Yet another twist has appeared in the dragging Super Rugby saga, with the Victorian Rugby Union (VRU) set to take control of the Melbourne Rebels franchise.
Documents lodged with ASIC by ISM on Friday reveal that Andrew Cox has relinquished control of the Melbourne Rebels, a development that blindsided the ARU.
The documents show ISM has transferred its shares for $1 to the Victorian Rugby Union, the same price he bought the franchise for in 2015, effectively giving the union a controlling stake in the franchise.
While it is believed the ARU would have had to approve a sale, Cox, Imperium Sports Management and the VRU appear to have found a loophole in that.
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The ARU issued a statement on Friday night, confirming it had no knowledge of the documents or the decision until after the fact.
“The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) has tonight received confirmation from a third party that ownership of the Melbourne Rebels had transferred from Imperium Group to the Victorian Rugby Union (VRU),” it read.
“The Melbourne Rebels have an obligation under their Participation Deed to inform ARU of any change of ownership. To date, ARU has received no such communication from the Melbourne Rebels despite recent attempts to confirm their position.
“ARU is urgently seeking to confirm the terms on which this transfer occurred.”
The change of hands means the VRU would need to agree to any sale of the licence to the ARU, something that seems unlikely given it could result in the franchise being wound up.
The decision in the ARU’s arbitration with RugbyWA are yet to be handed down, but this latest development means that if the ARU are on the wrong side of that decision, the situation could become dire for the national body, with its only obvious options likely being to strike a deal with the Rebels ownership for the licence or look into some kind of merger.
Cox has also signed away his own directorship, while business partner Peter Sidwell has also ceased to be a director of the club, along with Michele Williams.
VRU president Tim North, Owain Stone, Lyndsey Cattermole and Robert Dalziel have been appointed directors in their place.
It is believed a meeting was held on Friday to agree on the changes, before the papers being lodged on Friday afternoon.
The Rebels did not officially confirm the transfer of the licence when contacted on Friday night by RUGBY.com.au.