Rugby Union: Baron cracking whip over Herculean task

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The Independent Online
FRANCIS BARON'S remit to turn things around at Twickenham and transform the Rugby Football Union into an efficient multi-million point plc reads like the labours of Hercules. Six weeks into his role as Twickenham's first chief executive, Baron is about to suggest cuts, further cuts and a more realistic approach in its relations at international and club level.

He is also bracing himself to do battle with the International Rugby Board (IB) as well as tackling the sensitive relationship with the clubs as the two sides try to find common ground for a structured season. He wants to generate more revenue, and the plans include staging classical concerts and other big sporting events at Twickenham and possibly England football internationals; that will mean taking on the local council, not to mention the residents.

The clubs are first up when a meeting of English Rugby Partnership takes place today. "Progress has been good," said Baron, 52, who spent seven years on the board of Yorkshire Television and was a pioneer of cable and satellite broadcasting as the managing director of WH Smith's television and media division. "But I would like the pace to pick up a bit." To that end he wants both sides to agree a mutually satisfactory deadline. And he would like it to be early in the New Year.

Next comes the IB. The RFU has been summoned to a disciplinary hearing in Dublin on 17 December at which it has to defend its actions in not preventing the top English clubs from taking the IB to European Court over the European Cup, as well as allowing the Premiership sides to play unofficial matches against Welsh outcasts Cardiff and Swansea.

There remains potentially the trickiest one of all. Baron has concluded that the RFU is unwieldy and inefficient. Twickenham is leaking money, pounds 10m in the last two years and a projected pounds 1.5m (so far) in this accounting period. But the 57-man council appointed him for just this sort of analysis.

Baron is going to recommend that some of the unwieldy committee structure be unravelled (in addition to the council there is the smaller management board and a raft of committees). He wants some of these last to be jettisoned but also wants cuts. "The message I am getting across to everyone is that change is upon us," he said. "The administration is ineffective. It needs to be streamlined. There are painful decisions, difficult decisions, but I am prepared to make them."