Battle for the heart of the union

'We should be left to get on with our jobs'
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The Independent Online
It Has not been pleasant to pick up newspapers and find one's credibility and integrity disputed to the world. Chief executive is never an easy job, but mine must be one of the toughest.

The last few months have been a difficult time to say the least because there has been too much media hype, but the senior officers have a common purpose and we have pulled together.

During 32 years in the Navy, there were always people who weren't easy to work with but I got used to that. There are often clashes between chairmen and chief executives, but it's my duty to keep the relationship going.

Contrary to popular impression, Cliff Brittle and I get on with each other and have not had any cross exchanges. We have worked hard to try to resolve the difference in interpretation of our roles, but on the BSkyB deal I believed he had given his approval and so did the committee.

In principle, I believe that if there's a difference of opinion it should be discussed in committee as it causes huge angst for someone like me when these divisions come out publicly through the chairman.

The chairman's job description needs to be defined and there should be clear lines of communication. The drive and policy of the union lies with the chairman while the execution and performance should come from the chief executive. This is common practice in business.

They say there is no such thing as bad PR, but over the last year the RFU's PR has been most difficult to manage - there has been so much internecine activity. We've had a difficult and torrid time as a union, staff and individuals alike, but hopefully the AGM will end our troubles.

The emergence of a new professional body with a new structure starts immediately afterwards. That structure will give greater responsibility to the management board and officers even though the council (formerly the general committee) will have the ultimate authority over all things.

Originally I was selected to function as a chief executive. I queued up with 208 other candidates, many of them put forward by head-hunters, and it is unacceptable that I should have to go through that all over again. Now I've done the job for nearly two years it would have to be demonstrated I was inadequate or guilty of misconduct if they were going to sack me.

I started this job just as the game went professional. We had considerable trouble at the time with the players and that was followed by the prolonged war with the clubs which didn't finish until February. Since then we've been having this constitutional argument.

We have now established through the most lengthy democratic process a new structure for the RFU to be run by people who have all been put in place, and they should now be left for the next two years to get on with their jobs. If it is not working out, the membership will have the opportunity to put things right.

It's said I was the architect of the BSkyB deal when I was acting on the executive committee's initiative. I'm happy that we have the right of veto on pay-per-view, and Roy Manock's recent inquiry has cleared the air. The whole deal will stack up financially but will also look better for the viewers, especially as there is a terrestrial channel involved.

To develop the professional game's strong potential at the same rate as the southern hemisphere and keep the grass roots nourished we needed a large injection of new money. This has been produced and sustained by the BSkyB contract.

Playing standards have improved immeasurably and the game has become extremely exciting for spectators and sponsors. Cellnet's sponsorship has increased and Nike taking over the contract to sponsor the England kit from Cotton Traders will provide additional revenue. We were sorry to lose Pilkington after such a long association, but they needed to restructure their business and we released them from their contract. We hope to announce a replacement on an enhanced three-year contract before the AGM. Associated with this sponsorship are the intermediate and junior cups.

Allied Dunbar have come in for Courage in a deal worth three times as much to the top two divisions. An announcement of a sponsor for League Three and Four is imminent and all the other leagues below that level are guaranteed sponsorship - in effect by the RFU.

We also expect to announce a replacement shortly for Save and Prosper to sponsor the internationals at Twickenham; so, overall, sponsorship presents a rosy and successful picture.

The sport is burgeoning with potential and the contribution made by a strong English contingent to the Lions squad suggests the future of English rugby is secure.

After his exceptional achievements with the Lions, Fran Cotton will receive a warm welcome and a round of applause at the AGM - he'll definitely get it from me. If he chooses to give a spirited address to the AGM then that is his entitlement. We will hear what he says and take it on board.

Interview by Paul Trow

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