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Sunday, June 29, 2008

RFU and RFUW: Integration, not merger

More anon about this and that from yesterday's RFUW Conference in Hatfield, but I thought I'd begin with what came at the end, the answer from Alun Thomas (an RFUW board member) to the question about what was happening regarding the merger of RFU and RFUW.

The topic had been raised a number of times in other parts of the day, so it is clearly a matter of concern (the main concern being why the heck it is taking so long as, at grassroots, it is clear that the general feeling is that it cannot happen too soon). Alun's response was interesting - and rather surprising.

Basically - at the centre - its all driven by money, in that Sport England want only one rugby governing body to make grants to. Things are muddied by the fact that at present two separate boards are able to make two separate bids for funding which means that there are concerns about whether one board would get as much (how realistic these concerns are is anyone's guess). There is also, I suspect, an unspoken concern about whether any grant element aimed at women's rugby would actually find its way through the RFU's coffers to where it should be - my impression is that the denizens of the Twickenham car park do not trust the inhabitants of site's plush new offices over much. Not that they'd ever say that, of course.

Anyway that is why the buzzword now is integration and not merger. This will - if I understood this right - eventually see RFUW as a Consistuent Body within RFU, rather than being swallowed up by it. "We are not going away" was how Alun put it.

As a result its more gradual than a big bang merger. Alun even claimed that much of the process "was already in place". He gave the example that the RFUW rose will disappear from England women's shirts next season to be replaced with the RFU England rose and the words "Women" or "Women U21" or whatever.

There is still a lot to be decided, though. A meeting between top people at RFUW and RFU is planned for Tuesday (1st July), though it is not an insignificant fact that the meeting has been planned before and postponed seven times. Now, something unexpected coming up may happen once or twice, but sevens times sounds odd. I mean, even The Old Farts (© Carling W), out of touch with modern life as they may be (allegedly), will have come across a concept called a Diary. So draw what conclusions you may from that, such as:
a) RFU treat this as a vanishingly unimportant matter and can't be bothered to turn up,
b) One side or the other (you choose) is a disorganised shambles, or
c) There is a degree of jockeying for position going on
Based upon rumour, reading between lines, and off-the-cuff remarks from officials (which is all we have to go on) personally I suspect the latter. The fact that money is the big factor in this (even though the sums are small) is significant - after all if it were for the Good Of The Game and Increasing Player Numbers then you'd think that a staggeringly wealthy and highly principled body like the RFU would welcome the women's game with open arms even if did cost them a penny or two (the cost of the entire women's game would barely make a footnote in the RFU accounts), but from what one hears they want to ensure that any merger/integration does not cost them so much as a brass farthing - while (as we have seen) RFUW want to ensure that money for women's rugby does not get syphoned off elsewhere (as happens with many county CBs at the moment). As a result, with both sides starting from a point in which they do not want to give up anything to each other, it would be small wonder if things didn't get a bit protracted.

And so we get the Integration Compromise - that RFUW become part of RFU by affiliating to it, much as the armed forces rugby unions do.

The big question is whether this will work, given that by the RFUW being only a CB presumably it allows RFU and county CBs to continue to not have any official role in developing the women's game. Granted that many counties have joined the 21st century and do readily support the women's and girls' game, but many do not (or do so as little as possible) and with the Compromise in place its difficult to see this changing.

Indeed one searches around the world to come up with another country which has a similar set-up - and it was interesting to hear Alun mention one that he seemed to see as a model to follow. That country is Scotland. Say no more...

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