Cash crunch: Battle lines drawn in English game
SPOTLIGHT: England’s leading administrators were in the firing line on Thursday as a committee of UK lawmakers took aim at their “shambolic” response to the chaotic collapse of Worcester and Wasps.
Both Premiership clubs were hit with relegation from the English game’s top flight in October after they entered administration as a result of unpaid tax bills.
The knock-on effect was immediate, with a 13-team league suddenly reduced to 11 and the remaining Premiership clubs left with holes in their fixture schedules.
There have long been warnings of leading teams facing financial trouble, yet both England’s governing Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby, the umbrella body for the top division, were powerless to intervene as both Worcester and Wasps went to the wall.
Thursday saw RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney and Premiership Rugby counterpart Simon Massie-Taylor appear in front of a parliamentary committee where they faced questions about the disarray that engulfed the English game in the opening months of the season.
Committee chairman Julian Knight was scathing, telling Sweeney he had been “asleep on the job” and asking if he had considered resignation, while insisting to Massie-Taylor he would have gone had he been presiding over a similar situation in English football’s Premier League.
“I’ve dealt with football, but I’ve barely ever come across something as shambolic – a lack of care, a lack of thought of people in your own game – in my entire time as a select committee member since 2016,” Knight told both officials.
And turning to Massie-Taylor, he added: “If this happened in the Premier League [going out of business]. The head of the league would resign on the spot.”
Much of the committee’s criticism was focused on the failure to heed warning signs concerning former Worcester owners Colin Goldring and Jason Whittingham, with Sweeney admitting: “A binary one-off owners and directors test is not sufficient to prevent future bad behaviour or bad management.
“We need to have ongoing regular conditional reviews in terms of their performance and suitability is necessary.”
Massie-Taylor was sceptical about a possible all-British league but more enthusiastic regarding the prospects for a 10-team Premiership, saying a “decongested, tighter calendar” would aid player welfare.
“There is also a general theme around better quality of games could equal better commercial revenue for the clubs in the long term,” he added.