Billionaire to launch rebel Indo-Pacific competition

Tue, 05 Sep 2017 05:50

REACTION: Mining magnate Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest announced plans Tuesday for a rebel Indo-Pacific rugby competition after the Western Force lost a legal appeal against their axing from Super Rugby.

Forrest, a billionaire backer of the franchise's parent body RugbyWA, said six teams would initially be involved, including the Force, with the league starting "as soon as possible".

"It will involve key countries across the Indo-Pacific region who have approached us or who have publicly stated their deep conviction to rugby if they could be included in an Indo-Pacific arena," he said in Perth.

"We will include strong and deeply powerful players, broadcasters and fans of rugby all across the Indo-Pacific region where some 60 percent of the world's people live on our time-frame right here in Western Australia."

Forrest, founder and chairman of a mining company, said he planned to kick off the competition with an international game.

"You may be assured I don't let the grass grow under my feet. It will be as soon as possible and certainly much faster, I think, than the ARU could ever organise," he said.

Forrest has been an outspoken critic of the Australian Rugby Union and the handling of its decision to axe one of five Australian teams in the Super Rugby competition.

The Perth-based Force were informed they would be cut last month and on Tuesday the NSW Supreme Court in Sydney dismissed their appeal.

They had appealed an original court decision that a new SANZAAR broadcast deal for 15 teams was legally binding, therefore nullifying an agreement between the ARU and the Force guaranteeing them survival until the end of 2020.

SANZAAR, the governing body of Super Rugby, decided to reduce the competition after the unwieldy four-conference 18-team model lost favour with fans and led to a slump in television viewers.

The ARU then announced that it would assess the business cases of the Force and the Melbourne Rebels, before deciding the Perth franchise would be culled.

"We've been vindicated twice now in the legal process," said ARU Chairman Cameron Clyne, who had no comment on the rebel league.

"We are looking forward to a [Super] competition that will be four strong Australian teams. The 15-team format with three conferences of five is a better format."

Force veteran Matt Hodgson burst into tears when he heard the team had lost their appeal, saying he was "frustrated, angry, annoyed, disappointed".

"We're lucky that we have people here fighting. It's a pity that the ARU didn't fight for us," he said, and threw his support behind Forrest's vision.

Forrest did not say which teams he was targeting for his rebel league, but said he would be encouraging South Africa and other teams to "come across" from SANZAAR.

"I think SANZAAR has obviously been a very clear mistake for Australian rugby," he said. 

"Shrinking the game as opposed to growing its grassroots, broadening its financial base, making it a powerful game is what good leadership should do. 

"So, I would be encouraging South Africa and other teams to come across. Indo-Pacific is a massive economy, broadcasters need huge populations and huge economies.

"They are not represented in SANZAAR necessarily with New Zealand, South Africa and Australia dominating it.

"But if we get up into the Indo-Pacific region, that's where all the world's economic growth is, that's where the world's population is and that's where the game of rugby will be very powerful and centred from Western Australia."

Agence France-Presse