game (scrummaging and physicality in particular); however, some green shoots are appearing and we should have a competitive team and structure for this year’s RWC campaign.
The other controversial issue of note is the potential re-signing of Robbie Deans to coach the Wallabies after the World Cup. O’Neill has flagged his intention to negotiate a continuation of his contract in the immediate future and before Deans is ‘headhunted’ by others. To me, this is a good move.
Deans appears popular with the players (just about everyone of note has re-signed to stay on) and there’s a feeling that a new era of success might be nigh. Success at the RWC is important, but life goes on afterwards and there’s plenty of challenges ahead. Sign him JO’N!
O’Neill has changed the paradigm with regard to Super 15 franchises, including private investment in the newest addition, the Melbourne Rebels. This was a difficult birth with the Vic Rugby Union appearing to be on the nose with the ARU, but in the end a healthy addition to the Australian Super Rugby family was delivered. Actually, the ARU has lent the Rebels $2.6m of late to help them out.
The expanded 2011 Super Rugby competition with more local derbies is proving popular and advantageous to us, as we appear to have the weakest franchises. O’Neill was instrumental in facilitating a new SANZAR broadcasting agreement for the next five years, which delivers SANZAR $US437m (up by $100m).
And there’s this: the current No. 1 team in Super Rugby is the Queensland Reds, who are also being financially propped up by the ARU to the tune of a $3m bailout.
National playing numbers under O’Neill’s watch have gone up 8.8 per cent to 209,571 (including 40,000 seniors and 132,000 regulars) in the past year.
Yep, there is cost cutting going on this year, as the ARU will have reduced revenue streams because the usual major inbound tours in June are not happening. IRB compensation will not cover the loss. Income from the SANZAR deal is also affected as it’s paid in US dollars, and the high exchange rate hurts.
The ARU will impose a $4.4 million cap for Australia’s five Super franchises in 2012, a figure that will fall to $4.1 million from 2013. The money will be spread between reduced squads of 30 players and the ARU is planning to centralise the academy system by funding new programs in Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra.
John O’Neill is a hard-nosed bastard who provides strong leadership to the ARU, and in my view is respected by his peers in world rugby because of it. This is a guy who’s got gravitas and cannot to be taken lightly (unlike his predecessor). He’s a fellow who gets things done. I think he’s the right man to lead us forward, as all the evidence above suggests.
We all want good corporate governance, transparency and accountability in the ARU. Have a read of their Annual Report and I think that’s what you’ll find is happening. The game’s administrators and alickadoos make an easy target for criticism. Sure, they sometimes deserve it, but I think the game in Australia is in safe hands. Perhaps it might be some associated egos that are out of control.