The Rugby Football Union rebels who revolted against the leadership of chief executive Billy Sweeney and chair Tom Ilube have cast doubts on the governing body’s ability to afford a new Professional Game Partnership with Premiership Rugby.
It is understood the partnership, formerly known as the Professional Game Agreement, will be worth £128 million over the next four years.
Telegraph Sport revealed on Saturday that the RFU is facing its biggest internal revolt in over a decade after 30 members of the 65 strong RFU council signed a letter outlining a series of concerns, claiming the board is “providing insufficient leadership, controls, and scrutiny over the performance of the RFU executive”.
The rebels fear that the RFU is now set to gamble the financial future of the sport in England based on the performance of Steve Borthwick’s side and an inability to make further cuts to expenditure despite projections of losses over the next four years – and overall losses equating to £161m over the next nine years.
Flawed revenue projections led the RFU to run into dire financial straits by 2018 after signing the previous £220 million eight-year professional game agreement with Premiership Rugby in 2016 – forcing the governing body to make 63 employees redundant, which led to the resignation of former chief executive Steve Brown in the wake of criticisms of the governing body’s financial position.
“Gamble becomes greater if England men perform badly”
And those who are challenging the governing body’s leadership fear the union could be on the verge of making a similar mistake.
“At its meeting in June, Council was informed that the RFU expects to make a loss in each of the next four years and that the gap would be mitigated by increased revenues,” said the letter that was sent to RFU president Rob Briers last Monday.
“Council was also informed that there is no scope for further cuts. We do not have confidence in this strategy and believe it is a flawed approach: we can control costs, but we cannot guarantee increased revenues. Previous projections were shown to be overly optimistic, and the monies failed to materialise. Indeed, the RFU’s forecasts that were presented to Council in June show that there will be no increase in revenues over the pre-Covid levels. The gamble becomes ever greater if the national men’s team performs badly.”
The revolt comes at a defining moment for the future of the game in England, with the RFU keen to sign a new agreement to gain greater access to players in the national squad.
Negotiations with the Department of Culture Media and Sport over restructuring of the repayments of Covid support loans of £88million to Premiership clubs are also said to be at a critical stage.
“It is projected that the RFU will, this year, employ around 578 employees,” the letter adds. “For over 18 months, Council Members have been requesting a review of the effectiveness of the staffing structure and evidence of how it contributes to the delivery of the RFU’s core business (Winning England Teams, growing the game and financial performance).
“We are deeply concerned that this review has not taken place and the Game is left with a structure that many member clubs deem ‘not fit for purpose’.
“It is clear to many that the present centralised staffing structure is not delivering for the needs of the membership, owners, and consumers of rugby.
“Meanwhile, the field force has been decimated at a time when the game is clamouring for their reinstatement to help generate interest in the game and to support our member clubs.”
Ilube gave a strong response to the claims on Saturday, telling Telegraph Sport, saying he had been “deeply disappointed” at the letter and said that despite the opportunity, “very few questions have been raised on the finances during my time as chair.”
The RFU board held an emergency meeting on Friday and Briers will now meet the council on the eve of their next council meeting on September 29.
The rebels will demand that the RFU board provide greater transparency over the governing body’s spending, including a breakdown of headcount numbers and total salary costs over the last 10 years.
“How investment in rugby is made is opaque to say the least,” the letter adds.
“It is now time that the RFU conducts a review of the staffing structure, together with representatives from Council and where appropriate, member clubs, with the aim of reducing the headcount particularly in central roles and generate plans to implement locally based staff that meet the needs of clubs and constituent bodies.
“A review should also be undertaken on the rationale for the use of consultants, explaining what ‘gap’ they are filling that the current and enlarged RFU staff cannot provide, and the amount this has cost the Union.”