User:Tmcfarland/Business and Politics of the IRB and Rugby Union in Australia and internationally

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Rugby Union is a highly popular sport in Australia as well as internationally. The IRB (International Rugby Board) is the main power and decision maker for international rugby. It deals with many political issues when policing the sport. As a business in Australia the sport is run through the ARU (The Australian Rugby Union). The Australian brand of rugby can be seen as the wallabies and it is nationally of much interest. The ARU is also involved in the politics of Rugby Union in Australia, it over see’s all state’s and territories respective Rugby Boards as well as planning nationally for Rugby. It also represents Australian Rugby internationally and works with the IRB when dealing with politics in Rugby Union as the IRB is seen as the leading Authority in international rugby.

In my essay I will talk about how the sport is being controlled and governed. The IRB and criticism of its decisions in recent times will be discussed as there has been much debate on the political side of the sport. I will also discuss the way politics play a role in Rugby Union internationally for example where countries relationships outside of the sport play an influencing role in the way they interact in Rugby Union itself e.g. Fiji and Australia. The structure and the way ARU controls rugby union in Australia will also be mentioned.

I believe the topic of Business and Politics of the IRB and Rugby Union is an interesting topic and I hope to cover it and give more depth on the situation in my essay.


Rugby Union is a sport played worldwide with coverage internationally. The game itself has evolved from being a fun run around game for mates at the park to a successful sport generating revenue and interest all over the world. As the game has grown so have Political issues that continue to affect the way the sport is being policed. The influence of money has also changed the game with sponsors and the like becoming an important part of the sport. It’s pinnacle event the Rugby World Cup is held every four years in a different location each time and it's the 3rd biggest worldwide sporting event behind the Soccer World Cup and the Olympics. The International Rugby Board known as the IRB is the body that controls all international rugby and it is the main authority in rugby.

Rugby Union in Australia[edit]

In Australia the national team ‘the wallabies’ have reached success with the team generally ranked in the top 3 nations in the world and currently ranked 2nd behind New Zealand. The Australian Rugby Union known as the ARU is the Board for Australian Rugby controlling everything at a national level and helping other state union’s out within Australia. The ARU hold a good relationship with close rivals New Zealand and South Africa who have formed SANZAR that acts on behalf of the three nations.

'The Australian Rugby union is proud of its association with its member unions encompassing each state and territory in Australia'[1]. Through these relationships the ARU is able to provide a strong and united front for Australian rugby.

The member unions include

- Australian Capital Territory Rugby Union

- New South Wales Rugby Union

- Queensland Rugby Union

- South Australia Rugby Union

- Tasmanian Rugby Union

- Vicorian Rugby Union

- Western Australia Rugby Union

The ARU has a partnership with Australia's iconic airline Qantas which helps provide finances that assist the ARU in running and expanding the game of rugby union in Australia. Qantas is the official main sponsor and naming rights sponsor of the national team the Wallabies. The ARU has to have a business approach when it comes to money as without one there is the possibility that the needed funding as well as popularity, support and players can all dissolve and leave. Rugby Union faces challenges from other sports in Australia for popularity so it places an expectation on standards of the national team and provinces to achieve. The ARU has broadcast partners in channel 7 and Fox Sports Australia which helps the game being aired throughout Australia. Establishing a strong broadcast partnership is key as good coverage of the sport is paramount for success financially as more coverage will always attract more sponsors. Support and the fan base are given the best chance possible to grow with more coverage. The ARU was able to expand and enter another team into the super 15 tournament which is the premier rugby competition in the world controlled by SANZAR. The Melbourne Rebels were added to the tournament containing states and provinces from New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. It was a big move from the ARU as sport in Victoria is dominated by AFL. A surplus for the ARU occured in 2010 with 'Total revenue including net financing income was $76.9m up 6% on the 2009 position and Total expenditure including allocations was $75.9m up.5% on the 2009 position. [2]

IRB controversies, Political issues and Business attitude[edit]

The International Rugby Board

The IRB is expected to make more than $300 million from the Rugby World Cup held in New Zealand while New Zealand is expected to make a $39 million loss. It is a big surprise in the difference of those figures. You would think New Zealand would make a profit from the event but that is definitely not the case. New Zealand more or less held the World Cup for its people, the fans and it's love of rugby. The IRB makes a significant amount of money and really should help New Zealand out and reward them for holding the tournament.

The 2011 Rugby world cup was filled with controversy surrounding the IRB.

The Webb Ellis Cup aka the Rugby World Cup on display at the 2011 Rugby World Cup tournament. Photo by vavroom

- England center Manu Tuilagi was fined $10,000 for wearing a mouth guard that had a sponsor on it that was not authorised by the IRB. It was a crazy over reaction by the rulers of world rugby. His brother Alesana Tuilagi who played on the wing for Samoa was fined $10,000 a couple days earlier for the same breach. A fine of that price for simply wearing a mouth guard that was not authorized by the IRB is ridiculous and it paints a picture that the IRB is only after money and looking after itself business wise.

- Johnny Wilkinson in England’s victory over Romania during pool stages took a conversion kick with a different ball then the original ball he was given to take the kick with. Staff of the England team threw away the original ball he was to kick with after Johnny wasn’t happy with the ball as he was kicking below average in previous kicks that night. The act was against the rules of the game and the IRB only warned England who eventually suspended the staff for 1 game although no fines or suspensions were handed out by the IRB. The main point out of this breach of rules was that England being a ‘tier 1’ nation was only warned. Many people debated that if it was a ‘tier 2’ nation there would have been more significant penalties imposed.

- Scheduling of the tournament by the IRB came under much criticism with ‘minnow nations’ such as Samoa, Canada, Tonga and Namibia all having to play 2 games within 7 days where as top nations such as New Zealand, England, South Africa and Australia all played 1 game every 7 days. The outcry was huge especially from Samoa who pushed South Africa all the way till the end narrowly being defeated 13-5 despite only having half a week to prepare for the game in comparison to South Africa who had had a whole week. Samoan staff and captain Mahonri Schwalger suggested that political reasons were influencing the IRB in making such schedules. Samoa gained support from many Rugby fans over the issues and the IRB has since ruled that the 2015 Rugby world cup in England will see all nations play mid-week games not just the smaller nations.

- The victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks in America were recognised on the anniversary of the attacks with a moment of silence before the USA played Ireland. The Japanese and New Zealand natural disasters were also respected with a moment silence before they played. Samoa who had its worst natural disaster a tsunami that claimed 143 lives did not have the tragedy recognised before their game on the anniversary of it . No moment of silence was put in place by the IRB before they started their match to respect those that lost their lives.

Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu[edit]

Samoan center Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu created headlines all over the world after his 'tweets' on social network site twitter alleged that the IRB was not treating his team Samoa fairly. Referring to the schedule of games his team was given, he compared it to 'slavery' and the 'Holocaust' after the Samoan national team was forced to play 2 games in 4 days with the second having a huge bearing on the future of the team in the world cup. After his team's narrow loss to South Africa he then went on to tweet that Welsh Referee Nigel Owen was 'racist' and biased in his refereeing. He also made it known that he believed some of Owen's decisions were influenced as the IRB stood to gain more from South Africa and Wales remaining in the tournament than Samoa as the loser of the game was to be knocked out. 

He tweeted the following in regards to his thoughts on the IRB:

-"IRB stop exploiting my people. Please, all we ask, is fairness. If they get a week, give us a week. Simple. equality, justice," as well as 'wonder how would these Tier One teams function after only three days rest. Hey IRB. Suspend me but give Wales three days off and give Samoa a week! We would kill them!'.

-"You can't get punished for speaking out against injustice. That would be unjust. Anyone can tackle a man. Try tackling injustice" [3]

-"Ok, it's obvious the IRB are unjust. Wales get 7 days, we get 3. Unfair treatment, like slavery, like the holocaust, like apartheid"[4]

Samoan officials tried to distance themselves from the comments and apologised on behalf of the Samoan national team and Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu to the IRB fearing they too would face penalties.[5]Fuimaono-Sapolu faced a hearing to determine his penalty after samoa's last game against South Africa. After the hearing concluded with IRB board members regarding his penalty and playing future Fuimaono-Sapolu talked to media about Rugby and the political issues it faces when he stated “It is the most beautiful sport in the world…For me it’s a beautiful sport that unfortunately has so many issues to be sorted out for it to be truly a democratic sport. I don’t feel like playing rugby anymore.”. Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu was the first player to stand up to the IRB and create such coverage on the handling of it. He is the first player to bring so much coverage to the political side of Rugby Union with many other nations now supporting that the gap between tier 1 and tier 2 nations be no more.

Country relations[edit]

Australia and New Zealand hold a close relationship as they are neighbours and have many trade agreements and the like. Their relationship helps them develop strong ties through sport and rugby union. Just as the pacific nations Samoa, Tonga and Fiji all hold close ties that allow them to help each other out in terms of test match rugby and developing rugby. Outside of rugby Australia and New Zealand act as a big brother to the island nations. In the case of Fiji, both nations New Zealand and Australia are striving for a democracy in Fiji as the head of the military Frank Bainimarama is the current prime minister but not from an election. Dates for an election are always changing with a goal around 2013, 2014 being set. In response to this New Zealand and Australia have put restrictions on Fijians with ties to the military. Anyone who works for the military or with family ties to the military is banned from entering Australia and New Zealand. With Fiji being one of the rugby nations known worldwide for their style of rugby it became interesting when some members of their national team also worked in the military. Such as second rower Leone Nakarawa who became the topic of much interest after Fiji picked him in their 30man squad to take to New Zealand for the world cup. Fiji ruled out many other military players but went to much effort to take Leone. The IRB tried to convince New Zealand to ease its policy but in the end it came down to New Zealand as it is the country hosting the event and controlling who comes into the country. This forced Leone Nakarawa to quit the military and then be allowed in the country to take part in the world cup and play for Fiji.


The IRB faces many issues in the near future that are both political and business orientated. The 2011 Rugby World Cup not only pointed many of them out but gave the rugby public knowledge and opinion on how the game is being run and administrated. The IRB also faces a tough time financially with dividing money for nations not being easy as many nations are crying out for more revenue to try and develop and expand the game of rugby union in their country. Australia continues to do well and is looking towards a surplus in 2011 despite big investments in the world cup. It's semi final with New Zealand broke all records on pay TV Australia on foxtel with a record amount of viewers. Challenges to provide finances to states such as Victoria and western Australia will continue to be a challenge. The sport of Rugby Union continues to grow in Australia with junior playing numbers up 3.7% nationally[6] as well as NSW juniors up 7% to 20,708 a record number. The rugby world cup in New Zealand generated huge revenue for the IRB but left New Zealand in a deficit. This is an area the IRB will need to address by the time England hosts the 2015 tournament. Political issues will always be a problem for the IRB as many nations are not as fortunate as 'tier 1' nations with the training facilities, academies and payments it can provide players with but that in a way is the beauty of the game. A team from the islands with not much money can compete with a team like Australia with the best facilities and professional players, like Samoa when they beat Australia earlier in the year. Rugby union is one of the most beautiful sports in the world and we as the rugby public and the IRB need to focus on the sport itself rather than political side of it and just treat all nations equally.



  1. Australian Rugby Union
  2. Australian Rugby Union annual report 2010
  3. Sydney Morning Herald - Samoan apologises
  4. Foxsports
  5. Foxsports - Samoa warned over tweet
  6. Australian Rugby Union Annual Report 2010 page 33