When the previous RFU chief executive Francis Baron stepped down in September 2017 there were whispers that Scottish Rugby’s Mark Dodson might be ready to succeed him, only for Twickenham’s chief financial officer Steve Brown to be installed.
Now Brown has announced that he will step down at the end of the calendar year, after just 16 months in the job, with director of professional rugby Nigel Melville taking over on an interim basis. It may suit both organisations, Twickenham and Murrayfield, if Dodson were to jump from one to the other despite the contract extension to 2023 that the SRU board granted him in March of this year.
The English boss of Scottish Rugby has endured a torrid time of it lately following the sacking of Finn Russell’s father Keith from his post as director of domestic rugby; an act that an employment tribunal called: “both procedurally and substantively unfair”. The case ended up costing Scottish Rugby a six-figure sum.
That sacking also unearthed the widespread use of so called “settlement agreements”, something Keith Russell declined to sign, which effectively gag ex-employees from criticising Murrayfield after they leave the organisation. There were 14 in all and we have yet to be offered any commercial justification for even one of them.
In a widespread review of this process, board member Lesley Thomson effectively shackled Dodson with humiliating terms and conditions going forward, requiring the Remuneration Committee of the board to sign off on any further “settlement agreements” that Dodson may propose. It is not obvious that the chief executive retains the unreserved support of his entire board.
In addition to Keith Russell’s accusations of a culture of bullying within Murrayfield, Dodson then endured the widespread opprobrium of the Scottish rugby community when Scotland on Sunday revealed that neither Scottish Rugby nor the WRU were planning on donating any of the takings from their recent international in Cardiff to Doddie Weir’s Foundation despite liberal use of his name to advertise and promote the fixture. The SRU did eventually bow to public pressure and coughed up.
These are testing times for unions around the world with falling gates and broadcast money fees a fraction of what they were a few years ago. The RFU has had to cut its cloth accordingly, with 64 redundancies across the organisation and this, it’s worth remembering, from the wealthiest union in world rugby.
Brown was said to be weary of the politics within Twickenham and has stepped down of his own accord rather than been squeezed out following scathing criticism from his predecessor Baron.
For all of Dodson’s faults he has nevertheless presided over a period of commercial and sporting success for Scottish Rugby which saw the country hit an all-time high of fifth in the world rankings at the end of 2017. Average debt is down to manageable levels at £2.4 million and Murrayfield has bucked the trend on attendances, selling out for the visit of Fiji and today’s clash with South Africa.
Dodson is competent – and so he should be for a salary which was £455,000 in 2017. He is a safe pair of hands and, above all else, the RFU needs to appoint a proven operator quickly to restore confidence after years of what looks like financial myopia.
He was thought to be interested in the RFU post last time round and he surely has more reason now to at least apply for the Twickenham hot seat. It can hardly be any more uncomfortable that his current position.