On Friday the Rugby Football Union confirmed that their application to return to professional rugby in the 2023/24 season was successful, while Worcester Warriors’ was denied.
Describing the RFU’s Club Financial Viability Group as having undertaken an ‘extensive due diligence’ process, the panel reviewed financial information, considerations of the bidders, business plans for the clubs and external background checks to understand the risk level of each proposed bid.
An ‘enhanced process’, the application for Wasps was approved although the club must meet a number of ‘specific conditions’. This included that a range of financial commitments, lodging of a significant bond, regular provision of financial and other information, along with swift payment of rugby creditors and corporate governance requirements including relating to the club’s board of directors and risk management process.
On Friday it was also confirmed that Christopher Holland, a former non-executive director for Wasps, had become the side’s new owner. Purchasing the intellectual property, history and memorabilia of the club, it was that transaction which saw the side leave administration.
Former CEO of 188Bet and the interim CEO of the Wasps Legends Charitable Foundation, Andy Scott, has been appointed at Chief Executive Officer and will have ex-Wasps players Kenny Logan and Peter Scrivener available to support him.
Passing a fit and proper person’s test and jumping all the RFU’s hurdles, the club will take part in the Championship starting next season. Looking to stay in the West Midlands after the sale of the CBS Arena, it is being rumoured that a move a little further north to Solihull and a groundshare with Solihull Moors FC on the cards.
?? ?????????? ?????????????? ???????????? ?????? 2023/24 ????????????— Wasps Rugby (@WaspsRugby) December 16, 2022
Wasps are delighted to announce their return for the 2023/24 season, with confirmation they have now fully satisfied Rugby Football Union (RFU) requirements.
Find out more ??https://t.co/eoxCLXqXj4 pic.twitter.com/VsgAy9C0Rz
But while the sun is shining on Wasps, the story for Worcester Warriors is far different. Ex-Warriors chief executive Jim O’Toole and former London Irish player James Sandford formed the Atlas consortium and after learning of the RFU’s decision said they were “reviewing legal options”.
The governing body described themselves as not having been provided with sufficient evidence of funding, a public statement of acquiring the site to develop it without a rugby offering and put forward a number of conditions that the bidders would need to meet in order to protect against concerns relating to the club and from findings in the due diligence process.
Commitments included not selling the land around the stadium in order to secure it for the club and local rugby community, swift payment of rugby creditors and other key governance conditions, including relating to the club’s board of directors and risk management process.
A key point of contention that the RFU had surrounded the American investors involved in the Atlas bid. Inn their later statement, the consortium questioned the accuracy and veracity of the points surrounding the access to the financial robustness of the USA investors.
Describing the investors as having accommodated “intrusive questioning”, Atlas continued to say that the RFU blatantly misrepresented the results of the collaboration and referenced specifically the offering of additional information.
Perhaps the key to all of this is that Atlas informed the RFU that they were not prepared to meet these conditions, leading to application being denied. As a result, the governing body have encouraged the administrators to enable alternative bids for the club, while stressing that any sale which did not guarantee a future for rugby within the local community should not be progressed.
AWWRFC Statement on acquisition of Worcester Warriors.— James Sandford (@JamesSandford4) December 16, 2022
As always, moving forward with rugby and the community at the heart of what we do. pic.twitter.com/Moki4Va9HT
In the hours that followed, Steve Diamond maintained that he was still “fully committed” to bringing the club back to the Premiership, the former Warriors Director of Rugby having pulled together his own consortium which includes former club sponsor, Adam Hewitt.
“The consortium with JOT [Jim O’Toole] obviously got preferred status,” Diamond told BBC Hereford & Worcester. “But Adam and I dusted ourselves down and made sure our proposition was ready to go if anything happened.
"It came down to the respective valuations. Ours was slightly less than the other consortiums. But Adam and I have a lot of experience in business - and I also have my experience over the last 20 years of running rugby clubs.
"I was always working on the basis this was going to be a long haul, it was not going to be a quick fix and anybody coming in who thought that would fall over.
"Was I surprised at what's happened? Yes and no really. The RFU has been hauled over the coals for having no, or virtually zero compliance in place, in its fit and proper persons' process - and it has now quite rightly made it more rigorous."
While a positive development for Wasps, Worcester’s road seems far more arduous and compounded by the news that the club’s women’s side learned that they would not be included in the next cycle of the Allianz Premier 15s.
As Diamond said, the RFU are in a place where they are under more scrutiny than ever before. Chastised by MPs at a DCMS hearing for not keeping a closer eye on the goings on at clubs, their apparent ignorance part of the two Gallagher Premiership teams going under.
To see one club rising from the ashes of its demise is extremely positive news and there is only hope that suitable owners can be found for Worcester going forward in order to bring professional rugby back to Sixways and keep rugby in the region alive.