Stand up, Pro Game Board men
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”