Rugby union has been accused of ‘failing on an epic scale’ as the recent collapse of Worcester Warriors and Wasps came under parliamentary scrutiny on Thursday. Julian Knight, chair of the Digital, Cultural, Media and Sport Select Committee, told Bill Sweeney, CEO of the governing body, to consider his future at the helm of the sport.
Knight told Sweeney, who sat alongside representatives from Premier Rugby and the Rugby Players Association at the hearing, “If you look behind you, you’ll see people from Worcester, and they’re angry at your failures. You failed in this case and so did the RFU. Shouldn’t you be looking to your own position?”Read:Rory McIlroy overcomes Scottie Scheffler to claim historic third FedExCup victory at Tour Championship | Golf News
Knight also said he would refer the matter of Colin Goldring’s ownership of Worcester and Morecambe football clubs to the Serious Fraud Office and John Campion, West Mercia’s Police and Crime Commissioner. He told the hearing that Goldring was said to have falsified his claim to being a solicitor when initially passing the English Football League directors test at a time when he was facing an investigation into his mishandling of €8m (£6.8m) from a client. money. Goldring was later dismissed in May by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority, which was reported in July, nearly three months before Worcester entered administration.
Much of the committee’s focus was on testing suitability and suitable people for rugby. Although Goldring and his partner, Jason Whittingham, have been buying into Premier Rugby, the RFU is responsible for performing the sport’s checks and balances. Doing continual testing of the right people “seems pretty obvious,” Knight said, “when you have this kind of situation where someone has, frankly, divested one of your major clubs of assets. We’ve seen these issues in other sports. Didn’t it occur to you that do this?”Read:Ireland’s lead status to face challenge from South Africa in physical epic | Autumn Nations Series
Sweeney responded with a timeline of events, in which the necessity to save the club transcended the obvious questions about the owners. “They have assured us that new financial measures are being explored,” Sweeney said at a meeting with Whittingham and Goldring in July. “We also share frustration and anger to some extent over the many missed deadlines and missed promises and guarantees.”
Knight raised his disbelief that Sweeney should take assurances from such people, but Simon Massey-Taylor, Chief Executive of Premier Rugby, quietly mentioned at one point the role played by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, who lent these same (in Sweeney’s words)” reprehensible characters” has generated more than £15m of taxpayers’ money during the pandemic.
Sweeney also added: “One of the main lessons to come out of this very unfortunate episode… is that a one-off dual test of owners and managers is not sufficient to prevent future bad behavior or management. Regular, ongoing conditional reviews of their performance and suitability are essential.”Read:Steve Cooper sets out Nottingham Forest transfer priority as deadline day approaches
After Knight told him he was “sleeping on the job,” Sweeney confirmed that the Football Association of Australia and Premiership Rugby were currently working on formalizing a new Professional Game Agreement (PGA) that would help protect the sport from other instances like the Worcester hornets.
The other outstanding matter, as officials try to maneuver what remains of the club towards a successful sale, is the question of their shares in the Premier League, the all-important P-share. Worcester Warriors Foundation CEO Carol Hart spoke poignantly in the previous morning session about the impact the club’s collapse has had on the local community.
She said the foundation’s work, which touches tens of thousands of people, would be in jeopardy without the participation of P. Robin Walker, the local MP, praised the solidarity of other fans, even from other international federations, who had offered their support, but argued the real test would be whether the premier Rugby allowed Worcester to keep their quotas.
“I fully understand that some potential bidders would like to hold these assets within the management process,” Massey Taylor later said in response. “I don’t think that sends a particularly strong message to the rest of our clubs – that you can go into management and keep the assets while you get rid of the liabilities.”