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Rugby Australia in financial and structural crisis, says Olympics boss who turned down top job


In a single day Rugby Australia had its incoming chairman resign, the interim chairman appointed an interim CEO, and the man touted as the long-term CEO had withdrawn his interest.

The man who would be chief executive is Matt Carroll, the Australian Olympic Committee boss, who says “Rugby Australia is in distress”.

The sport had shown some positive signs in the past week with new board member Peter Wiggs leading discussions with the player union, RUPA, to resolve long-standing issues.

Wiggs was in the frame to be appointed chairman with a plan to get the sport out of its multi-million-dollar black hole.

That plan included Carroll as CEO.

On Wednesday morning Wiggs suddenly resigned. He had been on the board since March.

Interim chair Paul McLean asked Carroll if he was still interested, despite Wiggs’s departure. His answer was yes.

Late in the afternoon Matt Carroll received a text message that said the board would appoint an interim CEO and take three or four months to work through the nomination for the permanent position.

That delay had put Carroll in an untenable situation.

“Obviously I’m the CEO of the Australian Olympic Committee and in all good consciousness it’s not a situation where I could delay for three months,” Carroll told The Ticket.

“So, I advised Paul by text that I’d withdraw my interest in the job.

“It disappoints me … I certainly still believe I have lot to offer, a lot to help them get them out of the crisis they’re in.”

For now he says, “Matt Carroll is committed to the AOC”.

Changes at the top causing confusion in the game

Wallabies players look dejected as the referee blows his whistle to end a loss to Wales.
There is a sense that Rugby Australia’s head office is unwilling or uninclined to act despite the game being in crisis.(AP: Koji Sasahara)

With Wiggs gone, the goodwill he had recently built with the players has also dissipated.

There is now even more confusion amongst the key stakeholders in the game and a developing sense that head office is unwilling, or unable, to take the decisive action needed in this time of crisis.

Carroll was asked whether Wednesday’s events had led to more confusion in the game.

“Yes, the answer to your question is yes,” he said.

“I think Peter [Wiggs] has done a fantastic job for the time he’s been there.

“He’s a very intelligent man, very equipped at being able to sort out a business in distress — and Rugby Australia is in distress.

“It’s not just the financial distress that they’re experiencing. They’ve also got structural and competition problems; they are in serious trouble and they know that.

“Hence Peter was trying to do his best to help. I know his strengths, he knows my strengths.

“That’s why Peter put to the board that he and I could come in and work with the board and the organisation to help dig them out of this position.

“But at the end of the day it’s the choice of the board.

“They’ve made that decision, I must respect that position and both of us have moved on.”

Loan from World Rugby not enough

Nick Farr-Jones
Former Australian Rugby Union captain Nick Farr-Jones has said the game is at risk of becoming insolvent.(AAP: Paul Miller)

In mid-April the allegation was first made by former Wallaby Captain Nick Farr-Jones that Rugby Australia was facing insolvency.

Carroll was asked whether he thought insolvency was likely.

“It’s a very serious position [Rugby Australia is in],” he said.

He should know. Back in the late 80s and early 90s Carroll was on the board of NSW Rugby Union when it lost around $18 million and had to be bailed out with the involvement of the banks.

In 2000-2001 NSW Rugby was in trouble again and Carroll was sent in by the national body to get the business back to square one.

“It’s like any insolvency. They are a company, so contracts get voided, players don’t get paid, their ability then to support a competition becomes stressed,” he said.

“At the community level — clubs, schools, juniors — that all goes on, we’re only talking about the professional game.”

Now the professional game is sweating on a bail out from World Rugby, rumoured to be in the vicinity of $16 million.

But Carroll warns that is neither enough, nor without strings attached.

“It’s very important for RA to get that loan, but it is a loan don’t forget, it’s not a grant.”



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