Milton Keynes chairman quits over rugby race row

Stuart Tomkinson playing for Milton Keynes RFUC. Below, John Theobald.
Stuart Tomkinson playing for Milton Keynes RFUC. Below, John Theobald.
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The chairman of a city rugby club has quit over a racism row that has seen one of his players banned from playing for 12 weeks.

John Theobald has been associated with Milton Keynes RUFC for almost 30 years, but is stepping down from his position in protest over what he sees at the unfair treatment of experienced forward Stuart Tomkinson by the Rugby Football Union.

Mr Tomkinson, 39, was found guilty by an independent RFU panel of racially abusing Slough player Gavin Connor during a Southern Counties North league match in Berkshire in September.

Mr Tomkinson, who has now quit playing, insisted that he had called Connor a “fat c***” and not a “black c***” as he was accused.

He was initially cleared of racism at a Buckinghamshire Rugby Football Union hearing in October, but Slough won an appeal against that decision because two more of their players came forward to say they heard the incident.

Mr Theobald wrote to RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie, accusing the governing body of “taking sides” in the case.

He questions a disciplinary process that allowed the RFU to appoint the independent panel and a top barrister to represent Slough.

In a letter sent to Mr Ritchie at the weekend, Mr Theobald wrote: “I suspect you will have little or no interest in my decision to resign as chairman of Milton Keynes RUFC following the RFU’s decision to ban a player from the club for 12 weeks.

“When the RFU appointed barristers and solicitors to Slough RUFC, costing what will be thousands of pounds, and left MKRUFC to fend for themselves, it was never going to be a level playing field.

“The justification for appointing barristers for one side was that it was a complex case and Slough needed support in their complaint. It was no less complex for MKRUFC.”

Mr Theobald’s decision to quit as Milton Keynes chairman comes a week after club president John Silk passed away, and he admited that it’s been a very difficult few months for the club – still chasing promotion out of the Southern Counties North this season.

Mr Theobald said he felt the need to step down as a point of principle, and insisted his decision was made in protest of the disciplinary process, rather than the outcome and suspension for Mr Tomkinson, who has described the saga as “one big stitch up.”