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Thomas steps down as RFU chairman
ESPNscrum Staff
July 10, 2011

Martyn Thomas has stood down as chairman of the Rugby Football Union but will remain as the acting chief executive of the RFU until a permanent appointment is made.

The move followed a four-hour meeting of the RFU Council, which broke up at Twickenham around midday on Sunday after discussing a review panel's 52-page verdict on the organisation's hiring and firing of former Twickenham chief executive John Steele. Thomas will also continue as chairman of Rugby World Cup 2015 - which will be staged in England - and as an RFU representative on the International Rugby Board.

The departing chairman Thomas said: "This was a difficult day for the Union but at the end of the day this does now mean we can finally move on. I would like to thank Council for their support both in terms of me continuing as acting CEO and in my other roles.

"The most important thing was that we maintained stability for staff and our other partners and in the coming weeks I will be ensuring that we navigate to calmer waters and that we can get on with our core purpose of rugby. With RWC 2011 upon us we have something to look forward to and I will ensure Martin [Johnson] and his team have all the support they need to be successful in New Zealand."

The 58-man Council have decided that Paul Murphy will serve as interim RFU chairman, pending a Special General Meeting when Thomas' permanent replacement will be decided. That meeting, though, cannot take place constitutionally for 60 days.

"Most people would not be comfortable with being chairman and acting CEO. The staff made it clear to me last week they wanted the stability of the last month maintained," said Thomas. "I discussed with the board last week whether you could do both jobs. I left the meeting and they discussed it for 90 minutes, looking at all manner of options.

"I was never comfortable with doing the two jobs. The board felt it would be better if I stayed as acting CEO, having done the job since John left. If I had not been acting CEO, I would not have felt the need to stand down as chairman [because of the report].

"I said that if the council did not have the confidence in me to do the job I would walk away. You have to have the confidence of the people around you. What was important was what the staff told me last week. They did not want another change. They wanted stability. English rugby is in a healthy shape - it is not a message of doom and gloom."

The management board ousted Steele from his post at an emergency meeting last month after deciding his position had become untenable. Thomas added: "No-one can be happy or proud at what happened when a senior person left in the circumstances he did. The board and I have to look at that and consider the recommendations we need to make.

"The report [Blackett Review] is the view of five individuals, and I have not had the chance to respond to it. The criticisms are fine. Some I have no problem with; others there need to be a discussion about. I would want to put my point of view to the panel at some stage. I regret the situation that occurred with John. Could we have handled the process better? Probably. It is easy to point a finger and say this could have been done better. Overall, what we delivered was right, but you can always do better."

Interim chairman Murphy praised Blackett's panel for the manner in which they had handled their review. "We were concerned that the reputation of the RFU had been damaged by the recent events which were played out so vividly in the media," Murphy said. "We wanted to ensure that we put in place an independent panel capable of undertaking a comprehensive and expert review of what took place so we could learn lessons for the future and take the first step forward towards rebuilding that reputation.

"I would commend the members of the panel because that is exactly what we received. Their report was based on detailed evidence, was thorough and gave clear recommendations. In the end after lengthy discussion we have taken what we believe are the right decisions for the future of the game and the Union itself. These were difficult decisions and there was a lot at stake for us all but in the end we felt that we had to ensure our members, players, supporters and all other stakeholders could see we had taken firm action to address the issues and move forward."

A vote of no confidence in the RFU management board was defeated by a majority verdict while Thomas agreed not to put his name forward for election as chairman during the RFU's annual general meeting - also staged on Sunday. It is also known there were dissenting voices within the Council over his continuation as acting chief executive before it was agreed he should continue in that role.

The news now means that less than nine weeks before the 2011 World Cup kicks off in New Zealand, the RFU has no permanent chairman, no permanent chief executive and are still searching for their first performance director. The performance director job, a role created by Steele's review of the organisation earlier this year, had been thought to be tailor-made for England's 2003 World Cup-winning mastermind Sir Clive Woodward. But during the course of a horribly bungled RFU process, Woodward reaffirmed commitment to his current employers the British Olympic Association.

Judge Jeff Blackett - the RFU's disciplinary officer - headed a five-man panel's detailed investigation surrounding the arrival and departure of Steele at Twickenham. According to Thomas at the time, Steele had lost the confidence of the board and key stakeholders in the game.

The review panel also comprised RFU council members Geraint Ashton Jones and Malcolm Wharton, plus Andy Reed, chairman-elect of the Sport and Recreation Alliance, and Vic Luck, formerly general manager of IBM UK. They were due to probe everything from Steele's recruitment to the board's loss of confidence in his leadership and the process leading to the termination of his contract. The botched recruitment process for the performance director position, which played such a key part in Steele's downfall, was also due for scrutiny, in addition to the board's governance.

It is thought the panel interviewed more than 65 key figures and took on board the conclusions of an earlier review of the performance director recruitment process, conducted by RFU chairman of governance Peter Baines.

Blackett said: "The panel worked tirelessly over the last three weeks to gather a huge amount of evidence, and we felt our recommendations were valid and appropriate based on that evidence. As guardians of the game, though, council had some important decisions to take and discussions were robust and emotive in that regard. I would like to thank my panel for a job well done and hope that as a game we can now draw a line under the events of the past few months and get on with rugby."

Thomas was elected chairman of the RFU board of directors in April 2005. He had been elected to the RFU council four years earlier, representing Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Derbyshire. In 2007 he became one of two RFU representatives on the IRB and Six Nations Committee.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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