Stand up, Pro Game Board men

The Rugby Paper - - European Champions Cup - NICK CAIN

NIGEL Melville made it clear just be­fore Christ­mas that there would be pro­mo­tion and rel­e­ga­tion this sea­son. The RFU’s act­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive and pro rugby di­rec­tor stip­u­lated also that the only changes that could be made to pro­mo­tion-rel­e­ga­tion in fu­ture would have to be ap­proved by the Pro­fes­sional Game Board (PGB), and then passed to the RFU Coun­cil, which would con­sider the rec­om­men­da­tion.

This makes the PGB a key player in de­cid­ing whether pro­mo­tion-rel­e­ga­tion re­mains an un­der­ly­ing prin­ci­ple of Rugby Union in Eng­land. That is why it is im­por­tant to lift the veil on the PGB, which, since its for­ma­tion in 2008, has re­mained al­most en­tirely in the shad­ows.

Ac­cord­ing to the ‘Or­gan­i­sa­tion Struc­ture Who’s Who’ on the Eng­land Rugby web­site, the PGB is com­posed of rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the RFU, Premier­ship Rugby (PRL), Rugby Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (RPA), and the Cham­pi­onship.

Its re­mit is to man­age all is­sues to do with pro­fes­sional rugby in Eng­land, rang­ing from player wel­fare, to sea­son struc­ture and pro­mo­tion-rel­e­ga­tion.

By any ob­jec­tive yard­stick the PGB’s track record over the last decade has been less than daz­zling. Player wel­fare is a mess, es­pe­cially in terms of phys­i­cal at­tri­tion with in­jury and con­cus­sion rates ris­ing alarm­ingly. The sea­son struc­ture is now 11 months long, hav­ing been padded out by the in­tro­duc­tion of the ill-con­ceived Premier­ship Cup, which is es­sen­tially a re­serve team com­pe­ti­tion in dis­guise.

As for pro­mo­tion-rel­e­ga­tion, not sat­is­fied with hav­ing turned the Premier­ship into a 13-team car­tel through a pref­er­en­tial fund­ing struc­ture, there is a con­tin­ual push from the clubs in the top tier to ring- fence by stop­ping pro­mo­tion from the Cham­pi­onship for good.

It would be rea­son­able to as­sume that a body with the in­flu­ence of the PGB on cru­cial is­sues fac­ing our sport is both trans­par­ent and ac­count­able. The op­po­site is true. The PGB pub­lishes no strate­gic pol­icy state­ments and has no fo­rum where it is open to ques­tions from the me­dia. The PGB chair­man rarely, if ever speaks on the record.

It is there­fore only ac­count­able to its con­stituents, the RFU, PRL and RPA. This means that if the PGB rec­om­mends a course of ac­tion there is very lit­tle op­por­tu­nity for any rigourous scru­tiny of their pro­posal. The how and why it came to cer­tain con­clu­sions is of­ten miss­ing, and that is not a for­mula for good gov­er­nance.

The cur­rent mem­bers of the 12-strong PGB are Chris Booy, who is the chair­man, and also chair­man of newly pro­moted Bris­tol. The other Premier­ship Rugby mem­bers on the PGB are Ian Ritchie (PRL chair­man), Mark McCaf­ferty (PRL chief ex­ec­u­tive), and Bruce Craig (Bath chair­man).

The RFU mem­bers are Melville, and for­mer Eng­land in­ter­na­tion­als Phil de Glanville, Martin Corry, and Richard Hill. The RPA is rep­re­sented by Damian Ho­p­ley (chief ex­ec­u­tive) and the cur­rent Har­lequins prop Mark Lam­bert (chair­man). The Cham­pi­onship clubs are rep­re­sented by Sir Ian McGeechan (York­shire Carnegie pres­i­dent) and Ge­off Irvine (Bed­ford chair­man).

Given the re­cent leak of min­utes from a PRL board meet­ing re­veal­ing that there were dis­cus­sions about form­ing a break­away “un­reg­u­lated com­pe­ti­tion” – i.e. out­side the aus­pices of the RFU – if the gov­ern­ing body op­posed ring-fenc­ing, it would be in­ter­est­ing to know where, among oth­ers, Booy, Craig and Ritchie stand.

PRL chair­man Ritchie, in his pre­vi­ous guise as RFU chief ex­ec­u­tive, pub­licly sup­ported pro­mo­tion and rel­e­ga­tion.

This week Ritchie tried to turn down the pro­mo­tion-rel­e­ga­tion heat, say­ing that PRL had not “fi­nalised” its own pol­icy. He added: “We all have views on what hap­pens with teams go­ing up or down.”

Per­haps he should tell us whether his opin­ion has changed since he left the RFU? The prob­lem is that his agenda, and those of oth­ers on the PGB, re­main hid­den from view.

I have made the case con­sis­tently in this col­umn for the re­ten­tion of pro­mo­tion and rel­e­ga­tion, and yet have never seen any de­tailed state­ment from Ritchie, Booy or Craig on the sub­ject. The same ap­plies to the other PGB mem­bers, be they RFU, RPA or Cham­pi­onship.

It is long over­due that the PGB came out of the shad­ows. That way at least the RFU Coun­cil, and the rugby pub­lic, will know what they be­lieve in, and why.

“It is long over­due that the PGB came out of the shad­ows”

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