From faceless political hack to the new face of rugby league? Former Labor sports minister Mark Arbib is in the running to lead the sport after David Gallop ended his tenure of the governing body yesterday.
Arbib’s name was floated in this morning’s newspapers as a possible new leader of the Australian Rugby League Commission, along with other sports administrators and business heavyweights said to be jostling for the job.
One sports administrator contacted by Crikey raised the names of southern interlopers in the frame, including Victorian major events boss Brendan McClements, Betfair CEO Andrew Twaits and AFL 2IC Adrian Anderson. Former Super League kingpin John Ribot’s name was also mentioned.
But at least one rugby league insider was saying Arbib is every chance. The one-time Sizzler chef quit the government’s frontbench in March, recently accepting an executive role with gambling kingpin James Packer’s Consolidated Press Holdings.
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What may come into account is that Arbib’s sporting interests don’t just extend to rugby league. Last month he was made a member of the board of soccer club Sydney FC and is currently helping conduct a review into the Australian Rugby Union with retired army general Peter Cosgrove.
Gallop yesterday made the shock decision to end his 10-year run, during which he dealt with a conveyor belt of front-page scandals involving s-xual assault, match fixing and salary cap rorts.
“There’s been so many highs. The game has come so far in 10 years,” Gallop said during a press conference. “In terms of low lights, there have been some challenging decisions but I always saw them as opportunities to put a stake in the ground for what the game and the game’s rules stand for.”
The ARLC was created as an independent body earlier this year to take charge of the future of the game, which has long been ruled by an uneasy combination of state bodies, the ARL and co-owner News Limited. After years of discussion it was seen as a bold new era for Gallop and rugby league. Four months later Gallop is gone.
Despite ARLC chairman John Grant insisting the decision was “mutual”, many believe the newly-created Commission had moved to push Gallop aside.
“Decisions like this are not easy for anyone,” Grant told reporters yesterday. “The reality is that the Commission was brought in to bring a fresh approach to the game as a whole and its responsibility is to the future as much as the present.”
Other names to be raised by league bible The Daily Telegraph today include TAB head Warren Wilson, Racing NSW boss Peter V’Landys, AFL chief operating officer Gill McLachlan and Harvey Norman boss Katie Page. A number of club officials are also believed to be a chance, including Canterbury Bulldogs CEO Todd Greenberg and Wests Tigers chief Stephen Humphrey.
What is clear is that whoever takes the role is going to have a tough time running rugby league in a new era.
“It is a tough job,” former International Cricket Council chief Malcolm Speed told Crikey overnight, “perhaps the toughest in Australian sport and David did a great job.
“I am surprised that the Commission has gone down this path. The major drawback of the new structure is that the Commission is very light on for institutional knowledge and David is the major link to the past.”
A new broadcasting deal will be top of the new chief’s agenda, with the sport playing off Nine, Seven and Ten to extract a deal closer to the AFL’s $1.25 billion pay day last year. One source close to the negotiations told Crikey they didn’t anticipate the change in leadership would impact the deal.