Rugby Football Union (RFU) chief executive Bill Sweeney was accused of being “asleep on the job” following the financial crises which forced Premiership clubs Worcester Warriors and Wasps into administration.
The sports’ governing bodies appeared in front of the select committee for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on Thursday to answer questions concerning their handling of the meltdown.
Worcester went into administration in September with Wasps following suit the next month with both owing unpaid taxes. Both clubs, who possess a rich history in the Premiership, were subsequently relegated from the top-flight.
Julian Knight MP, the Chair of the DCMS committee, called the loss of the two sides from the Premiership “a failure of the game on an epic scale” and suggested Sweeney should be “looking at” his position. Sweeney was also criticised for not altering the fit and proper persons test even after learning former Warriors co-owner Colin Goldring had been sanctioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
“It looks to me frankly, that you seem to be living in isolation in your ivory tower,” Knight said. “This story is as old as the hills, allowing someone you later discover to have been banned by a major institution’s SRA, to retain ownership of a rugby club, and then you’re not even banning them after they’ve driven it into the ground?
“You, frankly, have failed in this instance, and so has the RFU. Should you not be looking at your own position?”
Sweeney said the existing owners test was “not sufficient” and that it would be “necessary” for a system in which club owners face ongoing reviews into their suitability to run clubs.
Premiership Rugby chief executive Simon Massie-Taylor was also subject to criticism by the select committee. Knight made the comparison with the football world to highlight the detriment of losing two of the 13 top-flight clubs.
“If that had happened in the Premier League, or even the Championship, which is a complete basket case … that would be four clubs effectively,” Knight said.
“If that happened the head of the Premier League would resign on the spot. I don’t know how you can come to this committee today and say what you’ve said with a straight face, frankly.
“I’ve dealt with football. I thought that was bad. But I have never come across anything as shambolic as this … the lack of care and lack of thought, towards people in your own game, in my entire time as a select committee member.”