English Rugby
Blackett announces RFU review panel
ESPNscrum Staff
June 15, 2011

Judge Jeff Blackett has announced the composition of the panel which will undertake the review into the circumstances surrounding the departure of former Rugby Football Union (RFU) chief executive John Steele.

Steele left the RFU last Friday after a stormy few weeks at the headquarters of English rugby amidst scrutiny concerning his handling of the vacant performance director position. Steele received criticism from all facets of the game after the job description changed from the original briefing. Sir Clive Woodward appeared to be the original favourite, but following the British Olympic Associations' (BOA) announcement that he will be in charge of Team GB at the Youth Olympics, it appears he has ruled himself out of contention.

Blackett will now undertake an objective review of recent events and will report back to the RFU Council on July 10. The panel comprises of Blackett, Geraint Ashton Jones, RFU Council Member for the Royal Navy and Malcolm Wharton, RFU Council Member and Principal of Hartpury College. There are also two independent figures on the panel in the form of Vic Luck, former general manager of IBM UK and Andy Reed, chairman-elect of Sports and Recreation Alliance and a recent MP for Loughborough.

Their primary role is to investigate the process involved in the recruitment of John Steele as CEO, the subsequent loss of confidence in Steele, the termination of Steele's contract and the whole furore surrounding the vacant performance director role. Another area they will analyse is how confidential material was apparently leaked to the media.

"It is vital for the reputation of the RFU that we move quickly and decisively on this and that we are able to carry out an open and transparent review of the events of the last few months," Judge Blackett said. "Only when we know what happened can we ensure that lessons are learnt for the future good governance of the RFU. We owe it to our members and all those who play and watch rugby to ensure that we are diligent and thorough and I would like to thank the panel in advance for their involvement in what will be an intensive and busy programme if we are to come back to the RFU Council in just over 3 weeks."

"It is vital that the panel is now allowed to carry out its activities without daily scrutiny and I have stressed to all in the RFU and all those involved that confidentiality is key and the panel will not now make any comment until it produces its findings and recommendations in July."

Meanwhile, RFU business operations director Paul Vaughan confirmed on Wednesday that he had he abstained from the vote to remove Steele which took place at last week's emergency board meeting. Vaughan admitted that he left the room when the time came to vote on Steele's position but he rubbished suggestions that his actions had played a part in his boss's downfall.

"John went down very well in terms of the face of the game. Inevitably the board made a decision that it wasn't going to last much longer so therefore concluded it was time to part ways," Vaughan said at the Nolan Partners Sport Industry Breakfast Club.

"I can't say what I said in the meeting but what you read in the press wasn't quite true. I did abstain, I will admit to. It is difficult to vote on your own line manager's future so I left the room at that point. It was a rounded discussion. It wasn't just what I said, it was a combination of things."

Vaughan admitted that the RFU now has a number of governance and structural issues to address but insisted that the English game is not now in disarray. "Inevitably sport brings it challenges in terms of how you run it. We won the Six Nations this year and so we are doing something right," he said. "We have some great talent coming through from the Under-18s and the Under-20s and we are seeing those players coming through to the senior team.

"When John arrived we reviewed the way the union was structured and put rugby back at the heart of the business. Your product is key. If you don't have the product right it is difficult to do the stuff around it. The 2015 World Cup will be a massive shop window for the game, the legacy opportunities are huge and essentially we need the right people in place to do the right jobs."

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