SYDNEY The Western Force have agreed to enter into arbitration in their legal case with the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) over their possible axing from Super Rugby for next season.
Rugby Western Australia (WA) launched the case when the ARU announced two months ago that the Perth-based Force or Melbourne Rebels would be culled as the competition contracted from 18 to 15 teams for 2018. South Africa will also cut two teams.
At the heart of the suit was the ARU's guarantee that they would continue in Super Rugby until the end of the current broadcast deal at the end of 2020, a promise made when they were taken over by the governing body last year.
The process of removing one Australian team has become mired in legal process and the announcement of arbitration, to commence on July 31, is the first major step forward since the announcement was made.
"The Rugby WA Board believes that to proceed to arbitration is the best way forward for not only the Western Force, but for the betterment of the Super Rugby competition, and to expedite this process will only benefit the parties involved," Rugby WA said in a statement.
"The Board is particularly concerned with the lack of clear direction for players, staff and supporters and the expedited opportunity provided by a firm arbitration date will be in everyone's interest."
The privately-owned Rebels have been equally adamant that they will not be removed and this week named a new chief executive and signed former England lock Geoff Parling for next season.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Sudipto Ganguly)