Melbourne Rebels call on Rugby Australia to show support after winning DOCA vote

A vote to save the Melbourne Rebels may prove just a stay of execution as the debt-ridden Super Rugby Pacific club faces more hurdles in its bid to stay alive.

The positive vote in favor of the Rebels came as the Super Rugby franchise’s head coach Kevin Foote lashed out at Rugby Australia, saying they felt abandoned by the governing body.

Creditors voted Friday to accept a proposal from a group of private investors that includes current directors rather than liquidate the club, which has debts of more than $23 million.

The consortium, which included former Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford, proposed a deed of company agreement (DOCA), which guaranteed employees 100 per cent of their rights but would leave unsecured creditors with just 15 cents per dollar.

The plan, which commits to an investment of more than $25 million over the next five years, involves moving to Melbourne’s western suburbs to share facilities with A-League club Western United.

The proposal was recommended by PwC voluntary administrator Stephen Longley, who also said in his report last week that the club could have been insolvent for more than five years.

Longley is believed to have had the deciding vote on Friday after the creditors’ vote was tied.

Rugby Australia chief executive Phil Waugh has been urged to show the governing body’s hand regarding the future of the Rebels. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

However, the DOCA is dependent on the Rebels regaining their Super Rugby participation license from Rugby Australia (RA), which took control when the club went into voluntary administration in January.

RA, who have propped up the club this season, taking care of the salaries of players and staff, have given no indication of their plans for the club, which joined the competition in 2011.

RA is believed to have voted against saving the club, with the Australian Financial Review reporting that the governing body claimed Longley’s independent report was biased towards former directors. The Roar understands that RA voted by proxy.

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The rebels’ second hurdle is the Australian Taxation Office, which also voted against the proposal, a source told AAP.

In addition to the licence, the new deal is dependent on the ATO releasing the directors from personal liability for the club’s $11.5 million in tax debts.

The matter will most likely end up in court, leaving Rebels players, coaches and staff in limbo.

The meeting came just hours before the Rebels hosted the Blues in a Super Rugby Pacific match at AAMI Park on Friday night. In the end, the Blues overcame a difficult first half to take the game 38-11, scoring 31 unanswered points, including four tries in the second half.

Rebels captain Rob Leota reacts during his team’s big loss to the Blues at AAMI Park on May 3, 2024 (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images).

Only four rounds of the regular season remain for the Rebels, with the franchise on track to reach the finals for the first time in its history despite its second straight loss.

Consortium spokesperson Georgia Widdup welcomed the success of the vote and urged the governing body to support the new plan for rugby in the state.

“The Melbourne Rebels are an integral part of the state’s sporting fabric and play a vital role in making Melbourne the sporting capital of the world,” he said in a statement.

“Today’s decision ensures that the women’s and men’s club can progress plans for our financially sustainable future.

“There is still a lot of work to do, but with the vote completed and a lot of goodwill from the community and government behind the club, we can finally get excited about what the future holds and urge Rugby Australia to support rugby. in victory”.

But speaking after the loss to the Blues, Foote, who saw the Western Force slaughtered during his time with the Super Rugby franchise, called on RA to show his hand.

“I don’t know what his intentions are,” Foote told AAP.

“I know they voted for liquidation today and last week they told us they were happy there was a DOCA (Company Deed Agreement) and now liquidation, so it would be great to hear something from them.”

A representative from the Rugby Players’ Association was in Melbourne last week to speak to the club about the bailout proposal, but RA has not been seen for months.

Kevin Foote says the rebels don’t feel supported. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

With coaches receiving just one more paycheck, Foote said the entire club was feeling the pressure.

He previously said he was hiding the possible disappearance of the rebels from his young son because he knew how much the boy would worry.

“The staff and the players, it’s the human element,” he said.

“There are definitely people under enormous stress; In fact, everyone is under stress.

“This speaks again to their performance tonight: the boys have done this from day one, even before the season started they were under this pressure.

“Do people feel supported? I would say not”.

AAP with editors