The silence is deafening at Worcester - Andy Goode
All has gone quiet on the Worcester front in recent weeks but it’s looking like lightning could have struck twice and intervention is sorely needed.
It is now three weeks since the RFU released a statement confirming that Warriors won’t be participating in the Championship next season, an outcome reached largely because the new buyers Atlas won’t pay rugby creditors what they’re owed.
They were unwilling to adhere to other RFU terms as well, including restrictions on developing land in the short term, and have gone down the route of attempting to start lower down the pyramid but it seems apparent that rugby isn’t their primary concern.
The proposal to take over the first team of Stourbridge RFC in order to start again in the fifth tier rather than going down to level 10 attracted a lot of attention because it sounds so off the wall but I think it distracted people from what the real focus should be.
Jim O’Toole, together with business partner James Sandford, was very outspoken when previous owners Colin Goldring and Jason Whittingham were rightly coming under fire but he doesn’t appear to be living up to his word.
Whether it was comments on social media or in the mainstream media, the suggestion seemed to be that he was ready to ride in on a white horse and save the club but the focus is all on the finances and not the rugby as it was with the previous regime.
Of course, the two do go hand in hand and it is a business but it certainly wasn’t transparent months ago that the plan was to go all the way down the leagues and people would have had a different view if it was.
In truth, the lack of a joined-up approach in rugby has yet again led us to this point as administrators Begbies Traynor chose the highest bid in Atlas but obviously it wasn’t in their remit to have the sporting side of things in mind.
Subsequently, conversations have been had with the RFU and Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) but unless the latter intervenes, it really could be the death knell for Worcester.
The council using its compulsory purchase order powers to seize the land at Sixways is another option but it shouldn’t have been allowed to get to this point.
Atlas are still in a 90-day completion period to confirm their take-over at Sixways and the RFU are still to sanction the deal but it’s questionable how much power the governing body has over the situation.
The RFU is one of many rugby creditors and it says it has “no regulatory means to enforce the payment of rugby creditors” now that the Championship application has been withdrawn.
“Payment of rugby creditors is an integral part of our insolvency regulations, and we cannot approve the takeover of a club without agreement that rugby creditor payments will be made,” added CEO Bill Sweeney.
“Given Atlas’s withdrawal from the process, we remain concerned that there are insufficient funds to pay rugby creditors which is a responsibility of the administrator of WRFC Trading Limited and the liquidator of WRFC Players Limited to determine.”
I think it’s the DCMS that really needs to show its teeth but it’s worrying that the goalposts seem to have changed significantly since Atlas first became involved.
After coming on the scene, O’Toole said the club died when it went into administration but they’ve rowed back on the name change after initially planning to rebrand as ‘Sixways Rugby’ and it’s still unclear what the motive, vision and plan is.
He also said Wasps were going to play at Sixways next season and that may yet end up happening but a deal wasn’t in place and that doesn’t inspire confidence either.
I think there may be issues with the ability to develop land around the stadium if it isn’t kept for its original purpose so the likes of Wasps and Stourbridge are necessary for Atlas’ plans but rugby doesn’t seem to be the primary concern.
We wait to see what unfolds in the coming weeks but the silence is deafening at the moment and the club’s plight has disappeared from the headlines for the time being but it remains on the precipice and is teetering on the edge more than ever.
Money talks and I know we’re talking about a business but this isn’t just a business, it’s a rugby club, a sporting venue and a part of the community and that has been sadly lost along the way.
Anyone with any association with the club can’t help but think about Cecil Duckworth whenever any of this is mentioned after he poured his life and soul, as well as his money, into the club over the course of a couple of decades.
He bought the land around Sixways in order to hopefully secure the long-term future of the club, had a relationship with everyone involved in Warriors and lived and breathed the club and there couldn’t be more of a stark contrast with those that followed him.
You have to hope that this isn’t a case of history repeating itself but, on the face of it, we don’t seem to be much further along now than we were five months ago. It’s not done and dusted yet but intervention is needed soon.
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