Brittle in attack on colleagues

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The Independent Online
Rugby Union

Cliff Brittle, chairman of the Rugby Football Union executive committee, launched an attack on the executive at the RFU AGM at the Hilton yesterday, accusing them of preventing him carrying out his duties.

"When I was elected I expected things to be difficult. I'm afraid that to date they have been almost impossible. I was elected to do certain duties but have been unable to do them. This cannot go on for a moment longer." He was hailed with cries of "Hear, hear" from around the Grand Ballroom.

Brittle continued: "I can confirm that I have been sidelined on certain important issues. However I can confirm that a working group has been agreed today, under an independent chairman to address the problems as soon as possible."

The working party, which is to ascertain the causes of an apparent breakdown in relation between the officers and staff of the RFU, is likely to be chaired by the Wasps president, Sir Pat Lowry, a former chairman of Acas.

Brittle was not the only one to attempt to get the RFU on the back foot. Questions from the floor all concerned England's future in the Five Nations' Championship and their unilateral negotiation for broadcasting rights with BSkyB.

The outgoing president, Bill Bishop, made an unexpected statement, which may have gone a long way to assuaging people's immediate fears for the future of the tournament. He said: "Tasker Watkins, president of the Welsh and myself met last week to discuss the Five Nations' Championship.

"Following that four representatives from each union met on Tuesday and there was unanimous agreement that the Five Nations' Championship is of paramount importance to the game and should continue as such. Ways must be found to ensure this, particularly in the area of television contracts, and should be pursued actively and urgently."

On the BSkyB front the RFU's solicitor, George Kirk, implied that the thorny issue of pay-per-view had not been excluded but Tony Hallett, the RFU secretary, reassured everyone when he pointed out that Twickenham had retained a right of veto over the pay-per-view question.

The RFU treasurer, David Robinson, who is stepping down from the post because of ill-health, was asked about the TV negotiations and he revealed that the final 10 days of discussions had been conducted in total secrecy. The only people privy to the goings-on were those on the negotiating team. Details were only given to the committee on 5 June after the document had been signed.

Bishop's words on looking back at his year in office probably summed up things best: "I'm sure the events of the year are probably burnt into your soul as they are in mine." He is succeeded by solicitor John Richardson, 64, and he made a plea for unity.

n Orrell have demanded compensation from the RFU over the postponement of their opening league game of the season at home to Bath on 31 August. The game has been called off because Bath are to play Neath, the Heineken League champions at Twickenham on that day in a challenge match.

n Bath have announced a multi-million pound tie-up with Andrew Brownsword, the greetings card tycoon. Brownsword, who lives in Bath and is worth pounds 175m, is prepared to inject pounds 2.5m in return for a 75 percent stake in the club.