rebeccariots

Will Thomas- Ex WRU

A few weeks ago, Will Thomas was announced as the Chief Executive of Neath RFC. This was a surprise for a number of reasons.

Firstly, Neath RFC isn’t an especially large business. Whether it needs a full time chief executive officer is open to some question. A general manager, perhaps, but Chief Executive is a grand title.

Secondly, Will Thomas was a former Wales 7’s player, who has some professional business qualifications. His previous role was within the WRU as ostensibly running the Principality Premiership. The competition that Neath play in. It is strange that he leaves a stable job, in a seemingly stable business (as we are constantly told) to take a job at Neath RFC. With the best will in the world (no pun intended), Neath RFC has not been the stablest of environments recently. The chairman’s business went into administration a few years ago, the local council has attempted to get a winding up order, and the chairman has recently been arrested for fraud. (I should emphasise that these are facts. They are also facts that the chairman has started another business, many winding up orders get settled, and arrest does not equate to guilt).

So, why would a professionally qualified ‘rugby’ man, leave the Welsh Rugby Union, for another job, which although has a grander title, is unlikely to pay a salary significantly more than the Union were paying him? Oh and at that other job, stability is far from guaranteed.

Now it is possible that he wanted a challenge, and was given certain guarantees by the Neath chairman, that satisfied him with regard to some of the issues outlined above.

Is it not though possible that the WRU is such a miserable place to work, that Mr Thomas was desperate to leave? And that staff morale is rock bottom, and they are fed up working there?

rogercar

Three Little Words

I drove from London to Port Talbot last weekend to get as close as possible to the EGM. What motivated me to do this? I wasn’t invited. What could get me so riled that I wanted to make my presence felt?

I can tell you that it was none of the following:

A CEO who earns three times the salary of the British Prime Minister but can’t pull off a deal with the Regions despite spending two years trying.

A CEO who says he doesn’t “do financials” and stated this at the EGM.

A Union which runs short of cash despite reducing its net bank debt by £13.3 million between 2010 and 2012.

A Union that manipulates the Welsh Media in order to prevent anything nasty getting into the public domain, while at the same accusing the BBC of giving the detractors the ‘oxygen of publicity’.

A CEO who writes any opponents off as “mischief-makers”, while at the same stating that he is maintaining a ‘dignified silence’.

A completely botched League Restructure, carried out on a whim and resulting in Division 2 sides ending up in Division 6.

No, it was none of these things. What made me drive 200 miles? It was one thing, and one thing only, said by Roger Lewis in a BBC interview in 2013. When discussing the Regions and the impact of not signing the Participation Agreement, Roger Lewis said “[the regions will] cease to exist”.

Those three little words incensed me. They incensed me because I am passionate about Welsh rugby. Anyone capable of casting clubs off in such a callous fashion does not have the best interests of Welsh rugby at heart. The fact is that our CEO does not care about Welsh rugby.

When I do some digging outside the EGM, I realise that the League Restructure had very little to do with cost-saving for clubs. It was cost-saving for the Union. If teams get mismatched under the Restructure, clubs will close or collapse financially. Will the CEO care? Probably not. If he’s OK with a Region going to the wall, why would he worry about a Div6 club going under? With a handful of clubs disappearing, the Union can spread the butter a bit thicker on the remaining clubs. The CEO’s own club – Cefn Cribwr, where he himself is President – has certainly had both the butter and the jam with its new clubhouse. I wonder which Division this club has ended up in.

So is this is just my opinion? Maybe, but David Moffett, a Regional CEO, and two other clubs have agreed with me. The Union wants to reduce the number of clubs.

Am I a mischief-maker, a keyboard warrior and one of the Twitter Twenty? Maybe, but I also coach U13, and am Honorary Secretary of a Rugby Club.

The EGM didn’t change anything. But Gerald Davies has spoken up, John Taylor has spoken up, and, finally, the world’s greatest rugby player has spoken up, proclaiming “all is not rosy in the garden”.

There is only one way really to get rid of a CEO who doesn’t really care about Welsh rugby, and that is for the Chairman to sack him. So either Dai Pickering does it, or we get a new Chairman at the AGM and the meeting does it. Either way, Roger is going, the only question is, who pushes him?

I don’t know if TGRD will stand for Chairman or even interim Chairman, but I do know that someone will be standing at the AGM, will get the oxygen of publicity, and will have the interests of Welsh rugby in their heart.

Three little words.

 

grass-roots-background

Gwladrugby: an apology

Today I’ve taken the decision to end my association with Gwladrugby.com. I’ve been involved with the site for over 15 years, and have been immensely proud of the output all of the writers have produced.  The message board, which will continue to thrive, is a well-known and respected source of opinion. It is often lively, but this is Wales. We’re a lively lot.

It’s got a bit too lively for me, which is why I’ve decided to quit. Things have become very unpleasant for me personally. Many of you may say that I’ve deserved it. I’m not going to argue with that, mostly because I don’t have the energy or the inclination.

If I have offended people along the way, then I am sorry. I have never set out to bully, threaten or otherwise hurt anyone. I have strong opinions, but so do many others. The ethos of this site has always been to seek out and expose the truth, however uncomfortable it may be for some people.

Unfortunately, people don’t like being made to feel uncomfortable, and this is the risk you take when you tell uncomfortable truths.

It’s time for someone else to put their head above the parapet now. I’ve had a guts full of this and it is time for me to go.

I’d like to thank everyone who’s contributed to the writing on this site over the years. I’ll always be proud of what we’ve achieved and I know that many people have a lot of respect for Gwladrugby.com.

What is it that they say about pride again? Oh yes, I remember.

Immagine-tratta-dal-film-Oliver-Twist-2005-di-Roman-Polanski

WRU accused of neglecting clubs to tune of £16 million

In February of this year, I published an expose of the WRU’s recent financial performance in a document entitled “Lifting the lid: WRU Finances 2007 -2013”. This document was sent to all member clubs in Wales.

The information I analysed was gleaned from the WRU’s own Annual Reports which are publicly available from their website.

The WRU finally responded to my claims with a letter to all clubs stating that the document was “inaccurate” and a “scurrilous” attempt to mislead the clubs. They wrote on 20th February 2014 that a response to my document would be made available through district representatives. As of 7th June 2014, no such response has been forthcoming, despite numerous requests.

Why? Because they don’t want anyone to look further into my claims. Unfortunately for them, my team has continued to investigate. In particular, they have focused on my claim that the WRU has kept the game poor by paying down debt early.

Here is the latest statement from the WRU on that very issue in their response to the request by 43 member clubs for an EGM.

This is not the full article but is so comprehensively misleading in terms of my claim that it deserves to be highlighted. At no stage did I mention the current loan arrangements other than to say their terms have kept the game poor. This short analysis makes a nonsense of The WRUs statement:

In 2006 base rates were on average 4.75% so the WRU were paying 1.75% over base rate with their 6.5% interest rate.

After “two successful negotiations” they reduced their interest rate to 4.1% which for nearly the last four years has been 3.6% over base rates.

In effect, the WRU has more than doubled its borrowing costs (and Barclays’ profit) relative to base rates in that period (up 106% from 1.75% to 3.6% over base rates). The actual interest rate they pay has fallen 37% yet base rates have fallen by 89%.

The CEO likes to remind us how he has managed the Net debt down to £19M yet the WRU’s own quoted net debt, according to latest accounts,  is actually £67m. The Bank debt is £29m. The WRU have taken £10m of debt that isn’t repayable from this Bank debt and called it Net debt. This is deliberately misleading and typical of the headline-chasing CEO.

So approximately how much money has been denied to clubs at all levels of Welsh Rugby since a decision was taken to divert funds to accelerate debt repayments by the Executive and Board? The amount will shock you.

£16.6 million

If the WRU had followed the financing plan that existed when I left, they would have had approximately £16.6m more cash at their disposal.

Due to the need to have a solvent balance sheet, not all of this could have been distributed to the clubs, but in my previous statement regarding finances mentioned above, I felt that reserves of £5m would be sufficient, in fact there would have been GBP5.6m available for the Balance Sheet in cash after distributing 11million to the clubs. This contrasts with no cash reserves currently as the WRU has used all cash to pay off debt.

What could the WRU have practically done to help clubs with this huge sum of money, which roughly equates to an additional £34,375 per club?

For a start, the core grants to clubs could have been significantly increased, or the WRU could have issued more 100% grants. How many clubs have not bothered to apply for money knowing that they cannot secure the required match funding, particularly during the recent challenging economic climate?

If the WRU tempered their focus on capital expenditure projects, they might have allowed clubs to apply for financial assistance to pay for clubhouse repairs (wear & tear) or painting & decorating. That would have been a huge practical help to the many Honorary Treasurers who struggle to balance the books season after season.

The WRU could have used that money to centrally source playing kit for every team in every club in the Union, using that buying power to secure the best deal available. What other buying power schemes could the WRU have created that would have been of significant value to clubs? All it would have taken is imagination, because the funds were there.

The WRU could have provided money to pay directly for training equipment such as ruck pads and scrum machines, or at the very least better quality rugby balls than they currently supply.

That money could have paid for 30 brand new 4G pitches throughout Wales for use by everyone, from seniors through to minis and juniors, or the WRU could have addressed the extreme shortage of floodlights.

Or they could have subsidised the exorbitant cost of hiring council pitches, and for those clubs lucky enough to own their pitches, assisted with maintenance costs and equipment replacement, or even the cost of marking pitches which is not insignificant.

Of course, the WRU could also have been even more focused on practical day-to-day issues, and offered to assist with the crippling utilities bills (gas, water & electricity) that clubs are incurring. Or even have helped with a contribution towards the costs of the expensive SKY TV licensing that many use to attract people into the club.

Some of the cash might have kept top professional players in Wales, kept us in the European Cup, or centrally contracted all of the National Squad. There are many ways to skin this cat(astrophe)

This will be news and BAD NEWS at that, for all the clubs of Wales. Why?

  1. Because the clubs were never consulted over the decision to repay the debt early.
  2. Because it is clear that if this information got out there would be wholesale revolt.
  3. Because The Board either knew of this figure or more likely they did not and were not interested enough in the welfare of the clubs to demand the information.
  4. Because if the Executive knew of this figure and withheld it from the Board that would trigger a call for their dismissal.

So, either the Executive and Board were aware of this figure or they were not. Either way they are culpable of keeping the game poor throughout a really difficult period for all clubs in Wales.

On this basis alone the Chairman, Board, CEO and FD should immediately resign even before the EGM. Their actions are unforgivable and they need to pay the ultimate price.

I am sure though that they will claim my numbers are wrong. They will attempt to brush it all under the carpet. The clubs should demand to see their numbers.

There is another issue which needs to be highlighted. In my original document I stated the WRU had reserves of £11 million, as per their 2013 annual report. They said these reserves did not represent cash but have never explained what they are. We are still unsure but believe they may in some way be associated with the Stadium and Debentures.

The WRU have steadfastly said they have no cash reserves or extra money to give clubs. In fact they called my claims regarding these reserves “ludicrous and inaccurate”. If I now take their word for it, then why are there no cash reserves? Where has all the cash gone? Well you don’t have to be a genius to work out that it has all gone to pay off the debt early.

The WRU’s apparent lack of cash has led to the unseemly and highly unprofessional attempt to raise money from Sponsors (or “Business Partners”) to centrally contract players. I have never come across this sort of activity anywhere else in all my years in sports administration. If I was a sponsor and found out the WRU needed these funds because they needlessly paid down debt early, I would suggest some rather unpleasant things.

It is a matter of huge concern that a company turning over £60 million of member’s funds, does not have any cash reserves.

But that is not the only financial problem the WRU faces. I can reveal that there is an ongoing investigation into the WRU’s accounts by the Financial Reporting Council. It is alleged that the 2013 accounts are materially incorrect, principally due to an overstatement of expense/liabilities in relation to the regional rugby teams in the amount of £1M. If this is correct they have understated their profit by GBP 1million

It’s not all doom and gloom though. There is good news for one set of people in all of this, and that is the WRUs own staff.

Since 2007, their numbers have swelled by 28%, wage costs have gone up by 50% and cost per employee has risen by 20% – an increase equivalent to £7,355 per person.

The salaries of the Chairman and CEO have risen by 67% from £229,000 to £383,000 during this period. The CEO in particular has done extremely well out of this. His pay even managed to increase when he was on sabbatical leave to run the ‘Yes’ campaign in 2011. It has risen from an annual equivalent of £220,000 in 2007 to an eye-watering £337,000 in 2013.

The actual salary increase awarded to the Group CEO for FY 2013 is in the region of a whopping £30,000. The WRU’s accounts spin this so that it does not appear so – at first reading it looks like an increase of £16,000; however FY 2012 emoluments included what appears to be a one off payment of £14,000 of Company contributions to a defined contribution pension scheme for the CEO. It will be interesting to know whether the £14,000 is accounted for on an ongoing basis, if not the increase is still a substantial £16,000 a year.

Finally, in a letter dated 9th April 2014, the WRU Chairman and CEO revealed a “multi million pound boost to the annual investment to the game in Wales”. The community game will benefit from a 13% increase to £2.6M from July 2014. This represents GBP 300,000 or the equivalent of sending the board, their wives, staff and others to 3 away games in the 6 Nations.

The community clubs will be delighted to learn that they will still collectively be receiving less than the WRU spent on the recent refurbishment of Millennium Stadium’s Hospitality Boxes (£3m).

In inimitable fashion the WRU will try and obfuscate and spin their way out of these issues. The clubs must bring them to account.

 

David Moffett, the Chief Executive of the Welsh Rugby Union

The Reasons Why

I left my position as CEO of The WRU in 2005, a year after extending my contract through to 2008. That probably seems quite bizarre, but I had no choice. I needed time out with my family & friends to recover from a severe clinical depression. The best place to do that was in our home in New Zealand.

Mental illness is a horrible thing. It can and does happen to anyone, and it can turn you into a very unpleasant person. It also has a devastating effect on those around you. When you break your leg, everyone can see what is wrong, and sympathises. When you are mentally ill, let’s just say some people’s attitudes are different. For a while, I didn’t even realise myself that I was ill.

When I was diagnosed, I decided that I needed to get out of the goldfish bowl of Welsh Rugby politics to recover. Do you blame me? I am not looking for sympathy just your understanding.

I told David Pickering that I was leaving and why, and he was very disappointed, but also understood. We agreed a settlement that he requested be kept confidential. I have done that. Let’s just say that it was fair and equitable and in keeping with my contract, given the time and effort I had put in over the previous years, plus the impact that undoubtedly had on my health. It would also help me to recover knowing that my family had something to live on whilst I took the time off.

I was and still remain grateful for that simple act of compassion & generosity in my own hour of need.

A couple of years ago, RRW contacted me out of the blue and asked if I would help out with negotiations with the WRU over a new Participation Agreement. It was always my intention to start RRW and then hand over to someone else – which I did after completing the bulk of negotiations with the WRU.

It was a strange and frustrating time, but something happened to me whilst I was back in Wales. I started to care again. I lost that back in the dark days of 2005, and perhaps wrongly blamed Welsh Rugby for my illness. But being back in Wales and amongst the rugby fraternity re-ignited something. It was just a small flame then, but it was to grow…

Throughout 2012 and 2013, I watched from afar as the WRU and the Regions squabble became an argument and eventually an all-out war. I was deeply saddened that Welsh Rugby was tearing itself apart yet again. I gave 3 years of my life to Welsh Rugby, and it cost me a lot more, and now, yet again, the Welsh were fighting amongst themselves, right after they’d almost got to the final of the Rugby World Cup in my own backyard.

I suppose it made me realise a few home truths about my time as WRU CEO.

Regional rugby, which I introduced, has been very good for Team Wales, but not so good for the rest of Welsh Rugby. I made mistakes 10 years ago. I should have held out and got the regions I really wanted, not the ones I had to settle for. The trouble was, I didn’t have any money to fight the threat of legal action. I couldn’t even afford to employ people to paint the  concourse  at Millennium Stadium – Paul Sergeant, Rupert Moon, and the staff did it instead. That’s how broke the WRU was.

Since being back I have reminisced with many of my old friends as to how dark and tough those days were. The people who took over in 2007 just do not know or appreciate just how lucky they are.

Another mistake I made was to underestimate the fierce tribalism within Welsh rugby, and the need for every club to be able to aspire to greater things. I thought that clubs from the Premiership down to League 6 would be happy to fight it out for promotion and relegation within that structure, but now I know that clubs want to be able to go even further.

Nowhere is that view held more passionately than at Pontypridd. Here is a proud club with fanatical supporters, and with whom of course I have a bit of history. The problem now at Pontypridd is that they are winning the Premiership regularly, but there is nowhere left for them to go, except perhaps to take one further step and win the British & Irish Cup. I wish them and all other clubs the very best in that quest, but once they achieve it (and I have no doubt they will), then what? There is a solution in my Manifesto.

Ponty still blame me for the demise of the Celtic Warriors. Well, that’s a bit rich. I didn’t hand in the keys to the WRU – that was Leighton Samuel. It was Leighton who also decided to take the Warriors away from Sardis Road and go full-time to the Brewery Field, not me. It was the Ponty supporters who didn’t get on the free buses to Bridgend to support the team they now claim to have cared so passionately about, 10 years later. And I wasn’t the one leading Ponty when it went bust. The WRU had actually provided Ponty with half a million pounds which they then lost.

When Leighton Samuel eventually wanted out, the WRU couldn’t afford to run a region that was losing millions as it didn’t have any money either. At no point did I promise to keep the Warriors going. What was I supposed to do? Keep them afloat and then potentially go to jail for knowingly entering into contracts that could not be honoured, whilst the WRU then went bust?

People forget that, when I came in, the WRU was just a few of weeks from going under, and the Board didn’t even realise it. They didn’t know that they were trading whilst technically insolvent. They would have lost everything, including the stadium, had I not turned things around.

What really irks me is that it wasn’t just David Moffett who decided to shut down the Celtic Warriors – it was the WRU Board that unanimously made that decision. Ten years later, and some of them still sit there around the Board table, pretending that they manage the current CEO. The only reason that they are still there is because I saved their positions but more importantly their reputations. I was also solely responsible for David Pickering becoming Chairman, a position which he so treasures.

Now, none of them, including David, will even give me the time of day..

Many of you have questioned why I have returned to Wales and taken on the biggest battle of my life. The truth is that I’m coming to the end of my career, and I just want to finish what I started in 2003.

You see, my plan was always to evolve Welsh Rugby as the game itself inevitably changed. That both the WRU and RRW have not done so since 2005 upsets me. All the other Rugby nations have moved on,  and they are not waiting for Wales to catch up, that’s for sure.

I also want to set the record straight. I did what needed to be done at the time. Sure that makes me very unpopular now, but at least respect me for the fact that I made the tough calls which saved your National Game from utter financial ruin.

Respect, I know, is earned, and I will earn it again if you give me the opportunity to do so.

You might argue that I’ve had my chance once before. But now you know why I had to leave, you will also realise why I have such a deep burning desire to put Wales firmly back on the centre stage of world rugby, both on and off the field. Call it pride – I have plenty of that. Call it ego – I have plenty of that too. In fact, call it whatever you like, but I feel I owe Welsh Rugby, and its time to settle the debt.

And what better time to do so…

Given the current state of affairs in Welsh Rugby, and the absence of anyone else putting themselves forward to sort out the mess, I decided to fly back to Wales in January this year. I thought I could help solve the problem between the WRU and the regions, given that I introduced them. I said I could do it in 10 days, but no-one listened.

However, what I then quickly learned was that the problems ran much, much deeper. Grassroots Welsh Rugby was being left to rot. The top-down management approach at the WRU was starving the community game. It wasn’t the regions or the WRU that needed help, but the very foundations of the game – the clubs.

Within weeks, I put together a small team and published an 8000 word Manifesto. It had never been done before. There might be one or two contentious points in it, but the Manifesto has been widely accepted as the blueprint to take Welsh Rugby forward.  I am very proud of that. The WRU has even started implementing parts of it already, although they don’t acknowledge the author of course!

Encouraged by the positive reaction, I made it public that I would indeed stand to be Chairman of The WRU.

Many people said I had no chance whatsoever of getting to an EGM, let alone becoming Chairman. They also asked me why I would want to take on that role, especially given what happened to me personally back in 2005.

The answer: I care deeply and passionately about Welsh Rugby. Can’t you just accept that? Or must there always be a hidden agenda for the Welsh?

Why can’t I love Welsh Rugby? Is it because I was born in Doncaster, or raised in Kenya, or lived in Australia or now call New Zealand my home? What nonsense. I fell in love with Welsh Rugby the same way many of you did. I watched Gareth, Mervyn, Phil , Barry, Gerald, JPR, and the Pontypool Front Row, marvelled at the way they played the game and saw that Wales truly was New Zealand’s greatest rugby rival on the planet.

I watched the toughness of the Welsh forwards and the dazzling brilliance of their backs and knew that was how the game should be played. I followed them through the golden period of the 70’s and then watched in despair at the unravelling of their reputation through the 80’s, 90’s and culminating in a dismal start to the new millennium. I watched Wales in the 1999 Rugby World Cup and marvelled at the new stadium, the best in the world. I just felt that you  needed a team to do the stadium justice.

Just ask yourselves: Why else would I fly 12,000 miles and walk into this rugby storm of the century? Why else would I spend tens of thousands of pounds of my own money? Why else would I work flat out like a lizard drinking for 4 months and then take on the incredible pressure of an EGM. Why else would I leave my family back home in Christchurch to come to Wales, and walk into The Shed at Sardis Road in the middle of winter? Why else would I risk everything about me, including my hard-earned reputation?

It’s certainly not for the money. The Chairman gets £40,000 a year, give or take. I won’t get rich on that.

No! My want and my need is to finish the job. I promised to fix Welsh Rugby in 2003, and I will, if you let me. I’m back because I want to save grassroots rugby in Wales; to get RRW and the WRU back working together in a relationship based on respect & trust that allows the professional game to flourish; to steer through much-needed changes to governance and to refresh the Board; to give the Union back to the clubs by devolving power so that there are local solutions to local problems.

And as one of my daughters regularly confirms on twitter, I’m a stubborn old bastard too!

However, I am not a politician. You know where to look if you want to find one of them in Welsh Rugby. I am a change & conflict manager. Its what I do; its in my blood. And I’m good at it – very good. In 3 years, I turned a £3 million loss into a £6 million profit for you, and even now, the current Board and Executive can’t do any better, despite higher turnover. I also reduced the debt on the stadium from £72 million to £45 million.

Who else has put up their hand to turn around Welsh Rugby ? Let’s be honest, who would want to do it right now? I don’t see a queue forming down Westgate Street to get the job.

Who has the skills, knowledge, contacts & experience to run the WRU, a £60 million pound sports business, with a brand new Board from Day 1?

Why not let me prove myself again by running the interim Board as your tenth man? If I don’t perform, you can replace me at the AGM in October. It’s as simple as that.

There is no hidden agenda, no pot of gold within the WRU vaults for me to spirit away to fund an extravagant  retirement. I’m not in RRWs pocket; I’m my own man. RRW won’t ever get a free ride from me, and I assure you that they are not paying me to bring down the Board and hand the power and your money over to the regions. I won’t be bullied again; I will have a much stronger hand to play in 2014 than the one I was dealt in 2003!

Make no mistake: I’m not out for personal revenge or to be a wrecker. I’m not tearing down everything that the WRU stands for. I’m not destroying Welsh Rugby. I want it to grow and flourish again.

What have you got to lose by giving me the chance to fix the problems in Welsh rugby? Someone has to do it and I am ready, available and humble enough to concede that the clubs are the only ones who can take such a tough decision.

The choice is quite stark. Vote for a Union that listens to its clubs, or continue with this unpopular, dictatorial and ignorant WRU that you have today.

Appointing a new Board has to be the next step. It’s simply got to be done, and I know many of the clubs and the Welsh public agree. The Executive is running the show, and that is bad for governance & bad for grassroots rugby. You can all see the results.

A vote of no confidence in the current Board and its Chairman frees the clubs to make the changes needed to restore the reputation of Welsh Rugby in the eyes of the Rugby World.

A vote of no confidence doesn’t adopt my Manifesto. That’s not my aim right now. Appoint a new Board, and then we’ll have that debate about the future. Let’s all come together to decide what will work and what won’t, vote on it at an AGM, and then I’ll ask you to support me as your Chairman to steer the Board and the Executive to deliver.

Without an official position, I have already forced change on the WRU and shown the clubs that they can still have a voice. Let me continue.

And when the job is finally done, probably within 3 years, I will look you straight in the eye, shake your hand firmly, and board the final flight back to New Zealand as a happy & contented man. I certainly won’t stand for re-election in three years time.

You’ve listened to my message and acted by calling the EGM. Now I ask you to trust what I have said today, trust my motives, trust my passion, trust my ability, and trust me to deliver.

And if you can’t, then I will stand down and go back home to my wife and family in New Zealand without further fuss.

But then you will have to find someone else who can deliver change, someone who won’t be bullied, and someone who will stand for what’s right for the clubs. That is certainly not the current Board.

It’s up to you, the clubs, now…

orwell

The Ministry of Truth

“Censorship is saying: ‘I’m the one who says the last sentence. Whatever you say, the conclusion is mine.’ But the internet is like a tree that is growing. The people will always have the last word – even if someone has a very weak, quiet voice. Such power will collapse because of a whisper.”

Ai Weiwei

There is something very odd going on in the reporting of Welsh rugby.

Back in January, BBC Wales ran a Scrum V special on the current crisis. A number of Gwladers were there . Those present felt that the edited, broadcast version of the programme – which went out some 6 hours after it was recorded – gave a misleading impression of the tone of the debate.

The feeling was that much of the voluble audience reaction – largely negative reaction to comments made by Roger Lewis, Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) Chief Executive Officer – had failed to make it to the edited version of the programme. It was also alleged that passages of the programme which, in the view of some of those present, had reflected badly on Roger Lewis had been cut completely. In fact, they felt so strongly about this that they – along with others who were present – wrote a letter of complaint to the BBC Trust and the BBC Complaints Department

The complaint was dismissed.

A specific question raised in the complaint was whether WRU staff or other representatives were involved in the editing of the programme. They were told that they were not. Today, WalesEye carries a piece on comments allegedly made by a member of the BBC Wales sport department staff about interference in the programme-making process.

Those comments concerned the perceived influence of senior BBC Wales figures in removing a respected Welsh rugby journalist – the Guardian’s Paul Rees – from a Radio Wales programme. It is fair to say that Rees has generally been supportive of Regional Rugby Wales’ case in recent months, and it is also fair to say that the programme’s host – Peter Jackson of the Rugby Paper – has similarly tended to support the professional teams.

Nevertheless, WalesEye allege that Paul Rees was “effectively gagged” and removed from the programme’s panel because “…senior management decided his views on the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) were ‘inappropriate.”

Rees was asked, by a researcher for the programme, to outline some of the key points he would make. He was, of course, a member of the panel at the ScrumV debate in January and stated that he would maintain his critical tone. It is alleged that the matter of his participation on the programme was “referred up” to senior figures, after which it was decided to “stand him down” from contributing to the programme.

WalesEye’s source, a BBC Wales programme-maker, is quoted saying that,

“It’s disheartening when you are trying to make a programme that reflects all sides in a debate, to be told that certain things just cannot be said.”

Of course, it is very difficult to prove these things, and I have no personal information about the veracity or otherwise of the WalesEye story and the alleged comments of the BBC programme-maker contained within. The story does, however, highlight a general perception among many of us who are sceptical of the WRUs conduct in recent years that the governing body would like to control the news agenda. 

There is a clear impression that the Western Mail, for instance, has no interest in upsetting the WRU – news of the clubs’ decision last month to call an Extraordinary General Meeting was buried some ten pages into the sports pages. 

Paddy French – former producer of ITV Wales current affairs programme “Wales This Week,” alleged in an April 2012 article  that his programme on the business dealings of David Pickering – a man now into his second decade as WRU Chairman – was prevented from airing by senior ITV Wales executives.

The programme had been due to air on Monday 15 May 2006. The previous day, an Extraordinary General Meeting of the Welsh Rugby Union had decided to recreate the role of WRU Chief Executive Officer, a post which had been wound up with the departure of David Moffett in 2005.

Four months later, ITV Wales’ Managing Director Roger Lewis moved into that new post.

In December of that year, his Head of News at ITV Wales, John Williams, found his way to a new role as Head of Communications at the WRU.

Elis Owen, the ITV Wales Director of Programmes who had made the final decision to pull that edition of the Wales This Week programme, moved into Roger Lewis’ old job as ITV Wales MD.

In 2009, he was appointed BBC Cymru Wales’ Head of Commissioning. 

But of course the world is changing.  Mainstream media is increasingly having to compete with social media (which has led to the thoroughly entertaining spectacle of Western Mail Chief Rugby Hobbit Andy Howell having regular Twitter meltdowns when his ill-researched pronouncements are routinely ripped to pieces). 

Having ignored social media for much of this affair, the WRU seem to have surprisingly changed track. The sudden appearance of an apparently legitimate WRU account on Twitter – @WRUMediaOffice – which seems to owe its existence entirely to propping up the precarious position of the Union’s senior executive – has prompted much amusement.

The account profile notes that it is “Welsh Rugby Union media office. Tweets are for info only”.

“Info” seems to include accusing David Moffett of being “rude” and arguing the toss about the success of the WRU in recent years. Quite why another “official” WRU twitter handle is required to provide info when @WelshRugbyUnion already exists to…um… provide info isn’t explained.

Neither is it explained why the policy of totally ignoring David Moffett and disgruntled clubs – to the extent of sending a security guard to accept the clubs’ letters requesting the forthcoming EGM – has suddenly morphed into arguing with the Twittersphere.

Sorry, did I say “totally ignoring”? I meant “maintaining a dignified silence, with dignity, in private and behind closed doors as we look forward while reflecting on the past”.

Gwladrugby.com recently carried a very detailed article on the travails of rugby in Wales. It was based upon interviews with many people on all sides of the argument, including the editor of this site. 

Today, the WRU have forced us to remove the article.

We don’t want anyone to be pressurised in this way.  We have therefore, reluctantly, today removed the article.

Furthermore, there are rumours galore that clubs who support the calling of the EGM are nervous of speaking publicly, while those in opposition are more than ready to do so. Why would that be? Why would two clubs, with differing opinions, have such different approaches to stating their case publicly?

Perhaps they’re aware of what’s happened to IWRTV, an online TV channel developed through collaboration between former Wales international Paul Turner and Dischro Creative.

They’ve produced a number of very interesting and thoroughly well-researched online programmes in recent months. They also took to showing a few highlights – filmed by their own cameras – of matches in the lower reaches of the Welsh rugby pyramid.

The WRU approached IWRTV, indicated that BBC Wales held the rights to all matches (despite never having shown any interest in broadcasting footage of these games) and demanded of IWRTV not only a business plan outlining their editorial stance, but an additional £200,000 for the rights to matches they had already sold to BBC Wales.

It’s difficult to understand what harm IWRTV were doing. They were showing footage which would otherwise be unavailable, and doing so online. Yet the WRU sought to stifle yet another media outlet.

There may, of course, be nothing in all of this. It’s possible that people are hearing rumours and half-stories, adding them all together and leaping to an entirely erroneous conclusion. I’d like to believe that. 

I’ll finish with a plea. The forthcoming EGM offers an opportunity for all who care about Welsh rugby to meet and to discuss the issues affecting them – from the professional teams right down to the smallest village club. The WRU seem to be keen to persuade clubs to stay at home, to fail to engage with the debate, and to simply hand their votes to WRU President – and chair of the EGM – Dennis Gethin

This matter is too important – to all of us who support the game here – to be treated in this way. Inform yourselves. Build a clear understanding of the issues. Question your club committeemen. Question your district representatives. Question David Moffett. Question what you read and hear. Make your own minds up. And please, turn up at next week’s EGM to engage with the issues.

Ignoring the debate – or, worse still, allowing it to be supressed – will be the ruin of us.

The unofficial world of Welsh rugby and stuff