Ritchie leaves tennis to hold court at RFU

 

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The Independent Online

Rugby Football Union chief executives have not had a happy time of it over the last 18 months: Francis Baron, John Steele, Martyn Thomas... all found themselves being driven out of Twickenham against their will, leaving the governing body looking like a sporting version of the Corleone family at its most ruthless. Blood on the boardroom carpet? There has been enough spilt just recently to keep an entire generation of haematologists in business.

Which brings us to Ian Ritchie, who has left a similar role at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club – Wimbledon, in shorthand – to try his luck in another, more troubled part of south-west London. Last June, the former barrister, broadcasting executive and Wembley Stadium director publicly bemoaned the amount of grunting in women's tennis, which he believed was spoiling the game. Grunting is the least of rugby's hassles. Dwarf-throwing, ball-switching, ferry-jumping and other questionable antics currently popular among high-profile members of the rugger-bugger brigade... quite what the new man thinks of these is anyone's guess.

The RFU has been searching for a full-time CEO since Steele's ignominious departure back in the summer and was conscious throughout the process of the need to make a sound appointment. Yesterday, senior Twickenham figures insisted they had found the right man. "A very strong field of candidates applied for this post," said Ian Metcalfe, the RFU management board member and Professional Game Board chairman who led the recruitment operation.

"There was an excellent shortlist and we are confident we have the very best person to take the union and the game in England to the next stage of its development. Ian clearly demonstrated the required knowledge and capabilities across a broad range of areas. He was the stand-out candidate with his combination of business acumen, leadership qualities and background in sports administration." Metcalfe added that Ritchie, who lives in Surrey, was "highly respected" across both sport and business sectors.

Ritchie will succeed Stephen Brown, the finance director who has played an impressive hand as acting CEO since the abrupt departure of the profoundly controversial Thomas late last month, once he has served his notice – or, perhaps, served and volleyed his notice – with his current employers. When he arrives at Twickenham, he will find an in-tray so full that its contents tower above the West Stand. A new full-time coaching team to be appointed before the summer tour of South Africa; the continuing debate about the restructuring the antiquated RFU council; preparations for the home World Cup in 2015 – all will demand his attention, none of them straightforward.

Most urgently of all, he will be charged with restoring integrity, discipline and professionalism to a body that has come to symbolise pretty much all that is wrong with English sporting governance. Heaven knows, rugby has not been the only poorly-run game in the country these last few years. It has, however, been the undisputed national champion of mismanagement.

"I believe English rugby has a very bright future," Ritchie stated yesterday, "culminating in a once-in-a-lifetime home World Cup in 2015. I am determined to help rugby create a legacy from the tournament that will benefit the sport for generations to come. The RFU has great commercial partners and a very sound financial base, underpinning development at grass roots and elite level."

One controversy that has not involved the governing body – not formally, at least – is the problem caused by Danny Care, the Harlequins and England scrum-half, after his club's morale-denting Heineken Cup defeat by Toulouse at the Stoop six days ago. Care was arrested on suspicion of being drunk and disorderly and paid a fixed penalty fine before being released from custody without charge. Yesterday, he was fined some more, by a distinctly unimpressed Quins management.

"We have a crucial Heineken Cup match this weekend in Toulouse, so it was important we acted quickly," said the director of rugby Conor O'Shea, who did not divulge details of the fine but indicated that the money would be donated to the Teenage Cancer Trust at University College Hospital in London. "We take this very seriously. However, from the club's point of view a line will be drawn under the incident."

Care is virtually certain to be included in a fresh 32-man England squad for the forthcoming Six Nations Championship.

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