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Friday Nov 17, 2023

Australian Rugby in turmoil as chairman faces calls to resign

Embattled Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan faces a serious challenge to his leadership as six state unions, led by Queensland Rugby Union chairman Brett Clark, make a bold move against him. The call for McLennan’s resignation comes on the heels of a disastrous year for Australian rugby, culminating in the Wallabies missing the World Cup finals for the first time. McLennan, however, remains steadfast, refusing to bow to the mounting pressure.

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After weeks of clandestine discussions, the six state unions—Queensland, ACT, Rugby WA, NT Rugby, Tasmania, and South Australia—have formally urged McLennan to step aside. The catalyst for this bold move was a year marked by historic failures at the men’s Rugby World Cup and a Wallabies international ranking hitting an all-time low. The discontent is not only about on-field performance but also about McLennan’s leadership style and decision-making.

In a joint statement addressed to the Rugby Australia Board, the six state unions expressed their lack of trust and faith in McLennan’s leadership. The letter outlines concerns about his alleged interference in the operational aspects of Rugby Australia and his decisions, which they claim have damaged the reputation of the game. The unions emphasize that their call for resignation is not rooted in opposition to centralization proposals but is a result of deep concern about McLennan’s performance and the harm it has caused to the sport.

The letter accuses McLennan of making decisions and “captain’s picks” that directly led to the historic failure at the men’s Rugby World Cup. Furthermore, his alleged use of player poaching to threaten other sports is criticized for hindering collaborative conversations with major sports and focusing solely on elite men’s participation. The unions argue that McLennan’s approach disenfranchises female and community rugby participants, neglecting the broader aspects of the national game.

One of the key grievances outlined in the letter is the absence of a clear strategy from the Rugby Australia Board and executive regarding centralisation. Despite months of speculation and media commentary, the unions claim that there has been no substantive strategy or outline of how centralisation would work. They stress the need for trust and faith in the leadership to ensure successful high-performance alignment and growth in community, schools, and women’s rugby.

The state unions assert that they are not resistant to necessary changes within rugby, especially as the sport approaches critical opportunities like the British and Irish Lions Tour in 2025, the Men’s Rugby World Cup in 2027, and the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2029. However, they argue that seizing these opportunities requires a change in leadership to instill trust and collaboration across the game. The unions propose an independent recruitment process for a new chair, involving consultation with all Constitutional Members.

The situation has escalated to the point where the state unions have given McLennan until 5 pm AEST on Saturday to voluntarily step aside. If he does not comply, the states are prepared to call an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) within 60 days, where a vote will determine whether there will be a change in leadership. With the possibility of having the required votes, the state unions are ready to take decisive action to protect the reputation and future of Australian rugby.

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As Australian rugby stands at a crossroads, the call for Hamish McLennan’s resignation intensifies. The allegations of poor leadership, questionable decision-making, and the lack of a clear strategy for the future have prompted a significant challenge to his position. The next few days will be critical as the drama unfolds, and the sport’s stakeholders await the resolution of this leadership crisis.

In full the letter to the board reads as follows:

We, the undersigned Member Unions of Rugby Australia, are calling for the Chair, Hamish
McLennan, to immediately resign as Chair and Director of Rugby Australia.

We do not believe Mr McLennan has been acting in the best interests of our game.

We no longer have any trust or faith in his leadership, or the direction in which he is taking
rugby in Australia.

Additionally, we believe Mr McLennan has been acting outside his role as a director,
exerting an undue influence on the operations and executives of Rugby Australia.

This is not the best practice governance that we expect from leaders in our game.

Should Mr McLennan not resign, this letter serves as notice for Directors to convene an
Extraordinary General Meeting at the earliest possible opportunity, as per clause 4.1c of the
Rugby Australia Constitution.

This request is not about opposition to Rugby Australia’s centralisation proposals– we
remain committed to supporting high-performance alignment.

This is instead a deep concern about the performance of Mr McLennan as Chair, and the
damage done to the game by his performance.

We have not made this decision lightly.

After deliberation and discussion, we decided we must take action in order to protect the
reputation and future of our game.

Governance and high-performance sport are about judgement – good judgement.

During the past 12 months Mr McLennan has made a series of calls that have harmed the standing and reputation of our game and led us to question his judgement and his understanding of high-performance sport.

His decisions and “captain’s picks” have directly led to an historic failure at the men’s Rugby World Cup and a Wallabies international ranking at an historic low, with all of the regrettable and public fallout that came with it.

In addition to this, Mr McLennan’s use of player poaching to threaten other sports and boost our own stocks and performance alienates us from having collaborative conversations with the other major sports to improve participation across the Australian community.

It also disenfranchises our budding professional female and community rugby participants, by only focusing on elite men’s participation, which is a small component of our national game.

There has been much discussion about required changes within rugby to improve the overall performance of our national teams.

The member unions are not shying away from this change and can see the long-term benefits that national high-performance alignment can bring.

But this will only happen if we have trust and faith in the leadership at Rugby Australia, and there is a clear strategy that outlines the process to achieve this.

To date, despite months of media speculation and commentary from Rugby Australia, the Board and executive have brought us no substantive strategy or any outline of how centralisation would work.

Over coming years there are a range of opportunities off which our game can prosper, including the British and Irish Lions Tour in 2025, the Mens’ Rugby World Cup in 2027 and the Womens’ Rugby World Cup in 2029.

In order for us to seize these opportunities, our game must focus on growing our participation base in community, schools and women’s rugby.

This will require trust and collaboration across the game.

If we don’t make the necessary changes to the leadership of our game now, these opportunities will be lost and our game will continue to flounder for decades to come.

We are supportive of an independent recruitment process for a new Chair, one that involves consultation with all Constitutional Members.

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