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Winging it
It's sure to make old rugby league soldiers despair … behind the code's new facade of independence a TV deal gives up too much control, writes Roy Masters.



 
 
Today is the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.
It is also the day the ARL will commit hara kiri, fall on its ritual sword, vote itself out of office at its annual general meeting and surrender all ruling power to an independent commission.
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Tom Gorman, right, shakes hands with Jonty Parkin before a 1920s Ashes Test.

I feel an incredible sadness about this day. I know I will be compared to a Japanese soldier, living in the jungle for years, unaware the war is over, appearing occasionally to brandish my rifle at the march of progress.
The Super League war between the ARL and News Ltd did end in 1997 with a peace treaty assigning each body equal power for 20 years, after which News would exit and the ARL retain its half share, with the NRL clubs controlling the other half.
But after today, both the ARL and News will have gone seven years earlier than the loosely worded peace treaty decreed.


Lachlan Murdoch takes on the ARL during the Super League war. Photo: Phil Carrick

News wanted out because of continual battering over conflict-of-interest accusations. The ARL agreed to go because:
1. It feared a costly court action if News decided to stay and exploit the poorly written peace agreement, and 2. News's exit meant its annual $8m share of profits would deliver the game an extra $56m.
The ARL gave News everything it wanted to go - a financial package ensuring the continued viability of the Melbourne Storm, the dissolution of the ARL and a five-year extension of its first and last rights option on the broadcasting contract to 2027.
First and last rights make a powerful weapon. When a company is as big as News, the power to trump the last bidder frightens everyone from the negotiating room.
AFL celebrated the day Channel Seven's first and last rights option over its broadcasting rights expired. News parent News Corp is a thousand times more powerful than Seven.
Furthermore, league's first and last rights options are a mess. The agreements with Channel Nine, Fox Sports, Sky New Zealand and News are inter-locked and not understood.
Insofar as broadcasting rights are a code's principal source of revenue, News has gained control of the game until 2027. It can pitch the revenue at a level which controls the code's spending for the next three decades.
All that is left of the ARL is the name of new, allegedly independent body, the Australian Rugby League Commission Ltd.
The ARL's recently retired chairman Colin Love is the fall guy. Love was to be the inaugural chairman of the ARLC in a balancing act with News, with David Gallop as chief executive, although some say Gallop's appointment was inevitable because of the support for him by the NRL clubs.
As it transpired, the QRL and NRL clubs insisted no one who held a position on a league board over the past three years could sit on the commission and Love was excluded.
Love, ARL chairman for a decade, allowed Titans managing director Michael Searle and Roosters' chairman Nick Politis to do the running for an independent commission. It is something his predecessor, Ken Arthurson, would not have allowed.
But Love is a lawyer. And an honourable one. He saw his role as preserving a working relationship with News, a difficult duty considering the NRL Partnership Board had three members each from the ARL and News, meaning decisions had to be reached via consensus rather than majority vote.
He even loosened ties with journalists to counter News accusations he was leaking discussions at Partnership Board meetings.
He supported Politis's position as an ARL nominee to the board, principally because Politis is a skilled businessman. It caused him grief because News has always perceived Politis to be a cold war enemy.
Now Love is gone, replaced by the aptly named John Chalk.
Chalk will negotiate with News to select the eight commissioners to govern the game. Good luck.
Love's predecessor, Arthurson, once made a comment relevant to today.
He referred to News's surprise signing of Canterbury players on the night of Thursday March 30, 1995, after the media company had given an earlier assurance any attempts to set up a Super League would involve ''coming through the front door''.
Arthurson likened the pre-Easter attack on the ARL to the Japanese Sunday morning raid on Pearl Harbour. Yet it's the ARL which has allowed itself to be bombed out of existence with today's AGM.
Gallop will be the only one on the ARLC with any corporate memory.
A new ruling body consisting of commissioners with little historical knowledge of the game, locked into a long-term broadcasting agreement with News Ltd, will attract independent people, but not the best people.
http://www.smh.com.au/rugby-league/league-news/as-arl-fades-away-blow-the-last-post--and-sound-the-alarm-20101206-18myt.html
 

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