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Revolt against RFU leaders threatens England’s Rugby World Cup tilt

A revolt at the Rugby Football Union is threatening to undermine England’s World Cup campaign. The chief executive, Bill Sweeney, and the chairman, Tom Ilube, have been accused of inadequate leadership by almost half of the organisation’s council members.

In a letter signed by 30 council members and sent to the board on the eve of England’s opening World Cup match against Argentina, a number of concerns over their leadership were raised, including the financial losses forecast over the next decade.

Ilube has responded by stating he is “deeply disappointed” with the council’s resolution and its timing as civil war threatens to break out at the RFU. The botched handling of the decision to lower the tackle height at the community continues to be a divisive issue while, as previously reported by the Guardian, the union is facing a £40m shortfall this year.

The council made its feelings clear when it refused to allow Sweeney to appoint an independent adviser to oversee governance reforms in July, a move tantamount to a show of no confidence.

The council felt the need to escalate matters, however, and has directly challenged the leadership of Sweeney and Ilube. According to the Daily Telegraph, the letter says: “If the present situation is allowed to persist, there is significant risk to the future of the union, the way it operates and its ability to invest in, sustain and grow the community, semi-professional and professional games. As such, failure to act will further call into question the confidence we have in the senior leadership of the RFU.

“Whilst the impact of Covid-19 cannot be understated, nor the potential impact of the current challenging economic climate, recent forecasts show that the RFU is likely to make a substantial loss in every year bar one over the next nine years equating to £161m. This represents an existential threat to our game. Few private, public or third-party organisations would survive such continuing levels of loss, and their boards would also be held to account. The RFU board appears to be breaching one of the key objects of the union.”

The RFU has claimed a number of council members who signed the letter already feel misled, adding to the sense of chaos at the union. The president, Rob Briers, has called an emergency meeting to take place the day before next month’s scheduled council meeting. All the while England are preparing for their second World Cup match against Japan on Sunday.

“The proposed council resolution regarding the governance and operation of the Rugby Football Union is deeply disappointing,” said Ilube. “It was emailed on the eve of the opening of the Rugby World Cup when the game should be focused on supporting the England team.

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“It also comes as important discussions regarding the Professional Game Partnership are taking place, while a consultation is under way on investing in the community game of the future, together with meetings with World Rugby and international unions regarding the structure of the global calendar and Nations Cup at which the RFU plays a key influential role.”

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