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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Response from the RFU
    Posted: 02 Feb 2010 at 17:21
I set out below the response from RFU President John Owen to the letter that was written on 22 January 2010. Underneath the response I have copied the letter of 22 January 2010 so that forum members can view the initial letter and the RFU's response in one place.
 
Response to Rolling Maul letter – From John Owen, President of the Rugby Football Union
 

Dear Rolling Maul contributors

Thank you for your letter concerning the Championship.

We do regularly read Rolling Maul and have seen the posts on the points made in your letter, and other issues, over the past few months. We welcome this opportunity to respond. I recognise this is a lengthy response but you raise important issues that deserve a detailed answer.

You say you want to raise concerns about the RFU’s management of the game below the elite level but your letter concerns only the Championship and within that the issue of insolvent clubs and the relegation play offs. I will limit the specific points made in this letter in response to those two points.

Perhaps, however, I may start though with some general points to set the context for the Championship overall and which address some of the issues raised elsewhere on your site.

Firstly, contrary to regularly expressed opinion, the RFU is investing significantly and at its highest level ever in the Championship. In the current season central funding to the clubs is £2.3million – an increase of 86% over last year on a per club basis - and this will be augmented further when a sponsor is confirmed for the competition which has taken longer than we hoped due to the recession.

In addition, again for the first time ever at this level, there is guaranteed live TV coverage of at least 5 games thanks to the RFU’s relationship with Sky and their commitment to rugby.  This will rise from next season when our new contract will ensure live TV coverage of 8 Championship regular season games and the promotion play offs.  So we are providing funding and profile.

In addition, as you would expect, we are working with the clubs on a collective and individual basis to help them to develop their own incremental revenue streams through increased gates, more local sponsors and other fund raising initiatives. Every decision we make, or action we take, is discussed and taken with the Championship’s understanding and knowledge and, for the most part, agreement. 

One example of this is that we consulted with the Championship clubs on the issue of the insolvent clubs you mention. Their overwhelming feedback was that we should explore all options to keep the clubs playing in the league as the knock on effect in not doing so – in terms of profile, season structure and home gate money – would have been hugely damaging to those remaining.

However, the important point to note in the cases of Birmingham & Solihull and Coventry is that under the RFU regulations they are both able to seek a licence from the RFU if they came out of administration and satisfied certain protocols that are clearly laid out in those regulations as have a number of clubs over the last few years. The requirements include the provision of a bond to the RFU for a certain amount and the payment of all rugby creditors. As long as the new companies in both cases met these, and other requirements, then the RFU had little choice but to grant them a licence to play. So the view that the RFU ‘rescued’ these clubs and ‘allowed’ them to play is not quite accurate. The clubs rescued themselves, complied with the requirements of the RFU regulations and as a result qualified for a licence. That said we, and the Championship clubs, did agree that this was the best course of action, in any event until the end of this season, as it would maintain the integrity of the Championship by which we mean keeping it whole in the best interests of all clubs.

I can understand your point that those two clubs do not have some of the financial legacies of other clubs but the other option was not to allow the clubs a licence to play and as I have said that was generally viewed by the remaining Championship Clubs as a worse option. Let me also at this point dispel a myth that the insolvent clubs you refer to are in that position as a result of being in the Championship. That is just not the case. All of these clubs, and some others, have had financial difficulties over a number of seasons and the fact that these are now surfacing while they are in the Championship is to do with timing not cause and effect.

In addition, you make reference to Richmond and London Scottish. Every effort was made to assist those clubs but the circumstances were entirely different and there were different RFU regulations in effect at the time. The professional Richmond club merged with London Irish and ceased to exist so the amateur Richmond club was effectively a new club in the league and had to start at the bottom.  London Scottish went into administration as a result of losing Richmond’s income post merger and under the regulations at the time had to start at the bottom of the league structure.

In relation to player recruitment, the transfer deadline (specific to the Championship because of its structure) was in place to ensure that teams did not recruit just in advance of the play offs and that any player was part of a long term playing strategy. In the cases of Birmingham & Solihull and Coventry it is worth noting that both were significantly down on their player roster due to financial difficulties and players moving to other Championship clubs during their times of uncertainty. So to some extent the Clubs were replenishing their player base and with little time to do so between Christmas and the transfer deadline those signings came through in a block. In terms of affordability the management of those clubs will still have to have been sure that paying those players is possible inside the income received given the scrutiny from their new management teams and investors. In addition, of course, the RFU requires detailed financial information from these Clubs to ensure the investment is in place to make the club sustainable in the long term.

So to your specific point, and your request, concerning the insolvent clubs and the relegation play offs. I think it is certainly fair to say that what we have here is a law of unintended consequences from two regulations drafted with positive intent.

·         General Administrative Regulation 3.6.4 which mandates a 15 point penalty was drafted to ensure that all clubs focus on being sustainable and, as you highlight, balance their resources and income. Unfortunately in a number of instances the legacies of the past few seasons were such that some clubs still had to go down the insolvency route which activated this automatic process.

·         Championship Regulation 2.2 addresses the play off structure which was put in place last autumn to ensure that every game during the season had significance and that interest in the Championship would be held right up until the very end both at the top and bottom of the league.

It has to be said that the impact of agreeing the two phase structure of the Championship on the “points deduction” regulation was not fully appreciated. I do not believe this makes either regulation or the structure of the Championship wrong, just that a situation has arisen that nobody anticipated and which we are now trying to collectively resolve.

So the key question on all of this has to be what do we do about it? We are working with the clubs to look at a number of options to address the situation. For example in our Championship Clubs meetings last year we proposed that we carry forward points (50% or 100%), particularly for the “Relegation Pool”, from the first phase of the Championship into the second phase but that was felt by the Clubs not to be appropriate. We will continue to explore other options with them moving forward.

Clearly one could look at the option you suggest of requiring that only insolvent clubs should be in the relegation play offs. This is fraught with issues and challenges. What happens for example if a club goes into administration on the last day of the first phase? Do we then have to change the whole structure of the relegation play offs for that one club? How do we agree a TV schedule? What about ticketing issues? Would such an approach be fair and equitable to the players and management of those clubs who, in most cases, are dealing with the issues of past owners?  None of the Championship Clubs in our discussions with them about the way forward has suggested this as an option

Finally of course to make the change you suggest would require a  significant change of regulation mid season, a  course of action which has always been strongly resisted by all in the game and which is against the policy that has been established over many years albeit on occasions it has proved necessary.

The most important thing in the RFU’s view is whether this issue is settled on the field of play or the balance sheet. Your approach suggests that the defining criteria should be the financial statements of the clubs involved rather than the exploits of the team on the field week in and week out throughout the season. It is our view that the defining criteria should be the results gained on the field regardless of the financial position of the club. At the end of the day the game of rugby rather than the business of rugby should govern who ends up in which league.

As I started by saying, I recognise this is a lengthy response to your letter but it was an important letter that deserved attention and it is a complex issue. If it were simple we and the Championship clubs would have resolved it by now and at the end of the season we will, as we would always do at the end of the first season of a newly formed league, sit down with the clubs and review what has worked and what has not worked and plan for the coming season.

 I also recognise you will not have agreed with everything I have said or would want to take issue with some of it. We would welcome that as long as we continue to have a right of reply as we do recognise that your concerns are entirely due to your passion for the game which is something we share wholeheartedly.

Thanks for the opportunity to respond.

Yours

 


John Owen

 

 
Initial letter of 22 January 2010 set out below.
 

John Owen Esq

President of The Rugby Football Union
Rugby House
Twickenham Stadium
200 Whitton Road
Twickenham
Middlesex
TW2 7BA

 

22 January 2010

 

Dear Sir

 

The Championship and Rugby Football Union's Core Values

 

I am writing to you as a lifelong participant and supporter of the game of rugby union to express my significant concerns at the Rugby Football Union's ('RFU') management of the game below the elite level.

 

I am a member of ‘The Rolling Maul’ rugby forum which is an online discussion forum for supporters of National League rugby clubs. There has been considerable concern raised by members of The Rolling Maul regarding the structure and management of the Championship following the insolvencies of three Championship clubs, namely London Welsh RFC, Birmingham and Solihull RFC and Coventry RFC. I should say at the outset that I am not a member or in any way affiliated or otherwise interested in any Championship or National 1 rugby club.

 

The principal concerns arise from what appears to be the manifest unfairness and inequity of both the structure and the management of the Championship following these recent insolvencies. As you will be aware the Championship provides for a play off for both promotion to the Premiership and relegation to National 1.

 

It is apparent that the Championship’s play off structure and the RFU's decisions in respect of these insolvencies has conspired to produce a manifestly unfair and unjust situation that is in direct contravention of the RFU's Core Value of Sportsmanship.

 

In particular the combined effect of the Championship’s play off structure and the treatment afforded to the three insolvent clubs has resulted in the following:

 

1. The deduction of 15 points in the case of Birmingham and Solihull RFC ('B&S') and Coventry RFC ('Coventry') places them at little disadvantage compared to the other two clubs that will compete in the relegation play offs as once the play off stages begin the points deduction is eliminated.

 

2. The phoenix entities that are now carrying forward the position of B&S and Coventry in the Championship may be at a positive advantage compared to their relegation rivals, as B&S and Coventry may be reinvigorated by their resurrection and will not have the distraction of any legacy financial issues to hinder or otherwise distract them during the course of the relegation battle.

 

3. There is a clear difference in the treatment afforded to these three recently insolvent clubs and the RFU’s previous treatment some years ago in respect of Richmond RFC and London Scottish RFC. There is also a view that in respect of certain aspects there has been unequal treatment by the RFU in respect of each of the recently insolvent clubs

 

4. The fact that both B&S and Coventry have announced a raft of major new player signings just prior to the registration deadline is at variance with the perception that both clubs are battling for survival. This very significant level of player recruitment by B&S and Coventry may well place the other two clubs involved in the relegation playoff at a distinct disadvantage as these other clubs, which have honoured all their commitments, may not have had the flexibility or the available finances to freshen their squads in the dramatic manner of B&S and Coventry

 

Accordingly the situation that is evolving in the Championship may well significantly disadvantage clubs that have properly balanced their resources and have not become insolvent.

 

In the circumstances I cannot see how it can ever be equitable for a Championship club that has not recently been the subject of an insolvency process to be relegated whilst the recently insolvent clubs maintain their Championship status. Due to the Championship play off structure this position may well arise.

 

The perception created by the RFU’s treatment of the three recently insolvent clubs is that the RFU is only concerned with protecting the Championship structure it has put in place and this expediency has overridden the RFU’s Core Value of Sportsmanship which states “We observe fair play both on and off the pitch… We play to win but not at all costs

 

Although it is not a statistically significant result, a straw poll of Rolling Maul contributors asked to vote once only on what best expressed their view on the RFU’s management of the game answered as follows:

 

The RFU is doing a great job

3

[2.54%]

The RFU is doing its best in difficult economic times

7

[5.93%]

The RFU is upholding the principles of Rugby Union

1

[0.85%]

The RFU is making the odd mistake

6

[5.08%]

The RFU's management of the game is a disgrace

37

[31.36%]

The RFU has abandoned any moral authority

2

[1.69%]

The RFU cares only for its own profits and the elite game

61

[51.69%]

The RFU cares more about Sky tv than the community game

1

[0.85%]

 

Despite the limited poll size you should be concerned at the results of this straw poll of passionate rugby supporters.

 

In light of the recent insolvencies I would ask that you urgently review the Championship relegation play off process, to ensure a manifest injustice does not arise and consider most carefully how damaging the poorly structured nature of the Championship is to the image of the game and the current standing of the RFU.

 

As this letter is being sent on behalf of myself and others on the Rolling Maul Forum, in the interests of fairness and transparency it is my intention to post this letter and any reply you care to make on the Rolling Maul Forum.

 

Yours faithfully

 

 

cc

 

Terry Burwell – Tournaments and Competitions Director

Peter Thomas – Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Director



Edited by BiffBoffBish - 02 Feb 2010 at 17:24
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Feb 2010 at 17:55

"at the end of the day the game of rugby rather than the business of rugby should govern who ends up in which league"

(and Rhubarb the consequences)

 

"My father told me big men fall just as quick as little ones, if you put a sword through their hearts."
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Feb 2010 at 18:08
Very neatly trying to put the blame on the other Championship clubs when talking about carrying points forward.  One thing is for sure, because it was "not fully appreciated", there would have been no discussion amongst the Championship clubs on the situation that we are now faced in respect of Bees and Cov!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Feb 2010 at 18:19
Firstly I am appreciative of the RFU's quick response and the consideration they have given to the matter. For this they should be commended.
 
I have not yet fully considered John Owen's reply in detail but on a first reading it is clear that the RFU recognise that there is a significant problem.
 

''So to your specific point, and your request, concerning the insolvent clubs and the relegation play offs. I think it is certainly fair to say that what we have here is a law of unintended consequences from two regulations drafted with positive intent.

·         General Administrative Regulation 3.6.4 which mandates a 15 point penalty was drafted to ensure that all clubs focus on being sustainable and, as you highlight, balance their resources and income. Unfortunately in a number of instances the legacies of the past few seasons were such that some clubs still had to go down the insolvency route which activated this automatic process.

·         Championship Regulation 2.2 addresses the play off structure which was put in place last autumn to ensure that every game during the season had significance and that interest in the Championship would be held right up until the very end both at the top and bottom of the league.

It has to be said that the impact of agreeing the two phase structure of the Championship on the “points deduction” regulation was not fully appreciated. I do not believe this makes either regulation or the structure of the Championship wrong, just that a situation has arisen that nobody anticipated and which we are now trying to collectively resolve.''

The emphasis in bold is mine but in this paragraph it is relatively clear to me that the RFU appreciate that there is a significant problem. The question they go on to consider is what should be done about it.

I will consider the reply in more detail before looking to pen a response. All properly considered views are most welcome and where appropriate will be included in the response back to John Owen.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Feb 2010 at 18:35
A very eloquent reply from the RFU and I suppose one which we were expecting. They cannot be seen to fail and clearly the only two clubs which are going to be at risk are the two who will be playing Cov and the Bees.
 
I have every faith that it will be either Cov or Bees that occupy their rightful place in Nat 1 (should be lower but we can't have everything!) and we can sort some sensible rules out for next season - especially regarding the malpractice that is borrowing players!!
 
Well done BB on all this as at least you've opened up lines of communication with HQ!!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Feb 2010 at 18:40
It is heartening to receive such a comprehensive and considered reply.  Whether or not we agree with some, any or all of what is written it is important to acknowledge not only the courtesy but also the wholehearted attempt to answer the points made.  Good to see the RFU don't think all internet postes are a bunch of raving loonies. 

Rather made my day - even though I don't agree with some of what is said! 

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Feb 2010 at 18:40

Firstly, I'd like to thank BBB, I truly did not think you would receive any response beyond an acknowledgement let alone one as open and as illuminating as this, the confirmation that our witterings on here are digested by the 'powers that be' should be born in mind the next time we are tempted to hurl insults at one another

Secondly, I'd to thank John Owen for responding in such a positive manner, even encouraging the use of this forum for further dialogue as, like the mushroom, discontent due to ignorance and miss-understanding thrives on being kept in the dark

However, on a purely personal level, there's a point of principle here. Should a club which chose to live within its means be relegated this season instead of one which chose not to, the individuals who allow that injustice to happen will be forever tainted.
a Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Feb 2010 at 18:50
Well, hasnt Mr  Shaw given us the answer,"week in and week out throughout the season"Bottom team relegated then .Job done.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Feb 2010 at 18:50
Yes, I agree it was a full and unexpected response - I should have aknowledged the fact time was taken to provide a comprehensive reply  Well done John Owen.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Feb 2010 at 19:12

 

Congratulations BBB!!!
 The most significant part of the RFU's response, is that they have deemed it necessary to reply in the first place.
Just as the committee that was asked to design the horse came up instead with a camel, I get the impression that those who first of all thought up (and voted for) the formula for the Championship are now thinking about the error of their ways.
Clearly while they don't want to change course in the middle of the season (although the letter does not preclude such an event) I would forecast a complete rejig before season 2010/11 gets under way.
It is right that the RFU should pay close attention to the views of the grass roots.
Hopefully this is an indication that they are taking notice.


Edited by Longtime - 02 Feb 2010 at 19:28
It pays to be wise after the event!!!
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Feb 2010 at 19:45
Gentlemen,
 
I would like to say that it is important that the RFU have responded and at length. It is an indication that:
 
1. the issues raised are serious and they recognise this.
 
2. they have regard for the sensible debate and discussion which is often present on The Rolling Maul forum
 
Over the next few days I intend to construct an appropriate reply. Informed and sensible comments will be incorporated into the draft reply before it is posted to the RFU. This forum clearly has some legitimacy in the eyes of the RFU and it could be assist in establishing a workable solution which could avoid a potential injustice arising this season.
 
I would ask that everybody who has a real interest, to consider how we should respond. There is momentum here and it should be followed through to ensure that a manifest injustice does not occur.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Feb 2010 at 20:15
Thankyou John Owen for the prompt reply.I hope the RFU really do understand their is a problem and needs to be sorted out before the start of the next season.If they do then BBB has done a great job in bringing the issues to the RFUs attention.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Feb 2010 at 20:17

no mention about LW in the RFU letter

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Feb 2010 at 21:00

I should like to echo the earlier posts in terms of applauding John Owen for his prompt and thoughtful reply, and of course BBB for the initial letter-I hope you feel that your efforts are vindicated in terms of the RFU's response.

I suspect the lack of reference to London Welsh reflects the fluidity of the current situation, wherby it might be inappropriate for the RFU to comment at this stage. I think there is enough substance in John Owen's reply to suggest that they are at least keeping a close eye on developments.
 
I would suggest there is rather more "mea culpa" in John Owen's statement than in Tony Blair's recent appearance........


Edited by cheshire exile - 02 Feb 2010 at 21:06
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Feb 2010 at 22:10
Yip well done BBB and may thanks John for the reply.

My initial take on the response, and in essence this season what has happened, is that sometimes decisions are made that are discussed, votes made based on the discussions, and yes, with "agendas" perhaps in some cases, but and to me this is a big but, sometimes you just dont realise the full extent of problems until they happen and unfold.

As mentioned the rules were set out at the start of the season. How many times have we been at April and not knowing fully what the rules are at the start of that season and through the season goalposts have changed and we have not been happy. At least the RFU are not changing the goalposts as I understand it, so everyone knows the score, right or wrong.

Also yes we have moaned about there being no sponsorship, lack of TV coverage and at least there is an increase in games next season. Its better than a decrease or no coverage. Sponsorship will be hard but I do think more could be done with a little bit of lateral thinking by the RFU here and I am disappointed in that arena.

I do think BBB highlighted areas are the comments that I take a fair amount out of the letter of "we discussed what to do, we made a decision, its perhaps not the best decision, we didnt see what has transpired, lets look to address this going forward".

I would alter my vote to "The RFU have recognised some of the mistakes of this season, and learned from changing the goalposts in previous years and the problems that caused. I think they are not as 'bad' as it initially seemed".
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Feb 2010 at 22:59
Originally posted by SABees SABees wrote:

no mention about LW in the RFU letter



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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 Feb 2010 at 00:15

Agreed - good to have a reasonably prompt and detailed and lucid reply.

 

However the reply is so inaccurate re London Scottish demise 10 years ago ("London Scottish went into administration as a result of losing Richmond’s income post merger " - er, no actually! There was no such income to lose.....) - one hopes the rest of the facts in his response stand up rather better.

 

Now to quibble …

 

The RFU “policy” not to change rules and regulations at short notice was not in evidence when they changed the Championship structure half way through last season....

 

Mr Owen is right to hint that the pathetic irrelevance of 15 point penalties was not foreseen; it is a bit like fining a premership football player £1000 for a driving offence when he earns 80 grand a week (as has just happened ....)

 

However the real problem is that the RFU needs a reality check: You cannot ask clubs to go for it in a new professional league and then pretend that “At the end of the day the game of rugby rather than the business of rugby should govern who ends up in which league.”

 

So Mr Owen – mismanaging the business of a rugby club is just not that big a deal then? As long as the “rugby debts" are paid it is OK to shaft all the other trade creditors? And it is OK for rugby clubs to go bust and default on the money they owe to HMRC, even though as taxpayers we carry on stumping up tax and VAT?

 

I don’t think any of the other Championship clubs are telling you this is the right way to run their league or any other..

 

No, the penalty for going into administration should be relegation; the only issue should be that the clubs concerned should have the option of volunteering for relegation more than one level if that’s the best way for new owners to stabilise and rescue a lost business.

 

And - committee or directors of a bust club should be disbarred from office at any club for a period of years. Those who mismanage clubs, and the clubs themselves, should not be allowed to just carry on as if nothing of consequence has taken place.

 

What the RFU needs to do now is

 

1.      Change the regulations as per above

2.      Implement them from now

 

Unless Bees, Cov and LW lodge bonds and proof of funds NOW…they should be relegated from the Championship.

 

No play offs will be needed

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 Feb 2010 at 00:19
Cov already have.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 Feb 2010 at 00:22
So have Bees
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 Feb 2010 at 02:31
The French have a rugby saying that (reasonably translated) 'what is not won on the green field should not be won on the green baize'(ref the colour of committee room tables). That is not far from one of the messages of John Owen to whom many thanks for a detailed reply.
However,that is saying let the SPORT(emphasis added) do the talking.The problem I have is that the idea of sport/sporting behaviour/sportsmanship etc. conveys a sense of fairness,equality,honest endeavour etc (before someone shouts the word 'honest' is not used as the antithesis of  dishonest).The majority of clubs in the Championship set a playing budget for this season ie a sum of money to be used for the entirety of the season and acquired a playing squad to fit that budget.Such clubs are still playing within that budget complete with whatever restrictions on expenditure the budget brings.That is bound to affect the size and quality of the playing squad which competes on the green field.The club gets what league points it can by playing the sport.
 
What is fair or sporting about a club which allows its budget to be spent/overspent by ,say, Christmas and in doing so acquires a larger or better quality squad ( than would have been the case if the money stretched to the entirety of the season ) which acquires a commmensurately larger number of league points ? The club has acquired them on false pretences. The club then gets into its committee room ,rejigs the club set-up, declares a second budget, does not pay its debts as they fall due etc. If that is not winning on the green baize then what is ?
 
If there is not a decent sanction against this then what price the sport of rugby?
 
I put forward a further scenario. Suppose there is a club in the Championship in the financial mire which so far has not sought Administration since the seeming 15 point deduction may put it at risk of being in the relegation play offs (just).Therefore, the club only announces the Administration as  the promotion play offs (for which it qualified) begin/have begun.Presumably they will have a 15 point deduction and are likely to finish at/towards the bottom of the promotion pool ie they will not be promoted. How gutting will that be ? The committee of such a club would be sat round its table laughing their collective socks off!!
 
I did not intend this to be such a long post and so apologies but surely the RFU can call such behaviour into account by the Licence it appears to have granted to the clear the decks by Administration clubs? John Owen for understandable reasons appears to say that it is important to get the Championship to the end of the season with all the games played that clubs have expected and budgeted for.Such Licences seem to be granted to the end of the season too. In the commercial world a licence is not a Lease.It simply permits something for a given period but there is no security of tenure. At the end of the licence period one either satisfies the Landlord one is worthy of a proper Lease or one has nothing at all. Such clubs either satisfy the RFU they are worth staying in the Championship(assuming they have not come bottom of relegation pool) or down they go. The RFU can set the criteria as tough as it likes. If that means a relegation reprieve for a club which stayed all season within its budget then I for one will shed no tears even if it means 3 or 4 clubs going down for next season provided those taking their place stay within budget.
B L Zebub
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