RFU begins new competitions era

Following a vote of the RFU Council on 4 June to accept the recommendations of the Adult Competitions Review by a significant majority, Wharton Consulting has been engaged to continue our work on the review by pursuing the implementation of two key recommendations.

The first of these is the drafting of a Sevens strategy for the game, bringing together the different strands which are currently active at senior England level, at club and recreational level, and within universities, colleges and schools, across both men’s and women’s rugby. The objective is to create a unified and cohesive RFU-wide approach, defining the pathway into the England squad while at the same time giving purpose and shape to other sectors of competition.

The second is in partnership with the Students Rugby Football Union, to explore the feasibility of developing a new competition structure which offers the best student teams the intensity that they desire, as a valid alternative to university clubs aspiring to inclusion within the RFU leagues.

Neil Tunnicliffe has been working with the RFU in support of the Adult Competition Review since autumn 2011, leading the research programme which underpins its recommendations and authoring the review report on behalf of a Steering Group comprising representatives of the RFU Council, executive and club game, as well as independents from Sport England and England Hockey.


Congratulations, Sally!

We’re thrilled to bits that Sally Bolton, our former Wharton colleague, has been awarded the OBE in yesterday’s Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

Sally, who worked with us between 2002 and 2007, has spent the last seven years with the Rugby Football League, during which time she held positions as the RFL Events Director, RFL Director of Projects and Planning and, most recently, RLWC2013 General Manager before leaving last month to take up a new position as Managing Director of the Organising Committee for the World Athletics Championships in London 2017.

Her award is recognition of her role in managing and presenting the most successful Rugby League World Cup in the sport’s history – and we couldn’t be more proud of her!

Ice hockey review launched

Ice Hockey UK (IHUK) have appointed Wharton Consulting to undertake a structure and governance review of ice hockey in the UK, covering all of the national ice hockey governing bodies; English Ice Hockey Association (EIHA), Scottish Ice Hockey-UK (SIH-UK), Ice Hockey Northern Ireland (IHNI) and the UK Elite League (EIHL).

The purpose of the review is to demonstrate good governance and structure both for the sport’s participants and for stakeholder organisations such as the International Ice Hockey Federation, British Olympic Association, UK Sport and the home nation Sports Councils and UK Anti-Doping, in order to help develop and achieve objectives and open up better potential for funding for the sport in the future.

IHUK interim chairman, Jim Anderson, said: “All of the organisations have come together to approve this review of the sport’s structure. This review will be all-encompassing throughout ice hockey in the UK and will be open and transparent. This will also be a legacy for the sport once completed and implemented.”

Wharton Consulting personnel have 53 years’ experience of working in sports development, management and governance and have worked extensively in Rugby Union and Rugby League. They have also been prominent in the emergence of the new franchise-based league structure within the domestic Netball Superleague.

Neil Tunnicliffe, Principal of Wharton Consulting, said: “We’re delighted to have been selected by IHUK to support what is obviously a hugely important piece of work for the future of ice hockey within the UK and also internationally. We’re looking forward very much to returning to a sport where we have worked previously, having conducted reviews on behalf of UK Sport in 2007 and more recently for the BOA in 2012. We very much hope that our experience of working with professional team sports, and with governance structures which span UK and home nation levels, professional and amateur spheres, will be of benefit to ice hockey as it contemplates change in order to better fulfil its objectives at domestic and international levels.”

IIHF and UK-based official, Joy Johnston, said: “I am delighted to see that our governing bodies are working together to review the structure of ice hockey in the UK overall. Having been to many international tournaments, I can see it is vital for our different organisations to work together. If we want ice hockey in GB to grow, develop and have a chance of international success, then we need to ensure we are structured in the best way possible.

“In my day job I work for UK Sport and advise national governing bodies on governance. We promote and require good governance from all of our funded sports because we believe it helps lead to success on the field on play. I hope this can be the case for ice hockey so that it can give to others the opportunities and experiences that I have been lucky enough to have.”

Find us on social media

The latest Wharton Consulting news and comment can now be found via social media. Look us up on Facebook at – or follow Neil Tunnicliffe and Sarah Rowell on Twitter via @NeilTunny and @SazRowell.

Wharton to address UK Sport / EIS Talent Team

Neil Tunnicliffe has been invited to address the UK Sport / EIS Talent Team at the beginning of May on the subject of competition structures, and the principles which Wharton Consulting has applied within the review projects that it has conducted in recent times; also to share some of the findings that typically emerge from such projects. The invitation comes at a time when the Talent Team is working with individual sports with a view to improving their talent pathways – including and especially through competitive vehicles.

Neil said: “Competition reviews have become something of a niche product for Wharton Consulting, and this is an area that we think we understand pretty well. Over the last decade we have assisted major team sports in reviewing their competition structures: England Netball, in a project which helped to develop from scratch the now highly successful Netball Superleague; and the Rugby Football Union, for whom we have recently completed a wide-ranging review of all their adult competitions. More recently, in Olympic and Paralympic sports, we have worked with Archery GB, British Swimming, British Triathlon, Welsh Athletics, and now GB Canoeing, with a view to refining competition structures to increase retention, enhance profile, and smooth the way for talented athletes to the top of the sport.”

Prior to establishing Wharton Consulting, Neil’s work with the Rugby Football League saw him play a significant role in the establishment of the Super League, as well as the Academy Under-19 competition, the Student Rugby League and the Rugby League Conference – a grassroots competition for clubs outside of the Rugby League heartland, which is now a nationwide league featuring 115 teams.

GB Canoeing

Wharton Consulting has been commissioned by GB Canoeing to conduct a wide-ranging review of competition structures in the Slalom and Sprint disciplines. The principal purpose of the review is to ensure that talented athletes have a clear competitive pathway from their first beginnings in the sport through to the Olympic and Paralympic Games – but it is also intended to quality-assure the competition structures in order to improve participation levels within the sport, and to recommend steps to raise the profile of canoeing in the years between the Games.

The initial phase of the review will be conducted over the period to July 2014, when initial recommendations will be presented to a Steering Group comprising representatives of GB Canoeing, the four home nation canoeing associations, and the Slalom and Sprint communities.

In a separate piece of work, Wharton has also researched the state of play in the high-kneeling classes within the UK, and worldwide, as part of a feasibility study into the potential establishment of a programme to support the development of world-class athletes within these classes to contest Olympic medals by 2024. Consultation has been taken with a range of representatives of the Canoe Sprint community, both nationally and internationally, as well as with the membership of BCU through an open, online survey. Recommendations have been drafted for the consideration of GB Canoeing which will be considered over the course of the coming weeks.


Josoor Institute


Wharton’s Sarah Rowell was one of a number of high profile international speakers at the recent Josoor Institute short course on Career Management for Athletes. As part of the commitment to leaving a legacy after the 2022 FIFA World Cup™ in Qatar, the Josoor Institute has been established to educate, empower and support the people who will build outstanding and sustainable sports and events industries throughout Qatar and the wider Middle East and North Africa region.

Sharing a platform with speakers from Al Kass, IMG, Sports New Media and Wasserman Media Group as well as professional athletes such as retired Dutch international footballer Aron Winter and Egyptian triathlete Omar Nour, Sarah worked with a group of young professional footballers on a course designed to enhance their understanding of the business of sport and the opportunities available to them; as well as develop the skills required to manage the on and of pitch demands of life as a professional player.


Athletics Competition Review

Wharton Consulting have recently been commissioned by Welsh Athletics to conduct a competition review with the overall objective of producing a strategy for competitions to complete the organisation’s Strategic Plan for the period 2013-2017. The project scope covers all the athletics disciplines (track and field, cross country, road, trail, mountain and ultra) and  will look at the competition pathway, the domestic programme, the schools programme, Welsh leagues, age groups, the international programme, operational improvements and officials’ communication and deployment.

Using a mixture of face to face and phone interviews, focus groups and a questionnaire which has been sent to over 5,000 contacts by Welsh Athletics, Wharton Consulting aim to gain a comprehensive insight into the perceived strengths, weakness and potential development opportunities of the current system, especially as it pertains to  supporting the British Athletics Athlete Development Model.

Irish rugby prepares for new era

Following the publication of its Club Sustainability report earlier this year (see, the Irish Rugby Football Union has been making preparations for the onset of a new era of amateur rugby with the support of Wharton’s Neil Tunnicliffe. Detailed documents have been prepared which include new regulations prohibiting the payment of players below the elite levels; the formulation of new mechanisms and processes to police these; and a set of minimum standards criteria which will govern participation in Ireland’s senior domestic leagues. Briefing documents have also been put together for clubs which outline their current and future responsibilities, and the transition from one to the other – all within an overall project plan which maps the stages required to implement the report’s recommendations in their entirety. It is intended that the new regulations and the entry participation criteria will come into force in September 2014, following an intensive period of club briefings and set-up.

England Netball commissions Wharton research

Wharton Consulting has won through a process of competitive tender to conduct a research project on behalf of England Netball to support the modernisation of its governance structure. Wharton has been asked to survey EN’s Regional Management Boards and County Netball Associations to assess their awareness and understanding of the responsibilities and accountabilities which have been cascaded to them from the national level. At the same time, a comparator review is being conducted within national and international governing bodies and NFP organisations to see how others operate within similar structures. The results of this research will be submitted to EN in mid-October, whereafter the findings will form the basis of further modernisation work to address any issues which become apparent.