England’s Rugby Football Union has named Bill Sweeney as its new chief executive as it looks to rebuild after a tumultuous 2018.
Sweeney joins from the British Olympic Association, where he has been chief executive since 2013 and has overseen not only historic athletic performance – including record-breaking medal hauls in Rio, Sochi and Pyeongchang – but strong commercial performance, signing long-term, high-profile sponsorship deals with the likes of Toyota, Aldi and, last week, bed retailer Dreams.
The RFU will be hoping for similar returns, in a World Cup year and at a time when it has faced difficulties off the pitch. Sweeney’s predecessor as chief executive, Steve Brown, left the role after just 14 months, departing amid a storm of criticism from another former RFU chief executive, Francis Baron, who claimed that the organisation’s financial losses were due to chronic mismanagement.
The RFU announced a loss of £30.9m for its 2017-18 financial year, and made 54 redundancies in 2018 in a cost-saving measure.
Sweeney will also have to deal with the ongoing changes sweeping Premiership Rugby in the aftermath of CVC Capital Partners’ investment, and its member clubs’ known desire to boost their commercial revenues. Last month, Premiership Rugby Ltd was moved to play down rumours of being “at war” with the RFU, though the issue of ring-fencing the Premiership is one that is likely to rear its head again in the near future.
Sweeney’s start date has not yet been decided, with Nigel Melville set to continue as interim chief executive until Sweeney’s arrival.