Rugby League

License article

Loyal servant's departure won't be lamented by all

Less than a week ago, a TV network boss asked me bluntly: ''Who runs rugby league?'' He was seeking answers to the powerbrokers with whom he should negotiate the upcoming broadcast rights.

''Is it David Gallop?'' he asked of the ARL Commission chief executive, whose shock resignation was announced yesterday in a press release. ''Is it the new commission? Or the clubs and [Roosters chairman] Nick Politis?''

Rugby league's image to the people who matter most right now - the broadcasters who should deliver over a billion dollars to fund the game over the next five years - is of a game of next-generation high-definition colour with an administration that still flickers in black and white.

Powerful players capable of acts of belligerent brilliance with impotent leaders mired in grey confusion. The game is at risk of losing its rich future because the TV network sharks sniff division and discord.

Gallop hoped to do the TV deal, load it into his CV and approach the headhunters for a job, significantly more well paid than the one where he had laboured loyally for 11 years.

He had long resented being paid one third of the $2.2 million salary of his rival, the AFL's Andrew Demetriou.


More recently, he became increasingly frustrated with the leadership of the ARLC's inaugural chairman, John Grant. They had polar opposite views on how a board should operate.

Gallop, who also serves as acting chairman of the Australian Sports Commission - the federal government's sports policy and funding arm - believed that boards made decisions and the administration implemented them.

Grant sought to be executive chairman, a micromanager who involved himself in day-to-day decision-making, which included dialogue with some of Gallop's long-term enemies.

Furthermore, some of the commissioners took it upon themselves to negotiate with the code's stakeholders. Ian Elliot, a former advertising executive of a decade ago, initiated talks with current free-to-air rights holder, Channel Nine and was active at a dinner held on the eve of the Melbourne State of Origin match, informing guests of his negotiating powers in top sports. In short, some of the board of eight may be at risk of using the code to promote their own corporate relevance.

However, most of the executives in the code's administration have been at their desks for over a decade. They had learnt to operate independently of a board during the period the game was ruled by a partnership committee that was equally divided between representatives of News Ltd and the Australian Rugby League.

An example was the brutal punishments handed to the Storm after the exposure of salary cap rorting. News, anxious to exculpate itself from any guilt associated with a club it owned, did not interfere with the penalties planned and the ARL directors were not consulted.

The Storm, keen to have their premierships restored under the new commission rule, knew this would never be the case with Gallop at the helm and, while not rejoicing at Gallop's departure, do not share the lament of others.

Gallop was particularly wan while in Melbourne for the Origin match. Some interpreted this as his visit to a city where he was unpopular but it's more significant that this is where the commission met, adding to his uncertainty about his role.

He had a bad week following the Origin game, being lampooned by AFL acolytes for not taking a quicker and firmer hand in the spat between NSW coach Ricky Stuart and referees boss Bill Harrigan over contentious decisions in the match.

Sure, Demetriou would have killed the quarrel quickly and Gallop did prefer to be friends with everybody. But he could never be accused of disloyalty or hypocrisy.

At a businessman's lunch in Brisbane a month ago, he debated Demetriou and enjoyed a clear points victory. Demetriou sought to ingratiate himself with what was essentially a rugby league audience by saying he enjoyed watching the game. But Gallop declared, ''The boss of Coke doesn't drink Pepsi and I don't watch AFL''.

Significantly, when Demetriou was invited to the Origin match in Melbourne, he declined, with the media reporting he did not want to add to its credibility.

Gallop's four-year contract specified that he must work a year but discussions with Grant yesterday obviously yielded a resolution. Grant runs a $150m information technology business but will take an even greater hands-on role with the ARLC administration.

He has elevated Gallop's deputy, Shane Mattiske, to the role of acting CEO, but it is likely Grant may eventually appoint the one man he has always wanted for the job - himself.