Thomas survives RFU vote of no confidence

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The Independent Online

Martyn Thomas, an increasingly controversial figure in English sporting governance as well as an unusually powerful one, last night survived a vote of no confidence called by Rugby Football Union council members during a long and heated debate at Twickenham.

It means the acting chief executive remains on course to oversee preparations for the home World Cup in 2015 by taking on the chairmanship of the delivery body – a job said to be worth around £170,000 a year – from next summer.

In the meantime, the RFU will accelerate its efforts to find a full-time chief executive, with a view to making an appointment before Christmas. A fully independent, non-executive director will be asked to participate in the process – an entirely sensible move, given the slapstick approach to major recruitment campaigns in recent months – while a team of auditors will carry out a full review of the union's corporate governance. Whether this will be enough to calm fears among politicians and big-money sponsors that the organisation as currently constituted is fast becoming unfit for purpose is a moot point.

Thomas, who resigned as chairman during the ferocious row over the sacking of the chief executive John Steele in June, did suffer one significant defeat yesterday. The council voted by an overwhelming margin – 43-4 with eight abstentions – to make public the report into the Steele affair written by Judge Jeff Blackett, the RFU's chief disciplinary officer. The full report, heavily critical of Thomas's role in the embarrassing events of the spring, will be sent to member clubs by the end of this month.

Paul Murphy, the member for Oxfordshire who assumed the RFU chairmanship on an interim basis, won backing for a continuation until next July, when elections will be held. By that time, the top end of the governing body is likely to have been reshaped. There may even be a new "professional rugby director" in place, assuming proposals for the establishment of such a position are accepted over the next few days. This elite job, carrying responsibility for the affairs of the national team, may well tempt Sir Clive Woodward, coach of the 2003 World Cup-winning side, although he is on record as saying he has no intention of leaving his current post with the British Olympic Association until after the London Games.

It was Thomas's transparent attempt to lure Woodward back to Twickenham as performance director that led to a profound disagreement with Steele, who, it is widely said, considered the Harlequins boss Conor O'Shea to be the better candidate. When Steele departed, council members' attention was focused on the behaviour of Thomas and his allies on the management board. When moves to give Judge Blackett's report full publication were blocked amid threats of legal action, the foundations for yesterday's fraught meeting were laid.

The fractiousness is far from over. When the grass-roots clubs receive their copies of the Blackett report, they will be deeply disturbed by the detail of recent goings-on at Twickenham. It may well be that council members will be urged to take a strong line against some of the management board incumbents.

In Scotland, another major rugby nation in political strife over the past couple of months, the governing body has appointed Mark Dodson to the chief executive's position. Dodson, who has a background in media management, succeeds Jock Millican, the non-executive director asked to perform the role as a caretaker following the abrupt departure of Gordon McKie in June.

On the sports business front, the auditing giant Deloitte published a report yesterday identifying Toulouse, the four-times Heineken Cup champions, as the biggest financial hitters in Europe. They generated £27.4m in revenue during the 2009-10 season – almost £8m more than their closest rivals, Clermont Auvergne.

Leicester, by far the best-performing club in England, were placed third, but the table did not make happy reading for Premiership investors keen to see their clubs keep pace with their free-spending rivals across the water. Of the top 15 teams, no fewer than 11 are French.