Qantas has killed Rugby Australia, or has it?

Qantas Wallabies

Earlier this week, Qantas announced they would stop as sponsor of the Wallabies. It ends a partnership of 30 years. Financially, it could be the deathblow for struggling Rugby Australia. In other ways, it might just be their saviour too.

The financial shortfall could not come at a worse time. The union was in trouble before they had to pay Israel Folau a multi-million dollar payout. Then Foxtel canceled their broadcast deal last year. And now Qantas could have taken away their last bit of financial security.

Qantas pulls Rugby Australia sponsorship

Qantas claims the current Covid-19 pandemic is the reason behind their decision, not the Folau controversy. This makes total sense too. They had already been struggling financially too, but now every single airline in the world is in dire straits and looking for bailouts. As with any company, the first thing to cut back on is advertising. Rugby Australia is a victim of this.

Yet, the Folau saga is still important to consider. It is where one of the reasons can be seen for why this can be a great chance for Australian Rugby as well. And it lies in the effects of cancel culture and brand safety issues.

Qantas clearly took a side in the debate. Partly because of this, Rugby Australia did too. Unlike what they might say themselves, their interests were purely commercial. Like any big company, Qantas does not care about social justice or equality. They care about making money. And with the cancel culture that has crept into our world in the last few years, they could not be seen to be “wrong” or even backing anyone who could be remotely connected to being “wrong”.

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But when Rugby Australia decided to go with Qantas on this, they did not realize what the other consequence of this was. They did not realize that many do back Folau, or at least back his right to speak his mind, they also alienated a large part of their members and fans. They did not realize, like the NRL and AFL did, that there are no winners in this. So they picked a side and lost more than they could afford.

Rugby Union under pressure

Rugby union in Australia, at least as a professional sport, has been under pressure for ages. At grassroots, the game is fine, but the top is in trouble. Eventually, this does also trickle down, but it has not killed the grassroots game yet. At the top, the NRL and AFL have all but won over rugby, but the Folau saga pushed even more people to switch. For some the response was repulsive, for some it was not strong enough. The NRL and AFL kept schtum and responded mildly. They let players say what they wanted. This way they placated both sides. Just like the Founding Fathers of the United States would have wanted, according to a great South Park episode.

Now, with Qantas out of the way, there might be a way for Rugby Australia to make amends for this. A new management can operate without the eyes of Qantas upon them. They will also have to operate without that solid financial base they had come to count on. And maybe, just maybe, they can make things work better than they have done for the last decades.

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