English rugby bosses under fire over demise of Worcester and Wasps

English rugby bosses blamed for ‘failure on an epic scale’ by MPs – and RFU chief Bill Sweeney accused of being ‘completely asleep on the job’ – following the demise of Premiership sides Worcester and Wasps

  • English rugby bosses were questioned by MPs on the state of the game
  • The hearing followed the demise of top-flight clubs Worcester and Wasps
  • The clubs entered administration and were then suspended from competition 

English rugby bosses were torn limb from limb and accused of ‘failure on an epic scale’ by a Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) hearing on Thursday.

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney and his Premiership Rugby counterpart Simon Massie-Taylor were questioned by MPs on the state of the game following the demise of Worcester and Wasps – who both entered administration and were suspended from competition – earlier this season.

DCMS chair Julian Knight MP accused Sweeney of being ‘completely asleep on the job’ as both Worcester and Wasps struggled and ultimately failed to overcome huge financial problems.

DCMS chair Julian Knight MP reserved special criticism over the Worcester debacle

Knight added to Sweeney: ‘Frankly, you have failed in this instance and so has the RFU. Should you not be looking at your position?’

To Massie-Taylor, Knight said: ‘I have never come across anything as shambolic with a lack of thought towards people in your own game in my entire time as a select committee member.

‘If this happened in the Premier League, the head of the league would resign on the spot. I don’t know how you can come to this committee and say what you’ve said with a straight face.’

Knight’s evisceration of both Sweeney and Massie-Taylor saw him question the structure of English rugby from top to bottom.

Wasps struggled and ultimately failed to overcome huge financial problems 

His points primarily focused on Worcester, rather than Wasps.

As days go for English rugby’s top brass, it couldn’t have been more sobering.

There must now be serious and very real calls for change at the highest level at both the RFU and Premiership Rugby.

Knight reserved special criticism for both parties for allowing former Worcester owners Colin Goldring and Jason Whittingham to lead the Warriors into ruin and being allowed to take control of the club in the first place. The pair passed the RFU’s ownership test in 2018.

But earlier this year, it was revealed Goldring had been banned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. It meant he stepped down as a part-owner of League Two football side Morecambe but remained involved with Worcester. In a statement issued in July he said he had approval from the RFU to continue which wasn’t the case.

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney was asked if he should be considering stepping down

The RFU started an investigation into his false claim, but Sweeney said it was paused in order to try and sort out the financial situation at Warriors.

Knight asked Sweeney: ‘How did you allow a liar and an asset stripper to destroy a community club?’

Referring to Goldring and Whittingham as ‘reprehensible characters’, Sweeney responded: ‘The two previous owners went through a fit and proper owners test in 2018.

‘Subsequently their performance has, in no sense of the word, lived up to their ability to pass those tests. One of the major learnings that will come out of this very sorry episode is that a one-off owners test is not sufficient to prevent future bad behaviour.

‘Having ongoing reviews in terms of suitability is necessary.’

Sweeney and Massie-Taylor admitted how English rugby is set-up and funded is now under complete review.

Premiership Rugby chief executive Simon Massie-Taylor also came under fire

There is also set to be strict governance reform and more stringent rules put in place on who can and cannot take control of a domestic club. All 11 remaining Premiership sides have also agreed to greater financial transparency by providing the country’s governing bodies with their accounts.

Sweeney revealed central contracts for England players will be and have been discussed by Massie-Taylor ruled out an Anglo-Welsh league.

These changes are too late to help save Worcester and Wasps although Knight did reveal he will ensure Goldring’s activities are fully investigated as fraud.

As things stand there is no police involvement in the process by which Goldring and Whittingham took Worcester into administration and left the club on the verge of falling out of existence.

‘I plan to write to the serious fraud office concerning Mr Goldring’s activities relating to the SRA. It appears to me he has made a financial gain from telling a lie,’ said the no-nonsense Knight.

‘I’ll also write to the West Mercia Crime Commissioner on that issue. When it comes to the game more generally, we will also be issuing a special report.’

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