YORKSHIREMAN Ian Ritchie has been appointed as the new chief executive of the Rugby Football Union after six years in charge of the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
The former Leeds Grammar school pupil’s recruitment was rubber-stamped by the RFU management board yesterday and he will move to Twickenham after serving out his notice period at Wimbledon.
The RFU has been in a state of managerial turmoil since John Steele was ousted as chief executive in June, the fallout from which was poisonous, damaging and expensive to the governing body.
Ritchie’s task will be to lead the RFU out of arguably the most traumatic year of their history and towards England’s hosting of the 2015 World Cup.
“I believe English rugby has a very bright future, culminating in a once-in-a-lifetime home World Cup in 2015,” Ritchie said.
“I am determined to help rugby create a legacy from the tournament that will benefit the sport for generations to come.
“The RFU has great commercial partners and a very sound financial base, underpinning the development of rugby union at grass roots and elite level.”
Ritchie was identified as the “standout candidate” from the RFU’s shortlist, with the interview panel impressed by his experience in business, leadership and sports administration. The 58-year-old Yorkshireman is a non-executive director of the Football League, which he represents on the Football Association council, and a director of Wembley Stadium.
The RFU could not confirm last night whether he will continue in those roles.
Ritchie has previously held chief executive posts with Channel Five and Middle East Broadcasting. He was vice president of global business at the Associated Press before taking over at Wimbledon in 2005.
“Ian clearly demonstrated the required knowledge and capabilities across a broad range of areas,” said Ian Metcalfe, who chaired the recruitment panel.
“He was the standout candidate with his combination of business acumen, leadership qualities and background in sports administration.
“We could not have wished for a better candidate who is so highly respected across sport and the business sectors.”
Ritchie will inherit a strong business that has just posted record profits, although the RFU will make a projected £11m loss this year due to the impact of the 2011 World Cup.
The RFU need to convince current and prospective sponsors that the damage done to the reputation of English rugby, both on and off the field in 2011, is not permanent.
Ritchie will be the fourth RFU chief executive in the space of a year which has seen the governing body hit new low after new low.
Steele was ousted just nine months after joining from UK Sport and the aftershocks of his departure were still being felt at Twickenham as recently as two weeks ago.
Martyn Thomas, who is alleged by a former colleague to have said “it was him or me” after Steele’s exit, was criticised for his role in the saga but threatened Judge Jeff Blackett with legal action if the report was published.
Blackett, the RFU’s disciplinary officer, then claimed he had enough evidence to bring a disrepute charge against Thomas, who was also facing a grass roots rebellion.
Thomas, who survived two votes of no confidence, stood down two weeks ago after being cleared of misconduct by an external review, conducted by Charles Flint QC.
Amid all the chaos at executive level, England crashed out of the World Cup after a quarter-final defeat to France ended a campaign dogged by controversy.
The RFU have already taken steps to heal their rugby sores with the appointment of an interim England coaching team for the Six Nations, headed by Stuart Lancaster, the former Leeds coach.
An England team capable of challenging for the 2015 World Cup is key to the success of the tournament and the new permanent head coach will report directly to Ritchie.
Ritchie was tipped as the next chief executive of the ATP but his appointment at the RFU is a significant step towards English rugby curing itself of its ills.
“We are confident that we have the very best person for the role of CEO to take the RFU and the game in England to the next stage of its development,” Metcalfe added.
Chief financial officer Stephen Brown will stay in temporary charge until Ritchie clocks in at Rugby House.