Billionaire Andrew Forrest says he will fight the Australian Rugby Union if they try and remove the Western Force from Super Rugby.
The ARU will remove either them or the Melbourne Rebels from Super Rugby due to the competition allowing only 15 teams next season.
Both teams have threatened legal action against the ARU if they are removed.
“I want to be very clear to the ARU,” Forrest told the Western Australian.
“You try to cut the Western Force, you have to go through me first, and then all of our players, and then our supporters, and then all of the parents of young players and, indeed, all proud Western Australians.
“This is bigger than just a rugby game. I stand behind all of these amazing people who believe in a fair go and the right for Australians to support rugby union as a national sport, not just one reduced to the eastern seaboard.”
Forrest is the chairman of major iron ore producer Fortescue Metals Group Ltd and one of Australia’s richest men. In response to removal threats, he has already offered interest-free loans of up to A$1,000 to fans who are commited to buying team shares. That money will be repaid to Western Australia state’s rugby governing body, not Forrest.
The Force entered arbitration with the governing ARU last week. A decision on theirs or the Melbourne Rebels’ future should be made sometime this week.
The ARU was not available for comment at the time of publishing.
With Forrest’s power, even if the ruling goes in favour of the ARU, this may not spell the end for the Force. The ARU are short of funds and cannot afford to enter a lengthy legal battle.
“Andrew’s involvement in our fight for survival has been exactly the boost we needed,” RugbyWA chairman Tony Howarth said in a media release promoting the Forrest-driven ‘Own the Force – Double the Impact’ campaign to save the team.
“It’s time to show the Sydney-based ARU that the Western Australian community and Force supporters everywhere are a force to be reckoned with.”
The Rebels may also not go down without a fight.Team private owner Andrew Cox confirmed ownership has been transferred back to state governing body Victorian Rugby Union.
Cox and the VRU believe this “secured” the team’s future