What has he done?
A qualified accountant, V’landys immediately made an immediate impression in racing, becoming the youngest person in Australia to be appointed the chief executive of a metropolitan race club. It marked the beginning of a colourful and controversial career, one that has seen him take on countless challenges and adversaries.
Take, for instance, equine influenza. The 2007 outbreak posed as big a threat to the viability of the equine industry as COVID-19 does to the survival of rugby league. When he went to John Howard for assistance, the then-prime minister’s first offer was $5 million. V’landys eventually emerged with a $235 million rescue package.
Catholic festival World Youth Day, held at Randwick the following year, signalled another win when V’landys extracted $40 million in compensation for the use of the racecourse.
And then he took on the might of corporate bookmakers and emerged on the right side of the law, via a High Court decision, in pushing through legislation that has resulted in more than a billion dollars flowing into the industry.
Why is he in the news?
One of the NRL’s major broadcast partners, Nine, launched a stinging attack on the game’s governing body last week. V’landys is attempting to repair the relationship with Nine – the publishers of this masthead – as the outcome will have ramifications on this year’s competition structure, as well as determining key financial outcomes for both parties.
While Todd Greenberg is the chief executive of the NRL, make no mistake – V’landys is running the organisation. V’landys usually does his best work in the background but has been the face of the game’s bid to resume play on May 28, prompting a backlash from sections of the government and the community.
Herald columnist Andrew Webster labelled him “tone deaf” after V’landys demanded government funding to prop up rugby league, despite presiding over a bloated organisation that spends a staggering $500,000 every day just to run its competition.
Greenberg has been sidelined as V’landys fronts all the important stakeholder meetings, as well as making himself available to every senior league journalist on a daily basis.
Why is he controversial?
When V’landys decides upon a course of action, there is no stopping him. And he doesn’t care who he upsets. In launching horse race The Everest in 2017, V’landys set himself on a collision course with the Melbourne racing establishment. Not only was he staging the “richest race on turf”, he put it on during Melbourne’s beloved spring carnival. And then another affront to traditionalists: his $7.5 million Golden Eagle falls on Victoria Derby Day.
When pressed on the Sydney-Melbourne scheduling issues, V’landys’ solution sent fascinators flying: move the Melbourne Cup. “Melbourne has the smelly Yarra River, it’s got the most dreary city on Earth with the worst weather, yet NSW bows and scrapes to it all the time,” he told News Corp in 2018. “We consume the Melbourne Cup, the AFL grand final, the Australian Tennis Open. In stark contrast, Sydney has the most beautiful city in the world and without any doubt the best harbour in the world and we do nothing to drive our own assets.”
Having put noses out of joint in Victoria, the shameless self-promoter created uproar in the Harbour City by advertising the Everest on the sails of the Opera House.
What happens next?
Greenberg emerged from a stoush with previous Australian Rugby League Commission chairman John Grant with his job intact. That is unlikely to happen this time around – Greenberg has also fallen out with V’landys.
The COVID-19 outbreak has left the NRL teetering on the brink financially, giving V’landys a mandate to overhaul head office as he sees fit. He will be ruthless in cutting costs and jobs. However, he is also a diplomat and has gained the trust of the major stakeholders – including the clubs and players – to make the necessary reforms.
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.