Norton & Co Blog

The 1950’s called… they want their CEO back!

Is a healthier balance sheet preferred to progress or is Ian Ritchie just an ignorant misogynist?

In wake of the BBC pay saga, the RFU have got in on the act. After an announcement last week, professional female rugby stars are now not going to be offered a new professional contracts. With the progress that has been made by all Unions in the UK in all sports, what does this mean for the future of ‘professional’ women’s’ rugby? I will be exploring why this has happened, how the RFU could have dealt with it better and how could this decision hurt a sport that has been making huge progress.

‘It appears to be a shooting in not just the foot but the head by the RFU’

The RFU have decided to not renew any 15 a side contracts for the forthcoming season due to an emphasis needing to be on 7s contracts according to Ian Ritchie, CEO of the Rugby Football Union. 50 Professional Women’s contracts aren’t being renewed in favour of seventeen 7s contracts being offered. The RFU have tried to justify their decision by saying that their strategy for the women’s game is ‘cyclical’. This now means that 15-a-side players will now have to find new jobs after the World Cup in September, for which they are favourites.

The decision has baffled many leading pundits and the general public, with participation and success as high as it has ever been in Women’s Rugby. At a point where progress and investment is reaping rewards, such as in participation, a new domestic league that has had £800,000 invested in it by the RFU, as well as the biggest Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland next month, the decision is baffling. Having invested £800,000 in a new domestic competition, from which the contracted England women’s players form the backbone of the new teams, appears to be a shooting in not just the foot but the head by the RFU themselves. Ian Ritchie, the CEO of the Rugby Football Union, claimed that the 2015 Rugby World Cup left a ‘legacy that will benefit the sport at every level’. It would appear that Women’s rugby isn’t part of a legacy at all. At least not anymore. Is Ian Ritchie in favour of an increased bonus rather than a legacy for female rugby? I suppose we’ll never know, as before this calamitous decision, he resigned his position as CEO in May, but leaves in October.

The overall timing of this news story is unfathomable, as the England Women’s team are near to completing their preparation for the WRWC in Ireland this September. At the very least, it will provide motivation for more success to prove Ian Ritchie and the rest of the RFU board wrong. For such a decision to be made, given the timing and the ridiculousness of the decision for a £200m profit making union is indescribable.  

‘No one is disputing his ability to deliver top level sporting events, but they are disputing his ethics and morals’

At the time of writing this, the decision that has been made by the RFU is being panned from all directions. Former sports women such as Maggie Alphonsi, Vicky Mclean and shadow sports minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan have disputed the idea with the latter sending a letter urging Ian Ritchie to amend his decision.

Of course many situations can be dealt with better in retrospect however cases like these should be dealt with properly in the first place. Just to put the decision into perspective, below are some facts and statistics that justify the title to this blog. Ian Ritchie earns £600,000 per year as a salary, not accounting for bonuses, expenses and perks. At the age of 63, £600,000 is a huge sum of money. Especially considering that could pay for an estimated 40% of contracts that have not been renewed. Many may argue he has earnt that salary, what with delivering a commercially successful 2015 Rugby World Cup, something he classes as ‘the best rugby event ever’. Good to know he’s as modest as he is a feminist. No one is disputing his ability to deliver top level sporting events, but they are disputing his ethics and morals, which make up a large amount of evidence in a case such as women’s contracts in rugby. Especially when the financial element is so small in comparison to the overall budget the RFU has.

Furthermore, the RFU last October made the Chairman’s role salaried for the first time in its history, with the salary starting at £80,000 a year, which could pay for an estimated two contracts. For that £80,000, the Chairman only has to work 2 days a month, averaging at £1950 per day of work. That could be a month’s salary for a female rugby player. From a business perspective, the opportunity cost decision in this is appalling.

As one of the most senior members of a large world recognised organisation, the decision by him to abolish new contracts is as poor as it gets. On top of this, the RFU clearly have media-gagged the current squad as none of them have come out in support or against the decision. The RFU clearly know the stupidity in their decision but instead of doing anything about it they’ve stopped any of the ladies voicing their opinion.

‘No such thing as bad press’. Perhaps that isn’t true for the RFU, but for women’s rugby it couldn’t be more true, more press = more growth’

The effect this could have on the sport is devastating. At the same time, I am confident that other sports who have successful women’s teams such as Football, Netball and Hockey, will avoid the catastrophic mistake made by the RFU.

Participation numbers are higher than ever before in women’s rugby. Success couldn’t be any higher but yet players are not rewarded. The professional sports women in rugby aren’t just players, they are role models, inspirers and heroes who demonstrate that women can break the barrier in professional sport and be successful. The RFU have underestimated the following and believers in women’s sport, not just rugby. Although this will have a negative effect, there is the phrase ‘no such thing as bad press’. Perhaps that isn’t true for the RFU, but for women’s rugby it couldn’t be more true. More blogs, articles and interviews about the subject boosts the profile of an ever growing sport, even if its growth is being hampered by the RFU.

‘What an astonishing legacy he (Ian Ritchie) has left himself’

In conclusion, the decision to not renew contracts for the women’s 15-a-side players has been ludicrous and absurd. It raises the issue of Ian Ritchie’s ability to lead, even though he has formally resigned and is leaving the post in October. What an astonishing legacy he has left himself. With the growth of the professional now hampered, and as Vicky Mclean (former England Women’s fullback) stated, ‘the RFU have made women’s rugby professional, from a capital ‘P’ to a little ‘p’’. Such decisions have such a strong impact on growth, perspective and chances of women’s rugby breaking even more barriers than it already has done. Time will tell if the decision will be overturned.

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