The Runner Sports

Allegations Of Corruption And Organizational Nepotism – USA Rugby’s Not-So-Secret Secret

The reports are troubling and saddening. Grumblings for the past few years have bubbled to the surface but no one really stirred the pot, not really. Now the pot is boiling.

Articles have been written, opinions are being voiced, a petition has been released, and an official grievance issued to USA Rugby (USAR). The allegations don’t just point to mismanagement, they allude to criminal practice.

It’s not unheard of and to dismiss any of it would be irresponsible. One thing is certain in a capitalist economy, people will try to make money off marketability and very few things are as marketable in the US as sports. When money is the subject, often the conversation turns to greed and divisive agendas and unfortunately, claims of corruption and fraud can get cooked up in that soup of agendas. It’s often a recipe for disaster.

Over the past week, the topic has exploded and anyone who is anyone in the US rugby media landscape is talking about it. Matt McCarthy talked to USAR Empire Geographic Union President and USAR Congress Member Ken Pape discussing many topics from exorbitant player fees, financial mismanagement, and the eye-opening lack of oversight that is rampant through USAR.

Pat Clifton of Rugby Today wrote an article showcasing the campaign Eagle #168 and businessman Tony Ridnell is heading to gain election to the USAR Chairman’s seat. Ridnell is a self-proclaimed “change agent” and he’s released his projected first 100 days if he became Chairman, in those identified priorities are actions that look suspiciously like cleaning out a tainted system.

“The reason I am taking on this task resonates from a 64-0 beating the Eagles took at the hands of South Africa at RWC 2015.  I turned around amongst all the condescending South Africans I was with (courtesy of AIG’s hospitality), to see none other than then CEO Nigel Melville & Chair Bob Latham in the arms of two South African models in one of the suites getting their photos taken.  I watched the body language. I watched before and after – it was like we had won the game.” – Tony Ridnell

A petition was released via social media on Change.org, now with over 100 signatures, calls for several actions, one of which is a unanimous vote of “no confidence” for the all-large board members.  I am proud to say I signed the petition.

Through all of this, the most damning indictment of USAR came to light in an OpEd by Ted Hardy, the Carolina Geographic Union Men’s Executive Director, founder of the Clayton Bootleggers Rugby Club, and editor of Americas Rugby News.

“Let’s be very honest. Anyone who has poured their heart into the sport of rugby in America knows that something is wrong.” – Ted Hardy

Ted’s article brought to light an official grievance from USAR member Michael Fealey.

I interviewed Michael, whose played rugby since he was 6, played in three different countries, and as the head coach won the National Title with Glendale in 2014, about his grievances and what he feels must be done to save USA Rugby.

Jason Graves: What are your ties to USA Rugby?

Michael Fealey: I’m a member

 

Jason: Are you associated in any way to PRO Rugby?

Michael: No. I was against the sanction and PRO Rugby from the start. I thought it would end badly for various reasons and I felt and still feel we aren’t ready for domestic pro rugby here.

 

Jason: Are you associated in any way to Major League Rugby?

Michael: No. Other than I know a bunch of the players from Glendale and a few that went to the Huns.

 

Jason: Are you associated in any way to Rugby International Marketing?

Michael: Not directly. Indirectly I believe I’m a shareholder in 75 percent of what was 100 percent ours.

 

Jason: Have you ever held any position in USAR other than member?

Michael: No.

 

Jason: Do you have any background in law?

Michael: No. I started a non-profit so I know what you can and can’t do though.

(Michael has a Bachelors Degree with Honors in Sports Development and a Post-Graduate Certificate in Performance Coaching and he’s combined that with his 25 years of rugby experience to form the non-profit, Better With Teammates, an organization aimed to change the way youth and women’s sports are supported in North America.)

 

Jason: What is the genesis of your grievance?

Michael: A couple years ago USA rugby directors took all our assets and placed them outside of the union in RIM. The alarm bells started ringing and ever since then I’ve been trying to find out more about the issues within this union.

 

Jason: What evidence do you have to back your grievance?

Michael: Emails, witnesses, official documents, public statements, press releases, admissions.

 

Jason: Is any part of your grievance based purely on observation?

Michael: Yes some. But given the relationships of the people involved to the board and the union, I believe you would agree with my deductions.

 

Jason: Do you know anyone willing to come forward to support your claims?

Michael: Yes. Certain people have agreed to support their statements/evidence.

The rest is all out in plain sight. You just have to read the meeting minutes and by laws and tax laws etc.

 

Jason: In your opinion, how did USA Rugby get to this point of what must be termed as failure?

Michael: Corruption. Apathy. Some bad people did some bad things and we all let them. Partly because we didn’t care or partly because we couldn’t convince the other half to care.

The board have been useless and criminal in certain circumstances. Others just watched it happen.

National office is under served by the board, and under qualified and unable to serve the membership.

 

Jason: What do you see as inherently wrong with the current USAR structure or is it personality?

Michael: In terms of the board it’s personality. They’re greedy. They tried to take advantage of the membership.

National office is insecure. They’re out of their depth and they know it. Instead of asking for help they just muddle on and half-ass it as a result.

They need better funding. They need better training and resources to work with and mentor them. We need to build relationships with other countries and work on an exchange where they can go and learn about what rugby looks like around the world. What systems and structure they have in place.

Envy as a whole for the union. Americans aren’t used to not being the best. We are somewhat entitled when we talk about winning things like a World Cup. It’s just not realistic.

 

Jason: Based on your global experience, what new form should USAR take?

Michael: Devolved. More control at the local level. Easier to build relationships and partnerships with local school boards, community centers, clubs, all the things you need to generate support for sustainable growth.

Play national championships as a state competition. Club nationals are a drain on resources for everyone.

We need more whole clubs, less one team programs. We need all clubs under one umbrella – not a separate union for adults, one for children. The way it’s set up right now, men’s, women’s, and youth clubs are all separate entities within the union. We need to work together. Build a community in and around our clubs so that they are supported and well.

We also need to change the way we have relationships with academies. There needs to be a little more distance. Right now they operate as clubs but thy aren’t really clubs, not in the traditional sense. Arm’s length and treat them as business partners, not members.

There are too many conflicts of interest all over the organization.

 

Jason: Do you believe the rugby community, USAR members, in particular, can assume “ownership” of USAR and correct the issue?

Michael: Yes and yes if given the right leadership and the right direction we can all work together for a common goal or benefit, which is the point of a union in the first place.

It’s an agreement between all of us to sacrifice some of our own personal benefit for the betterment others and of the union as a whole. We need to remember that and get back to it.

 

Jason: So is a complete overhaul of USAR required?

Michael: Yes. There needs to be checks and balances. Accountability at all levels. There needs to be a severe look at conflicts of interest.

USA rugby is doomed if this board remains in place, if this structure stays in place with ownership of rim as it is. Congress, national office, board of directors – all need to be addressed immediately.

 

Jason: How should the emergency council you propose in your grievance be structured?

Michael: Maybe 9 or 11 people to handle specific aspects or act as advisors. New chairman and new CEO for certain. Put good advisors and sensible people around them. Experience with rugby is a plus but not a must.

We need legal counsel and financial advice immediately! We need a World Rugby rep to go there.

 

Jason: What should World Rugby’s role be?

Michael: I think we could even perhaps have World Rugby send ‘ambassadors’ to pro use support while we get the union back on its feet, make sure we don’t make the same mistakes and improve our policies and procedures.

We need to know how the best operate and implement the same here in a way that best suits us and our particular challenges and circumstances.

 

Jason: Can USAR be saved?

Michael: We won’t get a second chance to save this union. I don’t know if we even can right now. I’m preparing for both scenarios.

 

 

The information flowing out of various sources paints a horrific future for USAR if nothing changes. I am a fan of rugby, I love the community of it; there really isn’t any sport like it in the world. We need rugby to be successful in the US and not to mirror the nightmare we see in the news today coming from everywhere else. We need rugby to be better than that because as a community it is.

 

 

-By Jason Graves

  • Brian Peery

    I do not agree with Luke Hume’s assertion that the national team should be the highest priority for funding. As a dues paying member of USA Rugby I would prefer that not one penny of my dues go to the national team. USA Rugby should be fund raising for the national team and let the rest of us play rugby and support grass roots rugby.