Governing any sport is never easy. It is a slog of monstrous proportions where failure to please the masses is almost guaranteed. The Rugby Football Union (RFU) cannot claim to have an unblemished record but, so far at least, in the case of Worcester Warriors, they haven’t put a foot wrong.
English rugby’s bigwigs have rightly come under criticism for a multitude of decisions that have impacted the game thousands love. These include:
Their decision to reduce the tackle height in the grassroots game to the waist – later changed to the lower sternum – will undoubtedly force a number of casual players out of the game. One player told City A.M. that they’d “absolutely” be giving up the game because of these changes.
RFU taking fire
Their chronic underfunding of the second tier – the RFU Championship – has raised eyebrows among many within the sport. One source in the Championship described the situation for some clubs to City A.M. as “bleak”.
Concerns over the size of wages at the very top – including chief executive Bill Sweeney – and a worry that the future of the game hangs in the balance exists adjacent to smaller issues such as an apparent, historic unwillingness to promote the Premiership on social media.
But, despite all of that, the Rugby Football Union deserves praise. Because in the case of Worcester Warriors – up to this point, anyway – they’ve been a standout governing body.
When Worcester fell into administration, many called on the sport to hold prospective owners to tougher standards. The RFU have done that.
When Atlas consortium failed the fit and proper tests over issues surrounding the payment of rugby creditors, many called on the governing body to stick to their guns for the good of fans. The RFU have done that – despite club issues raised by administrators Begbies Traynor.
And when many watched on with horror as plans were announced to strip a club of its identity – later rolled back – and rebrand because, in the words of Atlas’ Jim O’Toole “the church has closed down”, the RFU stood firm and said no merger or acquisition would be sanctioned if it meant an organisation “buying” a place in the rugby pyramid.
So though some would argue that this approach was hands off and reactionary given nothing was done to prevent issues in the first place, others would say the RFU let interested parties tie themselves in knots. And most can see who has come out looking the worse off.
It is not the job of a governing body to decide the details of any given business transaction in the league, but it is their job to approve calls that dramatically change the make-up of the game.
They may have done that rather controversially in the case of tackle heights, but in the issue of dealing with Worcester it has been steadfast.
No one is perfect and no organisation goes for decades without a blemish. But so far in the case of battling the Warriors, the Rugby Football Union has turned up. And in doing so, it has earned a positive tick in the tally box where before there were so many negatives.