In fact, for a while there, it was downright easy. Being an older I guy I can happily remember the 90’s. The 90’s were a great time for Australian Rugby. World Champions in 91 and 99 and a pretty much a full trophy cabinet. Capped off by 2 matches in 1999, and I remember them both. The first in August 1999 was the Bledisloe Cup match at Stadium Australia (aka Sydney Olympic Stadium). The First Rugby match at the new Stadium and the Wallabies defeated the All Blacks in front of 106,042 people and I was there. I flew down from Katherine in the Northern Territory for the match.
The second match was the Final of the Rugby World Cup. The date was the 22nd of November and the Wallabies defeated France. I didn’t get to go to that one. I was sitting in a Motel Room in Mt Isa silently shedding a tear as John Eales lifted the William Webb Ellis Cup.
Four years later and the Rugby World Cup Tournament came to Australia. It put Rugby Union in the eyes of all Australians. Not just the Ruby fans. The Wallabies made it to the Final only to have our hearts broken by Johnny Wilkinson Drop Goal in Extra time. The Tournament had the ability to make Rugby Union into the upper echelons of Australian Sports, leap frogging Rugby League and coming within spitting distance of Cricket and Aussie Rules. But it didn’t, someone dropped the ball. The opportunity was missed.
Since the 2003 Rugby World Cup, many opportunities have been missed. It would be easy to list them all. Many have. Some journalists take an almost sick pleasure in reporting on something going wrong with or within Rugby in Australia. I am not here to do that. Rugby Union as a sport, worldwide continues to grow and continues to be a popular sport across the globe. Whilst here in Australia it appears to be dying. And for this Rugby fan that is unacceptable.
For some – the answer is easy. Rugby has a money problem. There is a mining magnate in Perth with a bucketload of money and a passion for Rugby. Figure out how to apologise to him for how he was treated by the then Chairman of Rugby Australia. Problems solved. Sorry. I don’t think so.
Yes, Australian Rugby has a money problem. But I believe that Rugby Australia has an Institutional problem. Why is it that any Rugby administrator of any Rugby Club around Australia doesn’t give a second thought to putting his (or her) hand in their own pocked to “help out the club” and yet anyone who has the honour of being on the Board of Rugby Australia automatically expects to get paid for the privilege. Club Rugby Administrators happily drive all over their city to watch the Club play. And have every seat full of players. Board Members expect to fly First Class and sit in corporate boxes. Club Rugby Administrators don’t give it a second thought to step behind the BBQ or the bar to help. Board Members are looking for appearance fees.
Why is it that the first thing Board Members of Rugby Australia learns is how to stick their snouts in the trough. Most have gone from a lifetime of “what can I do for the game of Rugby?” To “What can I get Rugby to give me for free today?” This is why Rugby fans are walking away from the game.
Until there is a change of this Institutional expectation, why would anyone want to rescue Rugby in Australia?