PREMIER Mark McGowan has exacted swift revenge on the Australian Rugby Union for its decision to axe the Western Force by scrapping a deal to bring forward a $4 million payment to stage the Bledisloe Cup at Perth Stadium.
While the blockbuster match between the Wallabies and All Blacks will still go-ahead in Perth in 2019, the WA Government is no longer willing to agree to the cash-strapped ARU’s request to make early payments.
Mr McGowan earlier this year agreed to the request on the proviso the Force’s future in the Super Rugby competition was guaranteed.
On Friday, WA’s rugby union community was devastated when the ARU announced it would cut the Perth-based team from the 2018 season and keep the Melbourne Rebels instead.
The WA Government is paying the ARU $5 million to stage Perth’s first Bledisloe Cup match. The former Barnett government late last year handed over the first $1 million, but the ARU will now have to wait another two years to get its hands on the remainder.
“The offer is definitely off the table now,” Mr McGowan said. “There is no way the ARU will be getting those payments earlier than originally planned. The deal is off.”
Mr McGowan also revealed the Government was re-visiting commitments made to WA several years ago by the ARU when the State agreed to pour millions into rugby in WA, including a $95 million upgrade to nib Stadium.
“Over the years the State had invested a significant amount of money towards the Force,” Mr McGowan said.
“What we’ll do is get to the bottom of any undertakings the ARU gave the State Government that underpinned the decisions to pour millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money into rugby.”
Apart from a $95 million upgrade to nib Stadium, that investment included $17 million into the Western Force headquarters and $25 million towards the Super Rugby licence.
Deputy Premier Roger Cook, who is a foundation member of the Western Force, said he would “boycott” rugby.
“I’ll never go to another Wallabies game for the rest of my life as a result of this decision. I’ve decided I’m going back to rugby league now in WA because the NRL is clearly supporting WA much more than the ARU is,” he said.
RugbyWA will this week file a Supreme Court injunction in an attempt to save the Force.
Billionaire mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, who has thrown his financial muscle behind the Force, yesterday called for an overhaul of the ARU board.
The ARU decision has sent shockwaves through WA rugby clubs, particularly at junior level, as the loss of the State’s premier union team hits home.
Cottesloe under-11s rugby players wore Western Force armbands during their game yesterday in support.