Sport England are applying heavy pressure to the RFU, as well as other sporting bodies such as the Football Association, for governance changes that would see the RFU board becoming all-powerful, with no more than 25 per cent of members coming from the Council.
Failure to change could see Sport England’s annual £12m funding to Rugby Union withdrawn as early as August, while The Rugby Paper understands RFU development director Steve Grainger has warned councillors that if the governing body shuns Sport England demands, pressure could be brought to bear on major sponsors not to back Rugby Union.
Eight Council members sit on the existing 13-strong management board, but grassroots representatives fear that if that number is slashed to three or four, as Sport England policy dictates, control of the game will be lost forever.
One concerned RFU Council member said: “The great strength of Rugby Union is the Council, because that makes the policy of the game.
“If you had a board that has ultimate control of the game, theoretically you could have a significant majority of non-rugby people on it and they will dictate policy, which means Council could not overrule the board as it can at present.
“Policies could change on a whim, with board members coming and going, and instead of stability, rugby could end up in a permanent state of flux.
“The RFU, like any other business, has to ask if they can afford to lose £12m from Sport England?
“The question I would ask, though, is whether it is worth losing control of our game – the grassroots clubs’ game – just for that kind of money?”
With RFU revenue doubling to £407.1m in 2015-16, the councillor added: “The RFU’s turnover and profit goes up every year, so what is the current organisation doing wrong?
“We’ve got women and non-executive directors on the board so the RFU should be held up as a beacon of how sporting organisations should be run.”