Australian Rugby attempts to regroup amidst administrative turmoil 


It has been anything but plain sailing for Australian rugby for several years, and financial strain has been one of many issues. The resignation of Peter Wiggs – after 6 weeks in the Chairman role – indicates that problems and pressures exist across the organization right down to a grassroots level, where funding shortages have sparked concerns over the effectiveness of the next generational talent’s transition into the national squad. 

While Japanese rugby has enjoyed a flourishing PR campaign in the wake of a successful world cup hosting, the All-Blacks continues to dominate the scene and France’s youthful squad boasts a wealth of new talent – winning the last under-20 world cups – the need to reform and recalibrate the Australian side is a worsening problem that won’t go away anytime soon. The question comes down to what Rugby Australia (RA) is actually doing to combat these inadequacies, and whether they will be enough to turn the tide.  

Lacking from the Top

The resignation of Peter Wiggs was not the beginning, but rather another layer of complexity to the problems within RA. Something of a financial crisis has risen its ugly head – exacerbated by global uncertainties – fundamental concerns over consistent future revenues, as well as the suspension of rugby globally, including the Super Rugby competition, means the immediate future alone is not a bright one.

While broadcasting rights tend to be a major factor in bringing some financial stability, RA has now been trying to finalize a new broadcasting agreement for some time, seeing chief executive Raelene Castle quitting in May, claiming she believed the board ‘no longer wanted her in the role.’

There is some good news, appointing the television and media executive Hamish McLennan as a director and chairman-elect indicate a clear intention – settling the broadcasting rights delay and finally setting some firm figures in place for financial planning in the future.

Source: Unsplash

Growing the Grassroots

Announcing a 40% staff cut to fend off potential insolvency doesn’t scream that things are going well, and yet RA has implied that this is a time of struggle that can be overcome – or at least, according to the newly appointed director Hamish McLennan:

“We are going through a difficult period but rugby’s core is very strong and, while we have a lot of work to do, I wouldn’t have taken on the job if I didn’t think I could have made a difference.”

It seems one of the main strategies has been removing the inefficiencies from the inner circle.

One of SANZAAR’s chairmen – the body which oversees Super Rugby and The Rugby Championship competitions in Rugby Union – Cameron Clyne’s justification for sacking Western Force from SANZAAR was largely focused on the problems caused by the franchise in damaging the “capacity to invest in community rugby.” 

It should be noted that Rugby Australia only puts 3.6% of its revenue in the funding of community rugby in the nation.

Source: Unsplash

The Bottom Line

The more outspoken critics of the perceived bureaucratic structure of the RA is the root of that problem. With only 90,000 registered players in the entire country, is it possible that restructuring would resolve a systemic problem like poor grassroots funding – it’s hard to say. However, drastic changes are needed as they are no longer feared at the top level of the sport and are as low as 14/1 in the rugby union betting to win the 2023 World Cup.

Poor results on the pitch have dogged the Wallabies, too. The last World Cup was nothing to write home about – a quarter-final exit and the resignation of the coach, Michael Cheika. The Bledisloe Cup has not been won by Australia for a stunning 14 years consecutively now.

While many might claim that management can be improved and change will come – it seems that the RA has a lot more soul-searching left to do before that bright horizon the fans are after gets any closer.