Rugby Football Union Chief Executive Bill Sweeney has revealed that the fan-led review of football governance will aid their efforts to help get their own sport back on track following the recent Worcester and Wasps situation.
Sweeney and Premiership Rugby counterpart Simon Massie-Taylor appeared before a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee on Thursday to tackle questions about how English rugby has been played in disarray during the opening months of the current season.
Both Wasps and Worcester were relegated from the Gallagher Premiership in October after they went into administration due to unpaid taxes being pursued by HM Revenue and Customs.
DCMS chairman Julian Knight was one of several MPs to scrutinize Sweeney and Massie-Taylor at Portcullis House, with the pair asked whether they had considered resigning following the bankruptcy of two clubs.
Much of the criticism centered on his failure to intervene when previous Worcester owners Colin Goldring and Jason Whittingham showed warning signs and the RFU boss granted a rugby fit and fitness test review – as in the review led by Tracey Crouch fans in football last year – would happen.
“They certainly wouldn’t have a physical fitness test right now,” Sweeney said.
“One of the key learnings that will come out of this regrettable episode, and some of the learnings we took away from the FA (sic) fan-led review, is that a single binary test of owners and directors is not enough to prevent future misbehavior or mismanagement.
“You need to have ongoing regular conditional reviews in terms of performance and suitability.”
After being told he was “sleeping on the job” by DCMS Chairman Knight, Sweeney highlighted that the RFU and Premiership Rugby were formalizing the terms for a new Professional Gaming Agreement (PGA) that would help protect the sport from others. cases like Wasps and Worcester.
He added: “There are probably three areas we need to look at and change.
“One is something we are working on anyway, which is the general structure of the professional game in terms of the Premiership but also the Championship so that it connects and we have a more attractive league structure which will help us generate additional income. and in-game benefits.
“Secondly, from what we’ve looked at in terms of the FA (sic) review and the conversations we’ve had with them, and also the DCMS, you need to look at governance reform in terms of how new owners coming into the game can be determined if they are suitable to do this.
“Ongoing and regular checks and conditionalities would be part of this, along with appropriate structures around the board and independent directors. There is a piece of governance that needs to be strengthened from this experience.
“So the end result would clearly be more financial transparency and more real-time funding modeling to allow us to engage with these clubs in a situation like this, which we hope never happens again, so we can really take proactive action.”
Sweeney has described the ‘double whammy’ of the coronavirus pandemic and the current cost of living crisis, which has seen the utility bill at Twickenham rise from £2.2m to £7.5m, as one of the main reasons behind of recent events.
Premiership chief executive Massie-Taylor provided a unified front with his RFU counterpart and insisted “the partnership has never been stronger” between the two organisations.
“Clearly, right now, we’re facing a storm,” said Massie-Taylor, who, like Sweeney, did not directly address the question of whether he had considered his position after the collapse of Worcester and Wasps.
“This has been driven in part by the Covid period and also by the economy, so some clubs are naturally facing challenges. This was the case for Wasps and Worcester in the fact that they were negotiating debt deals and were suspended by HMRC.
Massie-Taylor dismissed suggestions of a potential Anglo-British league, but raised again the possibility of reducing the Premiership to 10 teams.
He added, “One of the main themes here is that we need to have much better alignment between the first and second tier in how it’s managed, marketed and how the flow of teams goes from one to the other.
“I think there is a strong case for a tighter first division, the Premiership, and Bill has mentioned the fact that we have a lot of calendar congestion and overlap.
“Equally, we have to consider the wellbeing of the players and there is a general theme and belief that players are playing a lot of rugby. So a tighter decongested schedule would help with that.
“There is also a general theme around better game quality, which can mean better commercial revenue for clubs in the long term.”