SYDNEY (Reuters) - Billionaire Andrew Forrest called on Australian Rugby Union Chairman Cameron Clyne to resign on Wednesday over what he described as an unjust decision to axe the Western Force from Super Rugby.
Flanked by Force players at a news conference in Perth, the Western Australian mining magnate rejected the ARU’s assertion that his offer to invest up to A$50 million (30.89 million pounds) in rugby had come “too late” to save the franchise.
“It is not too late ... I know what 11th hour looks like and I certainly know what bullies look like,” he said.
“I’m saying this is not too late. This wonderful team behind me, the supporters in this state and everyone who believes in a fair go in Australia says it’s not too late.”
Rugby Western Australia have appealed the decision at the Supreme Court of New South Wales, which is expected to hand down a ruling next week.
The ARU made a commitment in April to reduce Australia’s five Super Rugby teams to four for next season and said they had settled on the Force over the Melbourne Rebels after an “exhaustive analysis”.
Forrest said he had seen documents indicating the ARU had been advised back in February that the Force alone presented no legal risk to axe, advice he thought indicated the ensuing process had been a charade.
“Had I known that the injustice of the decision to cut the Western Force was made in February, then I would have stepped in then,” Forrest said.
“I do not blame Mr. Bill Pulver, who I respect as a frank and honest servant of the board, but I do hold the chairman accountable and call on him to resign.”
The ARU responded with a statement that flatly rejected all of Forrest’s charges and reiterated that his offer of support had come “too late in the process for it to be a factor”.
“The decision to discontinue the Super Rugby licence of the Western Force was made by the ARU Board on August 11,” Clyne said.
“Andrew ... referred to a document or documents which indicated that a decision had been made to remove the Western Force in February. This was not the case and there are no documents which contain this information.
“I can only assume that Andrew has been provided with a document that contains some of the analysis that was undertaken ... to assess the many implications and considerations for exiting each (team).”
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford