Bishop bangs heads and demands unity

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The Independent Online
Rugby Union

Bill Bishop, the hard-pressed president of the Rugby Football Union, tried to bang heads together last night when he ordered the bickering parties of the executive committee to get their act together, at least in public.

His directive for a public united front followed open criticism by committee members and was issued after yesterday's meeting of the executive committee. The meeting was chaired by Cliff Brittle, who earlier this week criticised RFU officials involved in the TV negotiations with Sky, but who is subject to the president's authority.

Officials spent the day thrashing out a unified policy that should end the rows that have split the English game. In future, all utterings from Twickenham will follow the party line. The RFU statement said: "Further to the RFU executive committee meeting today, the president, Bill Bishop, has directed that all members of the executive should respect their corporate responsibility and speak publicly with one voice at all times. All RFU statements will be issued through the official RFU media office.

It is rare for presidents to use such commanding words as "directed" and "instruction". But it was necessary for Bishop to implement public unity for the summer. He retires as president on 12 July and will be succeeded at the annual general meeting by Warwickshire's John Richardson.

The background to this unique, one-track approach is Brittle's accusation that he was not told that the Sky TV agreement worth pounds 87m to the RFU was to be signed last week. He criticised fellow senior officials by saying: "Democracy no longer prevails within the RFU." This was followed by the president, past-president Dennis Easby and treasurer Colin Herridge - a powerful trio - deploring Brittle's remarks.

Officially, two of the three major disputes in English rugby have now been resolved - the row with the clubs and the feud between the game's rulers. But the great split with the other Five Nations countries has yet to be resolved.

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