By David Williams
The Welsh Rugby Union have pledged to let someone else mark their homework as a result of disastrous failings in the governing body.
Of the 36 recommendations made in a damning independent report – all of which the WRU says they will implement – the most significant is the agreement to hand over ultimate judgement on how it operates to an independent body.
In effect, the Union is putting itself into special measures as a result of its catastrophic recent failings.
Top of the list of changes ordered for the WRU from Dame Rafferty and her panel, is the appointment of an oversight body, to which the WRU will now report quarterly for the next three years.
It was Dame Rafferty’s panel that published their report on Tuesday that looked into the culture, governance and treatment of women and women’s rugby by the governing body.,
The Union has pledged to implement all the recommendations.
Utterly grim reading, not shocking, because we already knew it to be true
It’s a comprehensive review that offers an opportunity and step change for the women’s game, though it’s hard to put trust in the union, I’m sure we’ll see success build from this https://t.co/Qy9Ks0NukG
— Gem (@GemHallett) November 14, 2023
New chair Richard Collier-Keywood admitted that “for anyone who cares about rugby in Wales it is a very difficult read”
as he reaffirmed his Board’s pledge to adopt all changes suggested in the review conducted by the former Court of Appeal Judge.
The review was commissioned following the resignation of Amanda Blanc as chair of the Professional Rugby Board and a subsequent investigative programme made by BBC Wales on claims of sexism, misogyny, homophobia and bullying at the WRU.
The report makes the following observations about the running of the WRU in the period under review:
- “The governance of the WRU long failed to put in place secure systems managed by those with appropriate skills to run a £100m business. The WRU’s governance undermined its efforts to fulfil and balance the roles and responsibilities of both a national sporting body and a large business.”
- “Everyone we met told us the WRU’s governance arrangements were not fit for purpose prior to the reforms at the EGM on 26 March, 2023.”
- “At times it seems the executive did not operate to allow effective direction by the Board. Most Board members accept that a “them and us” atmosphere arose”.
- “There were serious failings of governance and transparency throughout the period covered by this review. The result was an organization unsure on its feet, allowing problems to develop and with a tendency to manage the problem rather than the underlying issue.”
- “The work environment had elements of bullying and discrimination and was experienced as toxic by some employees. They found working at the WRU stressful, with a sense of powerlessness and even fear.”
Forget Braverman’s "resignation" letter
— Gem (@GemHallett) November 14, 2023
Dame Rafferty also advised further reform of the Board that Collier-Keywood now chairs, reducing the number to 10 and further cutting the number of representatives from the rank and file on the Council from four to two.
Another key element to these reforms is implementing a ‘fit and proper person’ test for anyone voted onto the WRU Council and Board.
She also advises that “there should always be a current strategic plan, covering all aspects of the game.”
Greater transparency is another major bullet point, along with aligning the WRU clearly and publicly with inclusion and diversity.
Reform of the financial support to clubs is recommended, along with greater investment in the women’s and girls’ game.
There should be annual training in equality, diversity and inclusion for all staff, and there is also a need to continue to improve employment practices.
Finally, Dame Rafferty calls for work with disability sports bodies, according to a published strategy, to be continued.
“Change is needed and action must be at pace. The WRU is an iconic institution in Wales and has the strength to survive the current crisis and, over time, learn and prosper from it. Our proposals to change the culture and governance of the WRU are meant to support future success, for all the teams,” said the review.
It's pretty extraordinary that, for over a year after her resignation, nobody at the WRU had any idea why Amanda Blanc had gone.
Considering she wrote it all down in a letter to the Board and then gave a leaving speech to the Board, I mean.
— Sei Williams (@CapS45) November 14, 2023
The whole horrors of the claims made against the WRU in a BBC Wales programme in January, which centred around the former head of women’s rugby at the union, Charlotte Wathan, are investigated in the review.
But the most damning part of the report are the two contributions from Amanda Blanc, the former chair of the Professional Rugby Board.
Her resignation speech and letter of resignation are included and made very difficult reading for Collier-Kirkwood and Tierney .
While the existence of the letter was denied in the past, it paints a picture of the misogyny experienced by one of the UK’s highest ranking and most respected business leaders.
The UK Government’s Woman in Finance Champion, said she had heard one Council member say ‘women should know their place in the kitchen and stick to ironing – men are the master race’.
She also claimed that her business and governance credentials were called into question.
Blanc also claimed the recruitment process in 2020 for the then CEO Steve Phillips “was not undertaken in line with good governance”.
Nothing speaks so aptly regarding the mess that's been the leadership of the @WelshRugbyUnion that they were content to let Amanda Blanc walk away but keen to retain Steve Phillips! 😕 https://t.co/4IuJMXHeZS
— Steve Grant (@SteveG1809) November 14, 2023
He left with a severance package of £480,000 during the crisis in the wake of the BBC Wales programme in 2023.
A new CEO, Abi Tierney, will take over in January when she leaves her post as director general at the Passport Office.
“We will take what the review has found to heart and not only fix the issues identified, but also build a culture and values that we can all be proud of. We will do this together,” she said.
“Because of the pain we are going through now, and with gratitude to those who have spoken up and made us listen, we will become better.
“This is a great opportunity for us to transform the way we work and we can feel inspired that everything is out in the open.”