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Since the Rugby Football Union (RFU) was the first one to be formed (London 1871), it has historically kept its name and initials without the necessity of adding the prefix “England.” It spawned quickly other home country unions: Scotland RFU 1873, Irish RFU 1879, and the Wales RFU in 1880.
At that first meeting in February 1871 at the Pall Mall restaurant in London, 21 clubs were represented to agree on a “code of practice.” Three lawyers – all former Rugbeians – drafted the first laws of the game.
The RFU acted as the governing body of rugby until the start of the IRB in 1886. But, so prestigious was its status, that it was acknowledged as the world wide arbiter of all rugby activities, primarily, by publishing an annual booklet entitled “Bye-Laws of The Game.” When the New York RFC, the country’s oldest rugby club founded in 1929, decided to apply for official status (To welcome officially a Cambridge tour), it did so by joining the RFU in 1932.
The RFU is owned by its 2,000 member clubs, acting as the organizational union for all of England’s diverse and many rugby undertakings, including, leagues, refereeing, youth development, etc. and, importantly, the management of Twickenham Stadium. It employs 500 people, uses 60,000 volunteers, and serves 2.5 million members who are divided into 50 regional rugby development offices.
It will be the main host union to the 2015 Rugby World Cup (along with Wales), working closely with England Rugby 2015, the organizational arm of the IRB that is staging the quadrillenial event. The RWC anticipates 500 million people will come as tourists. Serendipitously, when England Rugby 2015 needed RWC volunteers, the RFU offered an ample supply of experienced names.
A new CEO was appointed in February 2012, Ian Ritchie, who arrived with prestigious credentials, having been past head of the All England Lawn Tennis (Wimbledon) and Croquet Club. One of his initial and more difficult tasks was negotiating with the Aviva Premiership League for the release of contracted players to compete in the RWC. The timing allows for all players to compete in the month-long pool stage when no Premiership games will be played. The fee for the agreement totaled £14 million or $22.4 million.
Ritchie said, “Next year’s World Cup will allow the RFU to be the ultimate shop window of rugby for the world. We intend to make wonderful memories for the millions who visit England and Wales, and also for the estimated four billion viewers that will follow on global television. Our intent is to increase interest in rugby throughout England with touch rugby for youth, and expansion of our women’s initiatives. Everyone is very excited to show case the RFU.”