SYDNEY, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Wealthy businessman Bill Pulver was named as the new chief executive of the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) on Wednesday and said his goal was to help the Wallabies become the number one team in the world again.
He replaces John O‘Neill, who was responsible for the successful organisation of the 2003 Rugby World Cup and stood down early from his second term as chief executive last October.
Pulver was most recently in the news when his daughter was the victim of an extortionist who broke into the family home in Sydney and put a fake “collar bomb” around her neck before demanding money.
The 53-year-old has a background in sports marketing and internet media research and has run companies around the world.
“For 20 years I have been a chief executive in a diverse range of industries and now I have the opportunity to focus my efforts on this great game, the game I love,” he said in a news release.
”Today there are many exciting investment opportunities that are capable of igniting growth in our game. However, the success of our financial model relies on a passionate and participative supporter base.
“In the short term the challenge for our team in the ARU headquarters is to work with all the game’s stakeholders to ensure rugby in Australia powers forward as a unified and energised force.”
Pulver takes over in an exciting year for Australian rugby with the British and Irish Lions touring in June and July.
One of the biggest decisions he will have to make this year will be whether to renew the contract of head coach Robbie Deans through to the 2015 World Cup.
New Zealander Deans has been a controversial appointment despite maintaining the Wallabies as the second ranked team in world rugby behind the All Blacks for much of his reign.
Criticism of the style of play employed under Deans, particularly the lack of tries, reached a fever pitch this year with Queensland coach Ewen McKenzie favoured by many in the game to replace him.
Despite the Wallabies winning the World Cup twice, rugby union is very much the third winter football code in Australia behind Australian rules and rugby league.
“In a world where our supporters are distracted by an endless range of entertainment options, we must aim to constantly enhance our entertainment experience and maintain a high performance culture to be the number one team in the world,” he said in listing his priorities. (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Patrick Johnston)