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Rugby Australia's and Michael Cheika's legitimacy is on the line this weekend

Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former American diplomat and political scientist who worked for both the Johnson and Carter administrations is quoted as saying, “The legitimacy of the leadership depends on what that country thinks of its leaders.”

In context to the game of Rugby in Australia, those leaders are Rugby Australia itself and its coach Michael Cheika. Their country is the Australian Rugby public and what must that public now be thinking after failure in the opening round of this year’s Rugby Championship.

I question, do Rugby Australia and Michael Cheika still enjoy legitimacy as leaders?

Last weekend’s 35-17 loss to a ‘second string’ Springboks in Johannesburg and the usual rhetoric that followed, which Wallabies fans have been used to, is enough to suggest legitimacy is in question considering Cheika said, “I believe we showed a lot of good signs”.

Mate, we got pumped.

Furthermore, after coming off a 2018 season that at best could be described as dreadful, the worst in Australian Rugby since 1958, I ponder the question, have we not heard this stuff before?

Perhaps these ‘good signs’ are as good at it gets for Wallaby fans under the governance of this Rugby Australia administration and their chosen coach?

By not sacking Michael Cheika at the end of that horrible season, as he probably should have been, Rugby Australia had locked in behind the ‘Cheika Plan’ and by default must place its utmost faith in such ‘signs’ to save face.

I could almost think that Michael Cheika is now a John Dee type figure to Rugby Australia’s CEO Raelene Castle who would assume the role as Queen Elizabeth I waiting upon his next astrological utterings and signs. Both peering out the window from Rugby Australia head office at Moore Park for the moving’s in Saturn and Jupiter and discussing what they might mean to a Libra or Scorpio within the team?

This is what Michael Cheika said after the 38-17 loss to England at Twickenham in 2018, “There are a lot of great people in our team and a lot of great things happening behind the scenes that right now aren’t turning themselves into wins, but we will turn them into wins next year”.

What perplexes me even more is that when live-wire English winger Johnny May crossed for the first try of that 2018 match in the third minute after Australia had failed to exit their own 22, gifting the venerable English forwards a five-yard scrum, the Wallaby scrum subsequently disintegrated. One does wonder if the Wallabies learnt anything from the previous encounter with the English in 2017?

In that match the Wallabies were defeated 30-6, yet astutely Australian skipper Michael Hooper said prior to that match, “Obviously they’ve got a great set-piece, a good structure around how they kick and also attack, so for us it’s about being able to relieve pressure, getting out of our zone effectively so they can’t build the scoreboard like they have in previous games.”

Well, its 2019 and we are still waiting, Coach. Looks like someone’s Jupiter might have actually been in Uranus, not Saturn as the signs were showing? That’s if you actually believe in such mumbo-jumbo.

Which brings me to my next question; do the Wallabies actually learn from their errors or just wait upon the signs? It would appear not considering the apparent lack of improvement during 2018 into 2019 which makes me question, is Rugby Australia and these Wallabies a failing or actually a failed state in a sporting sense?

Consider that a failed state has been described in the ‘Fund for Peace’ (2015) as “a political body that has disintegrated to a point where basic conditions and responsibilities of a sovereign government no longer function properly (see also fragile state and state collapse). A state can also fail if the government loses its legitimacy even if it is performing its functions properly. For a stable state, it is necessary for the government to enjoy both effectiveness and legitimacy.”

Now I accept that Rugby Australia and the Wallabies are not a political body in the classic sense, but I do not subscribe to the notions that politics and sport are not intertwined. The politics of Australian Rugby over the decades is best described as an ‘illogical blood-sport’ at times. Hence, I would argue there is some congruence with the aforementioned definition.

Yet sports fans the kicker for me is the definition that “A state can also fail if the government loses its legitimacy even if it is performing its functions properly. For a stable state, it is necessary for the government to enjoy both effectiveness and legitimacy.”

Effectiveness and legitimacy; From a governance perspective, I am not convinced that these Wallabies will succeed as since 2018 the Wallabies have won just 4 of their last 14 matches. From 2016 to 2017 the Wallabies lost 14 and won 13 test matches, the trajectory these Wallabies are on is one of failure, therefore, how can one honestly argue the governance of these Wallabies has been effective from a strict on-field perspective.

Now to off-field issues. In his 2008 published piece in the Third World Quarterly titled The Fallacy of the Failed State Charles Call illustrates that characteristics of a failed state include both human rights violations and poverty.

Consider that Rugby Australia in 2019 finds itself in a legal imbroglio with its former employee and superstar of the Australian game, Israel Folau, over contractual issues that clearly have a human rights flavour to it, this does not bode well for Rugby Australia when considering Call’s piece. Furthermore, the financial issues at Rugby Australia are well known. I do not suggest the game is in abject poverty but it isn’t in ‘clover’ either.

Therefore, does anybody really think that from a Wallabies performance perspective Rugby Australia has been effective to the requisite standard both on and on the field? I would suggest not. Therefore, should this regime of Rugby Australia enjoy legitimacy?

Well as Brzezinski would argue, any legitimacy would depend on what the Australian Rugby Public actually think.

Whilst there will always be goodwill for the game and the Wallabies as a brand within Australia, the Australian Rugby Public have grown tiresome of excuses and controversy. They want to be proud of their national team and how this game is governed. They want to be able to wear the Wallaby jerseys with pride the same an Englishman, New Zealander or Irishman wears their national strip. If the Wallabies are to lose to Argentina in Brisbane this weekend then Rugby Australia should not be enjoying any legitimacy as leaders of the game in this county and nor should their coach.

Whilst Michael Cheika can look to the signs, he would know himself his side only has one ‘Salta’ in it. Double Barrelled blow ups at half time to motivate your troops is not a modus operandi that has a long shelf life. Michael Cheika and his Wallabies must, must be victorious this weekend if they are to salvage any real legitimacy moving forward as the fans have been trusting the rhetoric and signs for too long and been too let down too often.

Rugby Australia’s and Michael Cheika’s own legitimacy depend on it as Rugby Australia does appear to be a failing sporting state with a failing coach cruising down the highway of mediocrity headed for destination failure ignoring the real signs along the way.

Michael Cheika speaks to the media ahead of the Argentina test:

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Rugby Australia's and Michael Cheika's legitimacy is on the line this weekend