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Infighting, points-scoring and self-interested decisions: a nightmare week paints a bleak picture for the RFU

The Independent logo The Independent 30/11/2018 Sam Peters

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

Some big numbers and big statements were doing the rounds this week. Not many of them to the Rugby Football Union’s liking.

As if the recent announcement that chief executive Steve Brown will walk away from his £395,000-a-year role at Christmas just 14 months into the job wasn’t bad enough, the publication of the 2017/18 annual financial report brought more doom, gloom and blame games to Twickenham’s doors this week.

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£30.9m lost last year. Fifty-four redundancies made. £40m overspent on the East Stand redevelopment. £900,000 overspent on the senior England team.

£220m to pay off Premiership clubs for the privilege of releasing their players on England duty committed over eight years (more of that later).

Shall I go on?

a bridge with a building in the background © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited

Whichever way you spin it, the figures don’t look great for English rugby’s governing body, despite their insistence last year’s losses were off-set by a one-off profit of £31.6m, resulting from the restructuring of the Union’s corporate hospitality model.

The professional and grassroots game face some serious belt tightening. RFU budgets are not what they once were.

Video: Brown faced trying financial times at RFU (Sky Sports)

To make matters worse, the blazers are circling. This week former chief executives Francis Baron and Graeme Cattermole were stripped of their privileged membership of the union for showing a “lack of respect” by publishing a separate 50-page report telling us what we already knew: the RFU’s finances are in a mess.

(FYI Baron and Cattermole will now no longer be entitled to two complimentary match tickets for home internationals, with the option to purchase four additional match tickets, one complimentary lunch, with the right to purchase an additional lunch, access for two to the members’ lounge, including free drinks, a complimentary dinner ticket, with the option to purchase an additional dinner ticket.)

Naughty boys. They should have their packed lunches confiscated too.

a man wearing a suit and tie: steve-brown1.jpg © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited steve-brown1.jpg

Apparently without irony or any regard for the bloated RFU Council’s own point-blank refusal to make long overdue cuts to their own multi-million pound hospitality budget, President Chris Kelly slapped down the whistle-blowers by hitting them where it hurts: access to tickets and free lunches.

“Respect and teamwork are two of rugby’s prized core values,” Kelly lectured. “Council awards privilege membership to a small number of people who have given outstanding service to the game and embody its core values.

“At Friday’s Council meeting, members voted by an overwhelming majority to withdraw privilege membership from Francis Baron and Graeme Cattermole due to the clear lack of respect they have shown to the Union, our members and our staff.”

Whatever you think of Baron and Cattermole’s motives, this act screamed pettiness and points-scoring and an attempt to avoid transparency. If anything, it will make factions deeper.

Teamwork. Respect. Enjoyment. Discipline. Sportsmanship. These five words leapt out of the pages at the start of the RFU’s annual report.

a man wearing a suit and tie: francis-baron.jpg © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited francis-baron.jpg

But they are not perhaps the first words close observers would choose to sum up the way rugby has been administered in England in recent times.

After the PR disaster that was the 2011 World Cup, when drunken England players opted to throw paid dwarves around a Queenstown nightclub, five days before their (England’s, not the dwarves) next pool game, and the seemingly never-ending bloodletting of previous regimes, the only period of apparent stability and calm at the RFU came under the guidance of Brown’s predecessor, Ian Ritchie.

The avuncular, collegiate Ritchie always had a smile on his face and was warm and generous with staff, fans, players and media and even the RFU’s principle sparring partner since the advent of the professional era; Premiership Rugby.

Indeed, so generous was Ritchie, he negotiated the deal with English professional rugby’s umbrella organisation worth £220m over eight years which is absolutely at the heart of the Union’s current financial crisis.

a man holding a sign: ian-ritchie.jpg © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited ian-ritchie.jpg

Ritchie walked away from the RFU last year having, as the latest financial report revealed, pocketed £238,000 for his last two months of employment. Nice work if you can get it.

Even nicer work is the role which honed into view just six months after Ritchie left Twickenham; President of Premiership Rugby. You couldn’t make it up.

Throw in the unspecified number of non-disclosure agreements signed by outgoing RFU employees in recent times to gag potentially disgruntled former employees and the picture begins to look bleaker, still.

It feels as if we’re slipping back into bad, old days at Twickenham where infighting, points-scoring and self-interest reign.

Remember those buzzwords words folks: Teamwork. Respect. Enjoyment. Discipline. Sportsmanship.

Pictures: Predicted England squad for the 2019 World Cup

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