Rugby chiefs ‘should consider resigning’ over Worcester fiasco

The chief executives of both the RFU and Premiership Rugby were asked whether they ought not to resign as they were accused by MPs of presiding over “failure on an epic scale” and

In a grilling that lasted over an hour at Portcullis House in Westminster, the RFU’s Bill Sweeney and PRL’s Simon Massie-Taylor were accused of a “lack of corrective care and a failure of will” and a “lack of cooperation and communication”.

Sweeney, in particular, faced an uncomfortable series of questions over the RFU’s failure to review its fit and proper persons test, which determines who can own a club. At the time of its collapse, Worcester was partially owned by Colin Goldring, who was previously sanctioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Julian Knight MP, chair of the select committee for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, asked Sweeney why he had taken no action even after the RFU became aware of the SRA’s sanction. “Because it was superseded by the primary requirement which was to work to save the club,” Sweeney responded. “That took priority.”

Knight was unimpressed. “It looks to me frankly, that you seem to be living in isolation in your ivory tower,” he said. “This story is as old as the hills […] allowing someone you later discover to have been banned by a major institution’s SRA, to retain ownership of a rugby club, and then you’re not even banning them after they’ve driven it into the ground?

“You, frankly, have failed in this instance, and so has the RFU. Should you not be looking at your own position?”

Knight added that he would be writing to the Serious Fraud Office concerning Goldring. “It seems to me he made a financial gain from having told a lie,” he said.

Jason Whittingham and Colin Goldring - Twitter

He added of the saga with Worcester and Wasps: “I’ve dealt with football. I thought that was bad. But I have never come across anything as shambolic as this… the lack of care and lack of thought, towards people in your own game, in my entire time as a select committee member.”

Massie-Taylor, meanwhile, who took over as the chief executive of PRL in October last year, was told that if a similar situation had occurred in the Premier League, with 16 per cent of its clubs folding in a season, it would be a resignation matter.

“If that had happened in the Premier League, or even the Championship, which is a complete basket case.. that would be four clubs effectively. If that happened the head of the Premier League would resign on the spot. I don’t know how you can come to this committee today and say what you’ve said with a straight face, frankly.”

Massie-Taylor cited “extreme economic circumstances” and said there were plans in place to grow the game.

‘If it wasn’t so tragic it would be laughable’

Sweeney cited a three-point plan to overhaul rugby in England. Firstly, he said creating a “more compelling” Premiership and Championship would “provide additional revenues”. Secondly, he said there needed to be an overhaul of governance, with a more stringent fit and proper persons test. And finally, he said there needed to be more transparency with regard to club’s finances, as there is in France.

Sweeney added that it was not all doom and gloom, stating that the RFU’s finances were in reasonable shape and rejected allegations from former RFU chief executive Francis Baron who recently accused the RFU of making a cumulative net loss of £73.4m over the period 2012 to 2019. “I don’t know where he got that figure from,” Sweeney said.

The DCMS committee members seemed unimpressed, however. Kevin Brennan MP said there was a “whiff of Kwasi Kwarteng economics” and asked whether international game was “a healthy hand on a diseased arm”. Brennan also said it appeared as if the RFU and PRL were “competitors rather than collaborators”.

Julie Elliott MP, meanwhile, asked Judith Batchelar, chair of the RPA, why her organisation spends half of its £3m turnover on salaries. She added she was concerned about the lack of support mechanism in the RPA. Batchelar said the RPA was re-looking at its remit.

Knight concluded by saying he would not only write to the Serious Fraud Office concerning Mr Goldring but also to John Campion, Police & Crime Commissioner for West Mercia.

“We will issue a special report on sessions from today,” he said.“Frankly if it wasn’t so tragic it would be laughable.

As well as the demise of Worcester and Wasps, which came about due to a “lack of corrective care and a failure of will” and a “lack of cooperation and communication”, Knight said that “a huge power imbalance between the players union and the administrators had been exposed” by recent events.

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