World Rugby

Rugby Football Union Face Vote Of No Confidence As Amateur Clubs Unite

Rugby Football Union Face Vote Of No Confidence As Amateur Clubs Unite

English Rugby's governing body the Rugby Football Union faces a vote of no confidence following the controversial new tackle height rule.

Jan 26, 2023 by Philip Bendon
Rugby Football Union Face Vote Of No Confidence As Amateur Clubs Unite

Following what has been a turbulent few months for Rugby’s governing body in England, RFU Chief Executive Bill Sweeney could be facing a vote of no confidence. 

Momentum for a special general meeting (SGM) has been building over the past few days. Spearheaded by the Community Club's Union (CCU) which was set up in the wake of the RFU’s controversial decision to introduce a radical new tackle-height rule. 

The announcement of the intended rule change angered clubs all over the country. Based on statements released by the CCU, it was the lack of consultation by the RFU that most disappointed clubs. 

Since its formation, the CCU has received backing from over 250 clubs to call for an SGM. For an SGM to take place it would require the support of 100 members of the union. 

It is reported that the meeting would bring forward a vote of no confidence in current RFU Chief Executive Bill Sweeney. 

For Sweeney, this is the latest in a series of incidents that challenge his position within the union. Having recently been heavily criticised in a recent report by a select committee for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in Westminster. regarding the financial failure of Premiership clubs Wasps and Worcester. 

In response, the RFU released a statement which read: "We understand the rugby community has a range of questions in reaction to the recent announcement that the tackle height is to be lowered across the community game from next season. 

"We recognise the change is challenging, and the community game has understandably provided significant feedback on the change. 

"However, the large body of scientific evidence strongly indicates that it will reduce the incidence of head injuries in the community game. 

"There will be further discussions with Council members during the next few days before further details on the intent and details around the changes are published to the wider game. 

"We consider the decision to reduce the tackle height to be the start of the process, to allow for a period of engagement in the coming weeks with groups of coaches, players and referees, drawn from across the country and from all levels of the game, including the men's women's and age-grade game, over the detail, intent and implications of the law change, before finalising it." 

In addition to the 250 clubs, the RFU has faced criticism from former players and coaches as well as politicians.

Speaking at the 2023 Guinness Six Nations launch, Irish captain Jonathan Sexton said: “I don’t agree with it.”

“There’s no point sitting on the fence. I just think you’ve got tall people that play the game, it should be their decision as to how they tackle. 

“Of course, we have to get head-shots out of the game but I think the tackles that we really need to get out of the game are the reckless, out of control, sprinting out of the line, tucking arms, all those type of ones. Hitting someone there (torso) should be an option. So, I strongly disagree.” Sexton concluded. 

Agreeing with his captain, Ireland head coach Andy Farrell added: “If you’re just saying to a kid that you need to tackle lower, then you become even more vulnerable in my opinion. If you’re just sitting there with your arms in front trying to wrap with your head down, etc, you’re a sitting duck waiting to happen.” 

Closer to home, veteran English scrumhalf Ben Youngs agreed with Sexton’s assessment saying: "A bit of clarity and help will go a long way I'm sure." 

"I know all the local coaches, everyone at the grassroots level, the referees, everyone who gives up their time for the community game which I go and see on a Sunday, I think clarity for them as well [is needed]. 

"From the chest down is probably safe enough; that's what I believe," Youngs said. 

Taking the approach that the positives of the sport outweigh the negatives, Youngs continued to say: "You can't tell me it's safe when you are playing hockey against a short corner; people take shots, it gets deflected, the ball can hit you in the head." 

"But everyone would say hockey is safer than rugby - but that aspect of it isn't safe. In cricket, fielding in certain positions, that isn't safe. 

"But as parents, you take them because you know the sports are enjoyable. 

"I think for rugby union the camaraderie the game gives you, the values, the respect, working together as a team, leadership, being part of something; that all outweighs [the risks].

"We want safety, but we also want rugby - we don't want that to go." 

Away from those directly involved with the sport, MP Stephen Crabb in congratulating Sir Lindsay Hoyle on becoming the new president of the Rugby Football League said:  "I suspect your form of the game is going to see a big influx of new players as the English Rugby Football Union seeks to rewrite the rules of the union game.

"So, could I ask the minister that given that 75,000 players, coaches and supporters of the union game have already signed a petition rejecting the new rules, does he agree with me that the RFU should think again, should work more collaboratively with the grassroots across all home nations and ensure all steps taken to improve player safety are consistent, workable and don't lead to a player exodus?" 

In response Sports minister Stuart Andrew said: "I can assure (Mr Crabb) that we continue to work with sports, and that includes the RFU, to ensure that player safety is prioritised, and I will certainly raise the points he has raised in my next meeting with them."

Written by Philip Bendon