England’s Rugby Football Union was in turmoil on Friday after announcing that chief executive Steve Brown will stand down at the end of the year — fewer than 10 months from the World Cup in Japan.
The announcement came just days after one of Brown’s predecessors launched a withering attack on the state of the English governing body’s finances and 24 hours before England play Japan at Twickenham on Saturday.
Brown, who has had a variety of roles since joining the RFU in 2011, took over as chief executive in September last year.
But he will leave his post in December, with former England captain Nigel Melville, currently the RFU’s director of professional rugby, taking over as interim chief executive.
In August, it emerged that Francis Baron, whose 12-year period as chief executive ended in 2010, had produced a highly critical report based on his analysis of the RFU’s published accounts dating back to 2000, in which he detailed a cumulative net loss of £46.4 million ($59.6 million) since 2012.
Brown had also come under fire for agreeing to give England coach Eddie Jones an expensive contract extension that will take the Australian two years beyond the 2019 World Cup, subject to results in Japan.
Baron compiled his 50-page report after becoming alarmed by the accounts, and by news of 64 redundancies.
Despite generating record revenues of £360 million for 2016 and 2017, the RFU has doubled its loan facility to £100 million over the past year.
– ‘Out of control’ –
The new hospitality facility in the East Stand of the RFU’s Twickenham headquarters ground in southwest London cost £81 million, compared with the original budget of £54 million.
“I can’t get my head around why a relatively simple project could get out of control so quickly,” Baron told Wednesday’s edition of The Times.
But the RFU disputed Baron’s analysis, with a spokeswoman saying Wednesday: “The RFU is on a sound financial footing, with a healthy cash position, robust contracted revenues and a good balance sheet.”
Friday’s statement announcing Brown’s imminent departure from the RFU, long the wealthiest of rugby union’s national governing bodies, made no mention at all of Baron’s comments.
“The RFU staff are very sad,” said a spokeswoman. “Steve is a popular leader and greatly admired and respected for his decency. He will be missed.”
Brown, who prior to becoming RFU chief executive had been the managing director of the commercially successful 2015 Rugby World Cup in England, said he had made a “very difficult decision” but added: “The time is right for me to step down and take some time out.
“I’ve loved my time in rugby, and am deeply proud to have made a contribution to a sport I love.
“I’m sad to leave, but the Union is in good shape, with an excellent leadership team in place.”
RFU chairman Andy Cosslett added: “This is a sad day for the Union. Steve has made a huge contribution to the RFU during his time here.
“He has been a pivotal figure during a long period of sustained growth.”