The under-fire Bill Pulver will remain as Australian Rugby Union chief executive in the face of calls for his sacking over the Kurtley Beale text message affair, with chairman Michael Hawker saying he retained the full support of the ARU board.
Describing the fiasco that has dominated headlines for weeks as a “bump in the road”, Pulver said on Friday that the announcement of a $3000 fine handed to Beale for a mid-air altercation in South America in September was effectively a full stop on the scandal.
It is one that has led to the resignations of Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie and business manager Di Patston. There has been pressure for Pulver’s contract, which runs until next year’s World Cup, to be terminated as well as the saga has dragged on with questions unanswered.
Hawker, however, said the ARU “absolutely” stood by the chief executive. Breaking his silence on the controversy, the former Wallaby inside centre also said of scrutiny on him as chairman: “I’m not going anywhere.”
“We fully support Bill and have done the entire time and continue to do so. We think he is doing a fantastic job,” Hawker said.
“When you lead organisations you come under scrutiny, but I think we’ve done exactly the right thing, I think we’ve followed a proper process, I think we’ve tried to respect the individuals involved. It’s a very disappointing three weeks from a rugby point of view. But from our point of view we think this has been handled as best we can handle what is a very difficult situation.”
Asked about his own position, Pulver said: “All I am doing in my role is [ensuring] every behaviour that I make and do [sic] is consistent with the core values of the game and it always will be, and I’m going to continue to follow that path for as long as it keeps me in the role.
“I’m here at the will of the board of directors.”
Hawker confirmed the ARU had pressed for Beale’s contract to be terminated at last week’s tribunal hearing over what he called sexual harassment but would accept the three-man panel’s verdict. Contract negotiations with Beale, whose deal expires at the end of the year, were suspended when the ARU began disciplinary action against him last month. Pulver said they would be open to resuming talks with the 25-year-old, but it is unclear how attractive their offer will be, given the player’s latest transgression.
“All I can confirm is we are willing to re-enter negotiation with Kurtley,” Pulver said. “I can’t talk about the negotiations themselves.”
Pulver also reiterated his belief that Wallabies captain Michael Hooper could have better worded his public support of Beale last month, which triggered concerns that the playing group was downplaying the seriousness of Beale’s breach.
“Clearly in this environment we would prefer players made no comment around this issue and they’re disciplines we’re trying to enforce,” Pulver said. “Michael was aiming to provide a show of solidarity to his fellow player as opposed to be seen to condone the behaviour associated with sending a text and I think he’s probably reflected on that.
“Understandably, in some circles [there] was disappointment in his commentary, because they felt that he was supporting or condoning the incident, but I don’t believe that was Michael’s intention.
“I think the last three weeks has been very unfortunate. I think we were making great progress with the game up until this point. This has been a bump in the road, so that’s why I’m looking forward to putting it behind us and moving on.”