The Western Force competed in the 18 team Super Rugby competition (“Super 18”) in the southern hemisphere last season. However, the competition organisers SANZAR restructured and re-branded the competition as the Super 15 for the current season and removed three teams. The two South African teams removed, the Cheetahs and Southern Kings, subsequently joined the Pro14 competition in Europe. The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) selected the Western Force as the Australian team to be removed.
The ARU acquired the Western Force from the Western Australia Rugby Union in 2016 under an agreement (the “Alliance Agreement”) where both parties agreed to work in alliance to develop rugby in Western Australia. When the ARU originally proposed to remove the Western Force from Super Rugby both parties attended arbitration to resolve the dispute. The arbitrator ruled in favour of the ARU. The Western Force appealed the arbitration award to the New South Wales Supreme Court.
The central issue of contention on appeal related to the interpretation of the break clause in the Alliance Agreement, which was, in turn, linked to the SANZAR Broadcast Agreement (the “Broadcast Agreement”). The Western Force argued that the Alliance Agreement should remain in force until 31 December 2020. However, the Court held that the Alliance Agreement was terminated when the Broadcast Agreement was terminated during the negotiations for the new Super 15 Broadcast Agreement. Therefore, it was held that the Western Force could not rely on the Alliance Agreement to prevent the ARU from removing it from Super Rugby.