Blackett stirs murky waters of 'Rotherhamgate' affair

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Premier Rugby Limited, the body which represents England's leading clubs, is to call on the Rugby Football Union to issue a statement further clarifying the findings into the "Rotherhamgate" scandal.

The results of an independent inquiry conducted by Anthony Arlidge QC were published by the RFU yesterday and vindicated PRL's stance that allegations of improper payments, or inducements to make improper payments, by Premier Rugby to Rotherham were untrue.

But the issue was thrown into confusion when the RFU's new disciplinary officer, Commodore Jeff Blackett, published a statement on the Arlidge Report. Commodore Blackett, the Chief Naval Judge Advocate, who succeeded Robert Horner to the post of disciplinary officer on 1 June, would appear to have confused the owners of Premiership clubs, with members of the PRL board.

Blackett's statement, published on the RFU website, says: "There is prima facie evidence that some members of the Board of PRL did discuss the possibility of making payments additional to the parachute payments to Rotherham to induce the club to fail to meet entry criteria for promotion having won National Division One.

"Mr Tom Walkinshaw [Gloucester owner] and Mr Charles Jillings [Harlequins owner], successive chairmen of PRL, encouraged and allowed these discussions, although there is no clear evidence that the discussions developed into serious proposals to pay the money."

It adds: "There is a prima facie case against both chairmen of PRL for considering action that they have breached Zurich Premiership regulations and thereby prejudice the interests of the RFU and the Game."

It also says: "This whole affair has been caused because some who are involved are motivated solely by self-interest. This has apparently fuelled a willingness to side-step regulations, ignore the authority of the RFU and attempt to bring pressure to bear through the media.

"An essential part of rugby is that those involved have trust in each other, while acknowledging the pre-eminence of the RFU, their governing body, to whom disputes and allegations of wrongdoing should be referred for resolution. If that trust and mutual respect are undermined we risk losing part of the strength of the Game."

Howard Thomas, the chief executive of PRL, explained: "These discussions were not made by members of the PRL board. The chairmen are also club owners and in that capacity they meet the owners of the other Premiership clubs occasionally over dinner and discuss all sorts of things to do with the game. Whatever is discussed has nothing to do with PRL."

Thomas said last night that he has pointed out one or two discrepancies in Blackett's statement and that a further clarifying statement is likely to be issued. But after all the confusion the Arlidge Report is still damning of leading figures in the game. Cecil Duckworth, Worcester's owner and Keith Barwell, his counterpart at Northampton, will receive warnings after airing their misgivings about the alleged approaches to Rotherham in the media rather than going to the game's authorities.

Mike Yarlett, the Rotherham owner, is likely to be warned for allegedly pre-dating the lease which enabled Rotherham RUFC to play at Millmoor, Rotherham United FC's ground.

ROTHERHAMGATE: THE KEY PLAYERS
Charles Jillings - chairman of Premier Rugby Ltd
Tom Walkinshaw - Gloucester owner
Keith Barwell - Northampton owner
Mike Yarlett - Rotherham chairman and owner
Cecil Duckworth - Worcester chairman and owner

ROTHERHAMGATE: BLACKETT'S SUMMARY

'This whole affair has been caused because some who are involved are motivated solely by self-interest. This has apparently fuelled a willingness to side-step regulations, ignore the authority of the RFU and attempt to bring pressure to bear through the media'

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