This article was first published in World Sports Advocate. The World Sports Advocate version of this article is available here.
Billionaire Andrew Forrest officially announced on 13 September 2017 his plans to set up a new Indo-Pacific Championship following dismissal of an appeal by Western Force against the Australian Ruby Union’s (‘ARU’) move to axe the team from the Super Rugby competition. Despite the reactionary nature of the proposed new Championship, which will begin on 13 August 2018 and will feature six teams despite interest from 20 countries, Forrest confirmed that “We will be, from here, investing, organising and energising the game of rugby in collaboration with the ARU, in collaboration with Super Rugby and in collaboration with the Wallabies.”
“The proposed Indo-Pacific tournament is an interesting development which gives Australian rugby the opportunity to work together to lead the growth of rugby in the region,” said Amelia Lynch, Head of the Sport, Leisure & Tourism sector team at Lander & Rogers. “The concept of developing an alternative competition provides an opportunity for the Western Australians, World Rugby and the ARU. Both sides should consider the lessons learned from other new tournaments established in sport in the past - World Series Cricket and Super League rugby were both created in Australia. The way the competitions were established at the time had a costly and divisive effect on those sports. However, they ultimately resulted in the governing body working with the alternate league to expand the sport and its hold on the sport and media landscapes. Rugby has the chance to learn from the lessons of the past and work together to lead the growth of rugby in Australia and the Indo-Pacific region.”
The NSW Supreme Court dismissed Perth based rugby union team Western Force’s appeal on 5 September 2017 in which they argued that the ARU had no right to axe the team under the terms of an alignment deal. Before the exclusion of Western Force had been finalised, Forrest had offered the ARU AUD 50 million to financially support Western Force if the ARU kept the team within the Super Rugby competition. Initially therefore following the Court’s dismissal of the appeal, Forrest’s proposal to set up a new Championship seemed to be more of a threat to go into competition with the ARU. However, Forrest’s recent announcement has confirmed that discussions are in collaboration with the ARU and specifically relate to the possible replacement of the Australian National Rugby Championship (‘NRC’), Australia’s third tier rugby competition.
“As a stand-alone rebel tournament, the Indo-Pacific competition would be all but doomed. But with approval and support from the ARU, broadcasters and the private sector, it has significant potential as a pathway competition,” adds Allistar Twigg, Lawyer at Snedden Hall & Gallop. “If the competition involved teams from other emerging rugby nations (such as Japan, Singapore, China, Hong Kong, and Sri Lanka) and some more established rugby nations (like Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, and possibly at the New Zealand provincial level), it may attract an international broadcast and/or streaming audience, with commensurate revenues. It would also increase the market for rugby players, meaning more employment and the growth of rugby in those nations.”