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Par for the course?

One thing that has always staggered me about the world of sport is the seemingly unerring ability of its governing bodies to be incompetent and/or naïve in how they go about things.

Examples that immediately spring to my mind are the FA, FIFA, UEFA, the IOC, the IAAF, the ICA (professional cycling), the England and Wales Cricket Board (the Allen Stanford affair) and now the English RFU.

Leaving aside both the stench of corruption that always seems to accompany any human activity that attracts vast amounts of money – and the welcome fact that after the scandals that hit Salt Lake City’s 2002 Olympic Games the IOC did actually get its act together by swiftly addressing the issues with surprisingly ruthless dynamism – in broad-brush terms, you can practically bet your house on your average sporting authority contriving to make a Horlicks of the bulk of thorny issues it ever has to deal with.

To my mind, part of the issue is the seductive ego-massaging effect of the prospect of becoming involved in something like show business or elite sport.

You know the scenario I’m fingering here.

You’re an accountant, or a lawyer, or even just a corporate executive possessed of some degree of expertise and ambition and you are currently working in a field that is relatively unglamorous, e.g. local government administration, sewerage plumbing, a widget factory or wallpaper manufacturing. But you’re a also a sports fan.

Somebody comes along out of the blue and says to you “An opportunity has come up in [name you favourite sport here] – would you like to switch from what you do now to plying your trade in [your favourite sport]?” and 999 times of 1000 you’d give the answer “Of course!” … and off you go.

That’s why people who work anywhere in elite sport are of such variable quality. They are in their jobs precisely because they want to work in that environment, not because they’re brilliant and have just by chance ended up there. Like most humans, they dream of being able to work somewhere in the industry of their favourite hobby or leisure time interest. It raises the self-esteem factor, fluffs up the sense of being self-important and (at social functions) makes the act of being introduced a positive pleasure –

“And what do you do?”

“I’m a senior executive at the Football Association …” [thereafter the speaker feels the need to leave a suitable pause for this impressive piece of news to sink in with the listener].

Personally, a sports nut generally, I have never claimed to be a specialist in matters relating to rugby union. That said, I’ve been enjoying the Rugby World Cup and of course I have views on the controversies that have been arising recently – not least the Craig Joubert Affair and England’s ignominious exit from the tournament.

However, what had prompted me to post today is the consistently ridiculous (“You couldn’t make it up”) performance of the RFU as regards its inquest into (1) how and why England’s 2015 RWC campaign ended as it did and (2) what it should now do to rectify things in time for 2019.

ritchie2Yesterday Ian Ritchie, the RFU chief executive (and formerly holder of a similar position at Wimbledon Tennis), announced the composition of the committee that is going to undertake the review. There has since been a tsunami of (in my view) entirely justified public reactions of disbelief, disdain and, derision ever since.

Ritchie himself told the media a few short weeks ago that, as CEO of the RFU and the man responsible for recently extending Lancaster and his coaches’ contracts through to 2019, he personally would ‘carry the can’ if England’s 2015 campaign was a disappointment.

It was.

Now not only is Ritchie taking charge of the inquest himself, but he’s made it clear that his part in it all [if any, of course, but please see above for details] is outside the inquest’s brief.

The composition of his inquest panel as announced is extraordinary – frankly, if the RFU had wished to give the impression it was setting up a classic whitewash exercise I doubt it could have done better than this.

Sitting beside Ritchie will be Sir Ian McGeechan (one of the consultants involved hiring of Stuart Lancaster in the first place) who recently told the media that he could not possibly think of a better coaching team that Lancaster’s current one; Ian Metcalfe of the Professional Game Board [who?]; former FA man Ian Watmore [who?]; and 2003 RWC winner Ben Kay, whom to be fair at least is now making a name for himself as a respected rugby pundit.

My immediate and unworthy thought was that maybe Ritchie was simply going to organise a boozy three hour lunch at the Reform Club with his above-named circle of chums, go home with a few ideas sketched out on the back of an envelope and then announce the outcome of his ‘in depth’ review by next Tuesday – there, bingo, all done and dusted in less than a week.

Job done!

In the pantheon of great ‘foot in the mouth’ (but so easily avoidable) PR cock-ups, this must be right up there in the Top Ten of recent memory.

Mr Ritchie may be a respected and experienced businessman and/or operator by background for all I know – certainly the fact he was selected for his successive jobs at Wimbledon and the RFU seems to suggest it – but, from my perspective, any reasonably-intelligent sixth form prefect at a average-to-good British public school could have come up with a more savvy and streetwise initiative than this.

Why is it that organisations like the RFU don’t ever think through what they are doing?

Why, when they are already acutely aware that they are in in the bright glare of national public and media interest, don’t they consider as an absolute priority how the decision(s) they make will or might come across when announced to the world at large?

That would be my first act of all, had I been in Ian Ritchie’s position.

Well, actually possibly my second – i.e. after having offered my resignation at 0900 hours on the day after England played Australia and was dumped out of the RWC.

Now instead, with the announcement of the composition of its review panel, the RFU has guaranteed itself at least three continuous months’ worth of self-inflicted negative media comment.

About Tom Hollingworth

Tom Hollingsworth is a former deputy sports editor of the Daily Express. For many years he worked in a sports agency, representing mainly football players and motor racing drivers. Tom holds a private pilot’s licence and flying is his principal recreation. More Posts