Union ousts Knight after less than a year in job

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 September, 2010, 12:00am

The Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU) sacked executive director Robert Knight yesterday, but stressed his dismissal was not connected to poor ticket sales for next month's Bledisloe Cup.

One view is that Knight may have rubbed the government up the wrong way over hiring charges for Hong Kong Stadium.

The sacking was announced by union chairman Trevor Gregory, who said in an e-mail to senior members that Knight's tenure had finished 'with immediate effect'.

Gregory said Knight's sacking had nothing to do with the fact that fewer than 15,000 tickets had been sold for the Bledisloe Cup match, which is just five weeks away. There has been plenty of bad publicity surrounding the All Blacks-Wallabies encounter, stemming from a tepid public response, especially overseas.

'I can categorically say this has nothing to do with the Bledisloe Cup,' Gregory said. 'Rob's blameless on all this. We have agreed to a parting of ways, and the reasons are not open for discussion.'

Knight, a former insurance industry executive, was unavailable for comment yesterday. But a union insider said Knight's dismissal might have stemmed from the fact the board of directors was unhappy he had rubbed the government up the wrong way after he criticised it for 'taking its pound of flesh' on hiring charges for Hong Kong Stadium.

In May, Knight called for the government to reduce the charges of the 40,000-seater stadium for the Bledisloe Cup on October 30.

'It is disgraceful that we have to pay the full fee for hiring Hong Kong Stadium,' he said. 'It comes to more than US$1 million.

'This is a punitive tax against the development of the game.'

It is believed his outspoken views got him in hot water with certain sections of the board, contributing to yesterday's summary dismissal.

Gregory did not reveal reasons for firing Knight in the e-mail sent yesterday to president Brian Stevenson - who is chairman of the Jockey Club - and 22 others, including vice-presidents and honorary members.

The e-mail said: 'It is with regret I have to inform you that Robert Knight's tenure as executive director of HKRFU has finished with immediate effect.

'In the interim period, we will not appoint anyone to the role, such that the HKRFU senior management team will report directly to myself and the board.

'The HKRFU remains in excellent financial and operational condition. We continue to have a very capable and strong management team who are fully supported by the board. As a result I am confident the high standards of service to which you have been accustomed will continue.'

Knight, 55, was chairman of British insurer Aviva before starting a three-year contract with the union on January 1. His dismissal, coming less than 10 months after taking over from Allan Payne, leaves him with the unenviable record of being the shortest-serving executive director.

A statement on the union's website yesterday said: 'The board of directors would like to place on record their thanks for his services and wish him all the best in his future endeavours.'