Part of me wants to write a feel good piece about the end of the pools phase of the RWC, for we’ve seen some magnificent footy to my mind.
We’ve seen the likes of the Bokke and Les Frogs show pure power across the park. We’ve seen the precision and ruthlessness of the All Blacks racking near a ton of points on the Italians. We’ve seen the creativity and flair of the Irish, the dogged ‘we will win somehow’ of the English and even the ‘we will run from anywhere’ of Los Pumas. Sprinkled in and around that we’ve seen the grim and determined grind of the Georgians and the sheer raw physicality of the Tongans and Samoans.
Alongside that we’ve witnessed the pace and poetic flair of Fiji, with surely the last minute fumbling of a ball in-front of an open goal line by Semi Radradra against Wales going down as probably the greatest heartbreak moment of the whole World Cup.
And that’s been complemented by the canny inventiveness of the Japanese who’ve employed everything from over-the-head chip kicks, to passes between the legs, to rampaging locks charging down sidelines as they looked to overcome their limitations to seriously challenge far more elevated rivals – as they are wont to do on the big stage.
But for me, so far I rank the sheer bravery of Chile as only being outdone by the open, raw joy of playing rugby as displayed by Portugal, not just in their win over the Fijians on the weekend, but throughout the entire tournament.
For the Chileans, what we’ve seen from Pablo Lemoine and his captain, Martin Sigren, in their first World Cup appearance has been purely inspirational. Yes they got whacked about, particularly by England and Argentina. But the gusto with which they kept playing was exceptional. And anyone who saw Chile refuse to give in against Los Pumas in particular witnessed a level of bloody-minded commitment they will remember for a long time.
For Portugal, appearing in their second RWC (2007), they managed one 18-all draw against Georgia and most pundits thought ‘that was that’. Certainly no one saw their victory over quarter-final bound Fiji coming. And that victory, that famous 1pt victory, and the open displays of naked pride and glee it unleashed, just made it so much the more beautiful to witness. I count myself the richer for seeing it.
After our dismal showing, I needed that tonic. I needed to be reminded of why I love this game. And I thank all those who have stepped up and reminded me of the power, the passion and the poetry that is rugby football.
But I’m not done. For I’m still angry, I’m angry in that way that only comes for me after the immediate passions have ebbed away, when thinking becomes precise, mannerisms calculated and, in most outwardly visible manner, seemingly calm.
Who am I angry at? I am angry at Rugby Australia. I’m seething at the nine chairmen and the nine CEOs who’ve had the temerity to call themselves the leaders of our game, while they pulled pay cheques, flew first class and necked free beers, while appointing mates, fellow 3rd XV colleagues, and spent the game’s money on consultants and reports (which told us what exactly what?). And they’ve done it for the last two decades while the rest of us plebeians watched the grassroots of our domestic game wither, convulse and flop about gasping like so many fish caught on lines while they ordered sushi.
Please believe me Rugby Australia, this is not an anger that’s going back in the bottle. This is not a fit of pique that will pass when someone hands Nutta another can of Bundy & coke. This is a deep antipathy that’s eating a hole in the lining of my stomach as it has already eaten a hole in my wallet.
Rugby Australia, you need to hear us when we say we’ve had enough of the used car salesmen, of the snake oil promises and the smoke and mirrors games. We’ve had enough of the ‘lets buy a mungo’ rot while we watch another Mack Hansen go to Ireland. We’ve had too much of the “We have big plans for expanding the game” while we see whole segments of the population outright ignored and yet another good servant of Aussie rugby like Twiggy Forrest have a door slammed shut in his face. And we’ve certainly seen enough of jobs and first-class tickets for the boys while we see the women’s game and players being so crassly patronised meaning that repeats of the ilk of the disgraceful 2017 sponsors walkaway by BuildCorp are rumoured to be nigh.
And the first place I’d start? Well, let’s have a look at the source of all, the place where strategy, trajectory and orientation all comes from: the Board of Directors.
Rugby Australia has an ‘independent’ Board of Directors. Their job is to ‘advance the best interests of rugby throughout Australia’, apparently. Under the Rugby Australia constitution, RA Directors are appointed via the Nominations Committee. The Nominations Committee members are Marc L’Huillier, Darryl McDonough, John Sharp and the Chairman of RA itself (McHamish).
But try as I might, I can find no pathway, no reporting stream and certainly no performance review mechanism by which the RA Board is held to account for themselves and their actions to or by the citizenry of Australian rugby, ie. to the likes of sub-paying, boot-wearing, sausage-shuffling you and me. So, while I don’t want to be guilty of taking easy potshots at folk I don’t know, and whom I’m sure are doing what they feel is ‘best’ (best for whom exactly?), as it appears to me, the RA board answers to no one. So is it any wonder we’ve lacked any sense of strategy, leadership or vision?
For a quick explanation for those who don’t quite understand business hierarchies and governance, let’s use everyone’s favourite whipping boy right now in Qantas and their ex-CEO Alan Joyce as exemplar. Like any publicly listed entity, Qantas has a three-armed check and balance system of executive, board and shareholder to make sure everyone does their job. In loose terms:
- The executive management team is headed by the CEO and they run the day to day business (that was Alan Joyce for Qantas and for RA it’s Phil Waugh).
- The executive team answers to the board who set broad strategy while overseeing governance and compliance to ensure the organisations meets its purpose and obligations. The board is headed by the chairman; for Qantas that’s the ever-popular Richard Goyder and for RA it’s McHamish.
- The board answers to the shareholders who, for Qantas, the big hitters are the major investment groups (who hold our superannuation) and activists who come asking pesky questions at shareholder meetings, etc. about issues like executive packets, good/bad performance in the market and selling seats on flights that don’t exist. They ‘vote with their feet’ so to speak as they vote on proposals and react as share price and dividends rise and fall.
- So the circle is that the executive answers to the board who answer to the shareholders and that keeps everyone focussed on their bit within what is important to the business.
But for RA, the board answers to no one. There are no shareholders they report to. Well, to be precise they do technically answer to the states and franchises who hold the general membership voting rights, but those are hardly either transparent organisations themselves or clearly invested in RA performing as it should (demonstrated by their reluctance to trust RA to deliver anything – see the current High Performance centralisation dog-fight for a case in-point). And no matter what, they certainly don’t answer to us whom I consider as the archtypical, superannuation/fee-paying, grassroot, rugby shareholder.
Now I’m not suggesting we float Rugby Australia on the stock exchange. Christ On His Stick only knows how badly we’d tank right now if we did. Frankly I think McHamish is having a hard enough time fronting to sponsors right now, let alone handle major institutional shareholders and market analyst types. And beyond that, the governance of our game, with its assets, traditions, history and its raison d’être isn’t something to be fed to the wolves of the ASX anyway. Gordon Gekko we do not need.
But what I’m saying is that we simply must get some form of feedback loop or accountability pathway on the table, through which to hold the RA Board, and thereby the executive, to account for their performance (or clear lack thereof). Why? Because for +20yrs now we’ve seen what the outcome is when there isn’t such accountability.
I’m not suggesting a model which is overwhelmingly club orientated, akin to what has brought the RFU and WRU to their knees. The shenanigans and strictures that their club heavy approach would place on our Board has been proven to be constricting to the point of immobility. In fact, I don’t have a full model to lay out now. So I invite you, Dear Reader, to perhaps offer yours for consideration and inspiration. But what I do know is that I’ve paid my subs and worn my studs for over 40 bloody years and yet I have no say in how my game is run. And that’s just straight-up wrong-headed.
The situation as it stands now, wherein the RA Board, and thereby RA itself, answers to no one is demonstrably ineffective and is therefore unsustainable. So I feel compelled to ask that, without meaning to be disrespectful to the referendum about to shape the future of our country in a pretty big way, do we, the average rugby grassroot shareholder, need our own version of the rugby Voice?