Rugby Union: Baister unable to broker peace deal

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The Independent Online
BRIAN BAISTER'S attempt to broker a peace deal in the dispute between Rotherham and English First Division Rugby over an alleged breach of the Mayfair Agreement appears to have foundered.

Baister, chairman of the Rugby Football Union's Board of Management, intervened last Friday to see if it was possible to reach a settlement before the case is heard at the High Court in London next Monday. His first call was to get Tom Walkinshaw, chairman of EFDR, and Francis Baron, the chief executive of the RFU - who is known to be sympathetic to EFDR's views on this issue - to attend a meeting at Castlecroft earlier this week, together with Mike Yarlett, the senior director of Rotherham, who is also the club's wealthy benefactor.

Rotherham have initiated action in the High Court claiming that EFDR's decision to cut the size of the First Division from 12 clubs from 14 following the demise of Richmond and London Scottish is in contravention of the Mayfair agreement. They have now been joined in their action by English Second Division Rugby, while the RFU and English Rugby Partnership - the umbrella organisation for the clubs in the top two divisions - are supporting EFDR.

At the Castlecroft meeting, Yarlett agreed to withdraw Rotherham's plaint if they could recover their legal costs of pounds 55,000 from EFDR, and if there was a guarantee of at least one automatic promotion place from the Second Division, with a second subject to a play-off. The existing arrangement provides for only one club to play off against the bottom club in the First Division.

Before both suggestions were rejected yesterday afternoon by EFDR, Baister said: "I'm an optimist by nature so I hope a settlement can still be reached. But you have to understand that EFDR see the game quite differently from anybody else."

Howard Thomas, the acting chief executive of EFDR, was quick to endorse that view: "There is no will among our membership to change from 12 clubs to anything else. It is a done deal. The ball is in Rotherham's court. If they won't see the sense of that before Monday, we are very confident of our legal position."

So are Rotherham. Despite Baister's best endeavours the likelihood of any pact being reached before the case comes before Mr Justice Ferris - who heard the action brought by the Office of Fair Trading against Football's Premier League over television rights - is as probable as a second eclipse of the sun being seen in Britain this week.

Apart from the outcome, many will also want to know why the chief executive of the RFU and the chairman of its Board of Management have each taken a different stance on the case.