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Independent advisers appointed by government to help stabilise future of professional rugby union

Government has appointed Ralph Rimmer and Chris Pilling as independent advisers to work on the future stability of rugby union.

  • RFL’s former CEO Ralph Rimmer and Chris Pilling of UK Sport appointed to work with the Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby Limited on their plans for the future of professional rugby union.
  • Independent advisers will support solutions on the financial, sporting and regulatory challenges facing rugby following the failures of Worcester, Wasps and uncertainty at London Irish.

Former RFL CEO Ralph Rimmer, and UK Sport Board Member Chris Pilling have been appointed by the government as independent advisers to support the RFU and PRL in their work on the future sustainability of rugby union.

Following the recent failures of several clubs and the wider challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, rugby union has a unique opportunity to reshape its future strategic financial and sporting direction.

The government supports the RFU and PRL’s work to stabilise professional rugby union including attracting new capital investment. It shares the concerns of fans about where the game goes next, and has appointed two independent advisers to work with the RFU and PRL on their plans to restructure the Professional Game Agreement.

The issues at Worcester, Wasps and London Irish have laid bare the challenges facing the sport of rugby union. The inability of rugby clubs to raise capital investment and the financial challenges at various levels within the game have contributed to the need for urgent work to help secure rugby union’s immediate future and advise on its future direction.

The appointment of Rimmer and Pilling as independent advisers will add to the work being undertaken by the RFU and PRL, and has been made with their full agreement. They will provide further independent support and scrutiny on their vision to lead the game to a sustainable future.

Ralph Rimmer delivered substantial financial and regulatory reforms during his time with the Rugby Football League, while Chris Pilling will bring extensive sports management and financial sector expertise to the role.

Sports Minister Stuart Andrew said:

This is a challenging time for rugby union and Ralph and Chris have agreed to utilise their experience to help the game develop a clear path for the future.

We have seen several high profile clubs and their fans left devastated in recent times and this additional independent advice will be of huge benefit to the RFU and PRL as they look to implement a new strategic direction for rugby.

Ralph Rimmer said:

I absolutely recognise the importance of this sporting pyramid to communities across the country.

I also understand from my own experiences in Rugby League the challenges and pressures which the sport currently faces and I’m confident that I can help all parties in creating not just a sustainable future but also an exciting one.

Chris Pilling said:

I am delighted to have been asked by the government to support the work of the RFU and the PRL to seek the best solutions to help secure a better, more sustainable long-term future for rugby union.

The independent advisers will begin work immediately to help provide solutions to the financial, sporting and regulatory challenges facing the game as it charts a more sustainable path for the future.

Bill Sweeney, CEO, Rugby Football Union said:

The RFU and PRL have been working collaboratively for some time on a joint strategy to stabilise and transform Rugby Union following the exceptional challenges created by COVID.

Government choosing to work with us on this process is an important and much appreciated development and we are delighted to welcome Ralph and Chris to support the work we are doing to re-shape the future of the professional game.

The restructuring of the Professional Game Agreement into a strategic partnership provides a great opportunity for all stakeholders to set aside self-interest and collaborate to reset and secure the future long-term sustainable growth of the professional game including developing the strongest possible second tier.

Simon Massie-Taylor, CEO, PRL said:

We welcome the Government acknowledging the role that they play in helping stabilise the future of the Premiership.

And we are looking forward to working with Ralph and Chris as we finalise our plans for the future of the professional game with our partners at The RFU, RPA and other key rugby stakeholders.

In the coming days we will also announce our newly-formed Sporting Commission. And former government adviser Sir Nigel Boardman has also commenced work on formulating new financial regulations, as part of our Financial Monitoring Panel, with the first elements planned to be in place for the start of the new season.

During the pandemic, the government stepped in to provide a financial lifeline to keep elite and grassroots rugby afloat, and as key stakeholder in the future of professional rugby union is taking action to further protect its investment on behalf of taxpayers.

Rimmer and Pilling will work closely with the RFU, PRL and private equity partners CVC over the coming months in an independent capacity, and report directly to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Notes to editors:

  • Ralph Rimmer was Chief Executive Officer of the RFL between 2018 and 2022, having previously held the role of Chief Operating Officer since 2010. As CEO he drove significant reform and eventually negotiated and secured a 12 year strategic partnership with global sports and entertainment leaders, IMG. He was a Board member at the RFL for over a decade, and also on the International Board for six years. He was also a Board member of Huddersfield Town for six years. He stood down as CEO of RFL following the delivery of the most inclusive Rugby League World Cup ever last autumn.
  • Chris is a Non-Executive Board Member for UK Sport, Barclays Bank and Musgrave. He was previously Chairman of Yorkshire 2019, the organisation established by UK Sport to deliver the UCI Road World Championships. Prior to these roles, Chris was Chief Executive Officer of Yorkshire Building Society Group between 2011 and 2016 and of FirstDirect between 2006 and 2008. He previously held senior roles at HSBC, Asda - Walmart and British Airways. Between 2011 and 2016, Chris also acted as a Non-Executive Board Member for the Department of Health.
  • Ralph Rimmer and Chris Pilling will be remunerated and contracted by the Government on a fixed term basis. They will report to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
  • The RFU and PRL will publish its plans in due course.
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