Rugby Union: Decline and falll of a regime

Chris Rea argues that those running the game failed dismally
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The war which has been waged throughout England for 18 months has come to its brutal and venomous end. The savagery of the final exchanges at the Hilton Hotel on Friday night had to be seen to be believed. In the end, though, it was not so much Fran Cotton's passionate oratory or the more restrained but equally effective contributions of others speaking on Cliff Brittle's behalf which carried the day, as the sheer incompetence of Brittle's foes.

Less than half an hour after Tony Hallett, the Rugby Football Union's secretary-cum-chief executive (there is a world of difference between the former, to which he was appointed, and the latter, which he assumed) had proudly announced a new sponsor for the national cup competition, his world was crumbling around him. He was visibly shaken and the chances of him surviving a contest of top-quality candidates for the nationally advertised post of chief executive are slim. It is sad for him. He has many fine qualities but, from a difficult position when he was first appointed, he allowed himself to be manoeuvred into an impossible one by those who are more worldly-wise and ruthless.

As his treasurer Colin Herridge squirmed his way through the defence of the accounts, Hallett must have known that the game was up. This was no way to run a multi-million pound professional game and all Brittle had to do at that point was to stand up and say: "I rest my case." But he chose to let others do the talking for him and here again he won at a canter against his rival for the post of chairman of the board of management, Bob Rogers.

Leaving aside Will Carling's excruciatingly embarrassing contribution, the Rogers camp was heavy on rhetoric but crucially light on content. It is one thing to have vision, another matter entirely translating it into reality. Brittle, on the other hand, knows what he wants and seems determined to deliver it as quickly as possible. His call for an early meeting of the council proved to be irresistible for the incoming president, Peter Brook. It was an offer he simply could not refuse in front of this hostile gathering, which had given Brittle a two-thirds majority to sweep away the regime which has been running the English game.

During the course of the protracted and bitter proceedings on Friday night, the media were berated from all sides, most naively of all by the outgoing president, John Richardson, who regretted the fact that they should have become involved in what he believed was an internal affair. But it is those members of the media who, either through apathy, ignorance or their own conviction that the game was in safe hands, must now examine their consciences. From the evidence presented by the RFU's treasurer and by the director of finance, the game is facing grave financial problems.

Not only are the RFU over pounds 6m in debt, but the pot at the end of the BSkyB rainbow is short of gold after the clubs, the other countries in the Five Nations' Championship and sundry large debts have been paid off. There was genuine dismay that the top four divisions would be receiving roughly the same amount as the whole of the rest of the game. Eyebrows were also raised at the RFU's negotiations with the late and unlamented Epruc.

When the end came, the old guard were forced to accept the age-old lesson that you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. In the new regime, heads will roll - the new Management Board includes many of Brittle's most implacable enemies. For him the war has been a costly one, both physically and financially. Fortunately, he has been strong enough in both departments to survive, but there can be no doubt that the sternest challenge still lies ahead.