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Troubled Rugby Australia appoints director, chairman-elect

SYDNEY (AP) — Former media executive Hamish McLennan has been appointed as a director and chairman-elect of Rugby Australia as part of an overhaul of the union’s troubled administration. Rugby Australia chairman Paul McLean announced McLennan’s appointment Friday, describing the former executive chairman of Australian broadcaster Network Ten and high-ranking News Corp. executive as “a lifelong rugby man (who) is passionate about uniting the game.”

Raelene Castle quit as chief executive last month, saying the board of directors made it clear that it would not allow her to continue in her role. Castle had been under pressure to retain her position in the face of multiple challenges, including a damaged relationship with top players, the lack of a new broadcasting deal, Rugby Australia’s poor financial position that only deepened during the coronavirus pandemic, and a letter co-signed by 10 former Wallabies captains demanding a change of administration because the sport had “lost its way.”

The two-time World Cup-winning Wallabies have slumped to No. 7 in the international rankings since losing the 2015 World Cup final to New Zealand, and failing to reach the semifinals in Japan last year.

Peter Wiggs, who had been widely touted as a strong candidate to take over as chairman in July on McLean's departure, quit last week after only six week on the board. Rugby Australia reported a provisional $6 million deficit in 2019, and local media say it will lose up to $76 million this year if professional rugby does not resume from the enforced shutdown because of the pandemic. Administrative staff have been stood down and players are likely to have deep pay cuts.

Rob Clarke, the interim CEO, announced later Friday that Rugby Australia had received a low-interest, long-term loan of 14.2 million Australians dollars ($9.2 million) from World Rugby's COVID-19 relief fund.

“Our game has suffered an enormous impact globally from COVID-19 and we are very grateful for the support of World Rugby,” Clarke said. “The financial implications of the virus have been significant for Rugby Australia and this emergency relief funding will provide us with certainty for the next twelve months and enable us to close off our 2019 accounts."

The Super Rugby competition is suspended and the July home tests against Ireland and Fiji were on Friday postponed along with all international matches during that time frame. The Rugby Championship involving Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina is also in doubt.

McLean described McLennan's appointment as a “new era as we reset Rugby Australia and our game.” McLennan said his aim was to “rebuild trust across the rugby community, in particular the grassroots game." and he immediately a bid to host the 2027 Rugby World Cup.

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