Off the Wall

The weakest argument against the early implementation of a new structure to run our game is that "the TV rights don't expire until 2012 so there is no need to rush".

Putting aside the TV rights issue for the moment, here are just a few reasons why the game needs one voice, one structure, right now.

1. The AFL is about to spend somewhere between $120 million and $200 million on expansion in Western Sydney and South East Queensland. If reform is put off until the end of the next season, the AFL will be well down the track in its expansion spending. And let's not kid ourselves - the huge spend is going to include massive funding of the AFL is schools and junior development. Rugby league needs one united and concerted response.

2. Early in 2010, the Federal Government will respond to the Crawford Report on sport funding. State Sports Ministers will consider it is Melbourne today. Rugby league needs to speak with one voice on the issue - and on the opportunity Crawford offers to secure for our code significant long term government funding, something that has been denied for too long. John Coates has been given a rails run in the media. Rugby league, the AFL, soccer and other major participatory sports need to speak up, and speak up now.

3. The issue of gambling, and the influence gambling revenue has on rugby league, is back on the agenda. A KPMG report prepared for Clubs NSW claims that almost 200 NSW licensed clubs are under threat of close before 2012 - and that is on top of the 105 who have already closed or amalgamated in recent years. Many of these clubs are leagues clubs which fund not only junior football but NRL and Toyota Cup teams. With a federal election to be held is 2010, and a NSW state poll early in 2011, rugby league needs to have a united and effective policy on an issue that impacts right across the game.

4. And then there is arguably the most pressing issue of all - the consequences of a successful Australian bid to host the Soccer World Cup in a decade or so time. The AFL staked its claim, and did so robustly. There is no doubt the AFL's tough stance is all about getting the best possible deal from the World Cup organisers, and federal and state governments. The problem with the NRL/ARL is that they follow- they don't lead. That is why the urgent meeting with the CEO of Soccer Australia last week was seen as a weak reaction, not a strong stance. Rugby league needs one voice to get the best possible deal if the bid is successful - and that needs to be taxpayer and world cup funds to upgrade venues and training facilities that will benefit rugby league long term, and not just soccer.

Taken together, these issues offer compelling justification for the uniting of the game's administration, and streamlining funding, to happen now, and not later.

The other reason is that for as long as reform is denied, the spend on wasteful administrative duplication will grow.

The push to have a distinguished former player like Steve Mortimer on the "Independent Commission" is a worthy one and consistent with my recent advocacy via this column. It must not just comprise business people. Steve Mortimer and, say, Shane Webcke would be worthy members on the Commission.

What has been interesting has been the overwhelmingly negative response to the idea of Colin Love being Commission Chairman.

Those driving the process need to take notice of that - and jettison the idea now.

The Commission needs a independent chairman with real stature, as well as commissioners who have standing in their own right - that is what has given the AFL Commission the authority and credibility it enjoys today. Rugby league must have no less.

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