Ed Hagerty's instantly famous Rugby Magazine op-ed demonstrates Kevin Roberts' 'test rugby first and foremost' strategy has failed to capture the American public's imagination, but there is no proven mechanism for dues-paying members to influence the union's leadership.
The cri de coeur confirms opinion has hardened against USARFU's board and management, notably chair Roberts, who has been in charge for four years, and vice chair Bob Latham, who has served eight straight years either as chair (his role the final year of Doug Arnot's tenure as chief executive) or vice chair, the union's top two positions. Rugby America and other outlets (not to mention readers!) immediately picked up the story of Hagerty's call for new leadership.
Since 2006, however, USARFU has been structured so as to make its board nearly impervious to players, teams, constituent unions, and other stakeholders. Further, the congress, which reputedly supervises the board, is not only itself detached but also largely stymied.
Typically, school or senior players who pay dues might be part of choosing a team's delegate to the local union, which elects a leadership team. In turn, the local officers form the cohort from which territorial officers are elected. Thus, as congress members are often territorial officers, they are at least three steps removed from the team level.
With a cohort of board loyalists still in the congress, notably from the West and Pacific Coast territories, there is little reason to believe conditions have really changed.
Even if congress were unified and motivated, its powers are no match for the board. Last July, in advance of being asked to approve the forthcoming strategic plan, a majority of the congress formally asked to review the board's planning documents. The plans were not forthcoming.
A month earlier, Roberts stated the congress ought to 'support the board unconditionally on every aspect of the strategic plan'. In May 2009, in response to complaints about scarce information regarding board and staff developments, chief executive Nigel Melville delivered a note instructing the congress to refer to the union's by-laws.
Although USARFU cannot function without member dues (the Club and Individual Participation Program, or CIPP), dues-paying members do not have the standing to ask for regular, published accounting of USARFU's sources and amounts of income, as well as precise details of where the funds are being spent. (They can, however, request tax filings.) Nor does the board publish minutes, another 'good government' shortcoming. Thus it falls it falls to the congress to insist on information.