With rugby union's popularity sinking, the next CEO of the governing body will be asked to pull it from the quicksand.

By Joe McDonough

Posted on October 20, 2017

The Australian Rugby Union (ARU), soon to be known as Rugby Australia, is looking for a CEO capable of resurrecting the sport locally.

According to The Daily Telegraph, interviews for the top job are expected to begin soon, with Bill Pulver’s successor likely to be named by January.

Executives of the calibre of Football Federation Australia CEO David Gallop, ex-Australian Olympic Committee head Fiona De Jong, and former Canterbury Bulldogs boss Raelene Castle, are all said to be in the mix.

It will be a highly demanding role, as Australian rugby has been on a downward spiral for some time, exacerbated by the culling of Perth-based Super Rugby franchise the Western Force this year.

In fact, the ARU is still in the midst of a final senate inquiry over the axing of the Force.

At the same time, disillusioned Western Australian billionaire Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest has defiantly revealed plans to kickstart his own Indo-Pacific rebel competition.

“We will include strong and deeply powerful players, broadcasters and fans of rugby all across the Indo-Pacific region where some 60% of the world’s people live,” Mr Forrest said last month.

“May I assure you we have just started the fight. Out of disappointment can come… opportunity.”

While the top of the tree is in a state of disarray, the game is hurting most at the grassroots level. It’s underlying issues were outlined by Roy Morgan Research in March, as it revealed rugby union was only the 26th most popular sport for Australians aged 14 and over.

The market research firm reported the 15-a-side game only had 55,000 participants in 2016, the same number of active ballroom dancers.

The 15-a-side game only had 55,000 participants in 2016, the same number of active ballroom dancers.

That is a 67% decline since 2001, and sees it drop off rugby league’s radar, which now boasts more than double the number of registered players.

This has clearly had an effect on the professional talent pool in the country, as Australia’s Super Rugby sides failed to notch a single win against their New Zealand counterparts in 2017.

Hence why the appointment of the next CEO — who will be based at the governing body’s new Moore Park headquarters — looks to be crucial to the future of rugby union in Australia.

They will need to have a clear vision for the game, and a strategy to increase participation and popularity.