Category Archives: Media

nev1

Peace in our time?

So the telly deal is done. One of the biggest sticking points in the unholy European rugby war has been resolved. Sky and BT will share the rights to the new, improved “European Rugby Champions Cup.”

It’s been an unnecessarily painful birth. The single most important issue has always been money, and who controls it. We always knew the answer, of course: television. And now the disagreement between Sky and BT is resolved, we have a way forward.

So if the answer was so simple and obvious, why has it taken so long to get to this point? It’s been over two years now since the English and French clubs served notice of their intention to abandon the old European Cup.

It’s important to note at this point that England and France are the countries where the money comes from: that’s where the majority of the chimney pots (and satellite dishes) are located. As I said last week, us Welsh are just spectators at this rugby feast, and we’re not the ones picking up the tab.

The French and English clubs are calling the tune, as they always have done throughout this long and drawn-out process. Now, finally, they’ve got what they want. A fairer share of tournament money and representation.

The important point is that it is now rugby clubs, and not unions, who are in control. But were all the unions digging their heels in? No. It was just the Irish (IRFU) and Welsh (WRU) governing bodies who were, as late as January this year, still clinging to the old order. They’ve failed in their attempt to retain control of the professional game in Europe. It’s quite clear that they’ve annoyed the hell out of their negotiating partners in England into the bargain. “It’s time for the egos and blazers to get out of the way, and leave the business to real businessmen,” has been the clear message from the other side of Offa’s Dyke.

Why would the IRFU and WRU be opposed to the new deal? Well, for the Irish it’s quite clear. They’ve brought very little to the table in terms of TV money and have enjoyed more than their fair share of the proceeds of European rugby. The WRU take the money from TV deals, and pass it straight on to the Welsh regions, who then use it to pay the players they’ve developed and supplied to “Team Wales.” Incidentally, the WRU still declare this money (several million pounds a year) as revenue on their balance sheet, even though it’s questionable as to what they’ve contributed to the generation of that revenue.

“So what?” you might ask. Surely the deal is done, and we can go back to watching the battles on the pitch? Not quite. There’s still the significant matter of the lack of any agreement between the WRU and the regions (RRW) over participation in competitions and the supply of players to Team Wales. That’s quite a big obstacle to get over, especially when the regions are on record as having little or no confidence in Roger Lewis, the WRU CEO and his colleagues.

There is also another challenge hoving into view: the spectre of former WRU CEO David Moffett, who has returned to Wales to mount a challenge to the WRU Chairman David Pickering. Moffett’s aim is to reform the WRU and replace the current board and executive with people who might be able to do a better job of doing a deal with the regions. He’s also very keen on semi-pro and community rugby in Wales getting their fair share of the cash which is sitting the WRU’s coffers. Nobody can argue with that noble aim. Good luck to him.

Whatever you might think of Moffett and his record when he was in the job, he has managed to provoke much-needed debate on the way in which the WRU operates, and the behaviour of the people who run it.

It is quite clear to many of those who have been party to the discussions (if you can call them that) between the WRU and RRW, that a solution to this Welsh problem would be reached very quickly if we could get rid of the egos, vested interests and incompetence at the top of the WRU. If Moffett succeeds in securing that change, then we will have a lot to thank him for.

This crisis is not just about the WRU. During the course of the last few months, the mainstream media in Wales have failed to hold the WRU to account. Of course, the Western Mail have no obligation to provide a balanced view of the issues, but their journalists could at least make an effort to practise their trade competently. Instead, the self-styled “National Newspaper of Wales” has resorted to regurgitating WRU press releases and speculating as to which Team Wales player will be next to sign a central contract with the WRU.  This is not journalism by any stretch of the imagination. It is public relations. The Western Mail now relies upon access to Team Wales in order to fill its pages in print and online. It doesn’t matter how superficial the story is, as long as people click on it, the paper will creep along with a tiny trickle of advertising revenue, staving off the inevitable for a little longer.

BBC Wales, on the other hand, has quite clear obligations, which it has totally failed to meet in its treatment of the crisis in Welsh rugby. We know very well that the BBC and WRU are business partners;  parties to the TV deal which sustains them both. If it wasn’t for the access to “Team Wales” that this partnership affords BBC Wales, there would be hardly anything left of the corporation in Wales. Look at ITV Wales if you want to know what a rugby-less BBC Wales might look like. The WRU are fond of the BBC because they are a free and unquestioning PR department who will say (or more often, not say) whatever the WRU tell them to.

In the absence of proper media analysis and journalism in the mainstream, it has fallen to the likes of Gwladrugby.com and others on social media, as well as the London press, to hold the WRU to account. Whenever this unedifying episode does finally end, we will be left wondering whether the problems in Welsh rugby would’ve been sorted out a lot more quickly if our national media had demonstrated a bit of backbone and basic journalistic skills.

pinocchio-nose-new

Reading between the lies

So, another worrying turn in the continuing battle between the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and the four organisations it still seems intent on bringing to heel – the professional teams represented collectively by Regional Rugby Wales (RRW). Weeks of quiet on the thorny issue of central contracts are threatening to spark into life over the WRUs apparent decision to compete with the Ospreys for the signature of tight-head prop Adam Jones. 

The four professional teams have long stated that they have agreed that,

The Regions will only play centrally contracted players on collective agreement between all four Regions – as part of a complete structural solution for the future of the game in Wales.”

Their united opposition to central contracts would remain unless the concept formed “part of a clear and proper strategy and agreed framework to achieve long-term solutions for player retention in Wales; and guard against any quick fix, ad-hoc action.”

So when Wales and Lions captain Sam Warburton signed a central contract with the WRU on 25 January , on the apparent understanding that he would be placed with his home team the Cardiff Blues, it raised the odd eyebrow.

Defending his decision to put the WRU in direct competition with a Welsh region for the signature of the Welsh captain, WRU CEO Roger Lewis suggested RRW’s opposition to central contracts was nothing more than a bit of playing to the gallery.

He stated, pretty explicitly, that the four professional teams had approached him and said,

“They were unable to contract six players. They needed assistance and help with Jonathan Davies, Rhys Priestland, Alun Wyn Jones, Adam Jones, Leigh Halfpenny and Sam Warburton. That’s where it all began and then when the participation agreement wasn’t signed by December 31st we put our minds to it… and thought how on earth can we keep players in Wales?”

Lewis claimed that his hand had been forced by Leigh Halfpenny’s decision to leave Wales altogether and sign for Toulon. Warburton’s agent, Derwyn Jones, was wheeled out to hint that the WRU hadn’t competed with Cardiff at all, but had actually saved Warburton for the nation.

Apparently, the WRU’s offer of a contract led the national captain to

Twice rejecting £700,000-a-year offers from big-spending French clubs. It’s understood he had already turned down one such bid from Stade Francais and last week he rejected another from Toulon after the European champions came back in for him.”

All very laudable, I’m sure. Much of the recent success of the national team has been built on a Partnership Agreement which has kept the bulk of Wales’ international class players at home, and provided national team coach Warren Gatland with access to these players in excess of anything afforded most of his equivalents in the northern hemisphere. Nobody would corroborate Derwyn’s story, obviously, and nobody dug too deeply into it.

Then Scott Williams, Alun Wyn Jones and Rhys Priestland signed for their Regions, rejecting the WRU’s central contracts. Everything pointed to Adam Jones, the last of the six, signing for the Ospreys. Then it all went quiet. A person who is (astonishingly enough) employed by the Western Mail started talking about Jones signing a central contract and playing for the Dragons. Their coach Lyn Jones, a reliable source whenever stories of Ospreys players signing for the Dragons rear their heads, said yesterday that Adam was very close to signing a central contract as negotiations with the Ospreys had “stalled.”

Today (9 April), Adam Jones’ region, the Ospreys, spoke to the Evening Post. The region’s Chief Executive Andrew Hore accused the WRU of

“Continuing to negotiate with Adam Jones and breaking a pledge that they would not compete with them for his signature. We received email confirmation from the Welsh Rugby Union on February 12 that they would not compete with us to sign Adam.”

“We subsequently discovered they were continuing to negotiate with him and have offered him considerably more.”

So that would seem to be pretty clear. The WRU have maybe been less than honest. Perhaps. Well, who knows. I trust them implicitly, of course, but others might not.

Interestingly, and hilariously, Wales’ foremost fearless purveyor of facts (given to him by the WRU) Andy Howell has started pushing a line that I confess to having missed: Wales coach Warren Gatland paved the way for the WRU competing with the Regions last December:

“What happens to players who are not wanted by the Regions and go to France or England but who are good enough for the national team? Do you just discard them? There needs to be a separate group of people who decide on what a fair market value is for players so they aren’t taken advantage of by the Regions potentially offering them, say £100,000 less because they know that player is desperate to play for Wales and doesn’t want to leave the country because he knows he won’t be selected.”

Never one to miss out on an opportunity for a spot of shameless toadying, Howell piles in:

“Say, for example, the Ospreys were only offering Adam £100,000 a year because they knew he was intent on staying in Wales, would it be fair? Not in my opinion because he’s clearly worth much more. I agree with Gatland, an independent panel would need to be formed to decide the market value of players if Gatland’s law was to be enforced, which I believe it should.” 

If the general narrative of today’s shambles is to be believed, it looks as though that independent panel has been formed. I wonder who’s on it? Whatever, we at least know that the six players weren’t wanted by their Regions, despite three of them rejecting central contracts and, er… signing for those Regions.

So it seems that, contrary to an email sent by the WRU to the Ospreys in February, the WRU (or an independent panel, natch) have decided that it’s perfectly acceptable to muscle in and compete with Welsh Regions for players.

The question we should be asking is, “Why?”

Why is it acceptable for the WRU to compete with Welsh Regions for players? What purpose does it serve? I suppose the WRU would argue that keeps players in Wales. Except it doesn’t, really, because it seems likely that both Sam Warburton and Adam Jones would have stayed here anyway.

Does it make better use of the game’s finances? No, because the WRUs actions are driving up the cost of Welsh players, and it’s costing nobody but themselves, the Regions and the Welsh game at large. But it is a handy little wedge which can be used to annoy the Regions and maybe create a few divisions.

It is irresponsible, it is underhand, it is duplicitous. In short, it is entirely consistent with the behaviour of the WRU and Roger Lewis. We are fools for expecting anything better.

 

 

orwell

A Wall of Silence

It’s been two months since BBC Wales broadcast their “Scrum V Special“, a supposed “debate” about the current crisis in Welsh rugby. A group of us who were at the recording wrote a letter of complaint to the BBC expressing our concern about editorial bias in the programme.

The BBC eventually responded:

Thank you for your letter regarding our special Scrum V debate. We are sorry to hear your concerns about alleged editorial bias, the editing process and the interactivity of the debate.

 In your complaint, you raise concerns about the billing of the programme. I’d like to clarify that the programme was never billed  as a “Question Time” style debate. It was planned largely as a panel debate with some contributions from the floor.  The audience was asked if they had any questions they wanted to raise and a number of contributors sent their questions in beforehand. Our presenter saw these questions and he highlighted a few people he could turn to during the debate. As there was a wide range of issues to cover during the course of the 45 minute programme, we could not turn to every individual that wished to ask a question. However, we are satisfied that most of the key issues were raised during the course of the programme.

The audience was selected by the programme team and our aim was to reflect a broad editorial balance of those with a relevant opinion about Welsh rugby. We featured contributions from a regional and grass roots supporters group, a player representative, a legal expert, Paul Thorburn, supporters of Irish and English clubs, Mark Davies and former WRU and Regional Rugby Wales Chief Executive David Moffett. As well as the regional supporter groups, over 180 Welsh clubs were invited to send representatives to be in the audience and those who attended came from Cross Keys, Neath, Canton, Newtown, Penarth and Llanelli. A volunteer referee and people involved in Women’s rugby also attended.

Prior to the recording of the programme, members of the audience were asked to raise their hands, clap and show its reaction politely, but they were not encouraged to boo the contributions of others. The audience was clearly told, both by the floor manager and the presenter, to show respect for speakers and not to shout or barrack.  The reaction and interaction from the audience was important to this debate and we feel it was fairly reflected. The programme was pre-recorded and and it is not unusual that the recording overruns and the programme is edited to time. Some elements of the debate were dropped from the final edit because they weren’t deemed to be as editorially relevant when considered against the programme as a whole. I am satisfied, however, the programme was fairly edited and was impartial, accurate and balanced. 

We weren’t satisfied with the BBC’s response. So we wrote to them again. At the time of writing, we still haven’t received a response. Here’s what we had to say about their response to our complaint:

Thank-you for your response about the BBC Scrum V Special programme broadcast and recorded on 19th January 2014.

We believe your response contains a number of inaccuracies regarding the programme and fails to adequately address a number of the concerns in our original complaint.

For these reasons we are copying the BBC Trust Unit in our reply here.

We must stress that several of us were present at the recording of the programme.

Firstly, you state that the programme was not billed as a “Question Time” style debate. That is not true. I quote from the invitation email from a member of the production team, Cathy Williams:

“The programme is presented by experienced journalist Gareth Lewis (former Scrum V Presenter), speaking to a panel of 4 guests. There will be a chance for the audience to ask questions if they wish, or just listen and enjoy the debate!”

We can confirm that no audience members were allowed to ask questions during the recording of the programme. This is clear from the broadcast version.

Secondly, you state that the key issues were raised during the course of the programme. Whilst it may be true that a number of issues were raised during the RECORDING of the programme, quite a few of the important points raised did not make it to the edited version which was broadcast. For example, at one point, the presenter directly asked Roger Lewis for his view on the comments of Cardiff Blues Chairman Peter Thomas (for clarity, Thomas is on record in the Rugby Paper as saying that the Welsh Regions have “no confidence” in Roger Lewis). Mr Lewis repeatedly avoided answering that question. Most of the exchange on this topic was edited out of the broadcast version of the programme.

You claim the pieces that were cut from the programme were not deemed to be “editorially relevant.” We would strongly contest this view: what we had was a statement from one of the key protagonists in the issue, expressing his lack of confidence in one of the other key protagonists. This kind of statement is clearly relevant to the debate.

Thirdly, you list the various “contributors” in the audience. These included supporters of Irish and English rugby clubs. We were very disappointed that the Irish and English supporters were given more time to speak than the Welsh supporters, when the programme was supposed to be about Welsh rugby, broadcast to a Welsh audience.

Fourthly, you describe the encouragement audience members were given to show their reaction to what was being said in the debate. We can confirm that the floor manager, the bald gentleman with a headset, definitely told the audience that they could audibly show their appreciation or lack of appreciation of what was being said, in whatever manner they liked, and this included booing. He even made a booing gesture with his mouth to illustrate this. The only caveat he used was that we were to show respect and not use any offensive language.

At several points during the recording, the audience loudly expressed their displeasure and derision at the inability of Roger Lewis to give a straight answer to a simple question. However in the broadcast version, the audience’s reaction was only audible on one occasion, when Roger Lewis repeatedly tried to avoid answering a question. Technical shortcomings cannot be used as an excuse, as applause at the beginning and end of the programme was quite clearly recorded.

Finally, you have failed to address our original question about the presence of the WRU’s legal representatives at the TV studios on the day of the recording. We are still very concerned that their presence had a detrimental effect on the partiality of the editing process, and indeed, the entire format of the programme.

In our view, based on the evidence described above, the programme was not impartial and did not address the issues in a manner which was fair to all the participants. Unfortunately, this is only one example of the BBC’s consistently poor and unbalanced reporting of what is the most serious issue to affect Welsh rugby in the professional era. For example, when Regional Rugby Wales recently issued a very detailed critique of the WRU’s negotiation tactics in a letter to the National Assembly (see the RRW website, http://www.regionalrugbywales.com/2014/02/28/response-questions-raised-chair-communities/) this was almost completely ignored by BBC Wales television and radio.

We would appreciate a full and frank response to our concerns this time, and we would be happy to meet the production team to discuss these matters further.

 

crayons

It only takes a minute

Throughout the recent debacle in Welsh rugby, I’ve been very impressed with the work of the regions’ respective supporters’ clubs. They’ve been to meetings with the WRU and RRW, and have published an honest account of proceedings.

Recently, I was part of a group of supporters’ club representatives who wrote a letter of complaint to the BBC about the farcical ScrumV “Special” programme which was recorded in January. A programme all of us who were there know was heavily edited to favour the position of Roger Lewis. The response we received from the BBC could be best described as inadequate, and we are now going to raise this with the BBC Trust.

On Monday 17th February, representatives from the supporters’ clubs met RRW to discuss the ongoing crisis once again. The minutes of this meeting have now been published, with the approval of RRW. You can read them here.

The minutes of this latest meeting are disappointing for many reasons.

Firstly, it’s not clear who was in attendance.

Secondly, the minutes have no structure and the discussion points are not organised in a way which makes it simple to understand the various issues which were discussed.

Thirdly, there are basic grammatical errors which make the document difficult to read. In addition to this, the minutes are not written in an objective way. In fact at several points the writer adds emotive punctuation, such as exclamation marks, which makes it seem like a rant rather than a serious account of a meeting.

I’m all in favour of people venting their spleen about something which they clearly feel very passionate about, but these minutes have been approved by RRW’s public relations representative, and are now in the public domain. Is this really the standard of document RRW should be putting their name to?

We all know that the WRU are never shy in putting their position forward in the media, while RRW have preferred to keep their own counsel, as Roger Lewis might put it.

If this is the best RRW can do, maybe it’s better they keep quiet. These minutes are a mess.

Let me try and summarise the key points, because some of them are worth noting:

1. The WRU’s proposal for a new PA

It appears the terms of this are even more in favour of the WRU than the original PA. Central contracts are the order of the day, and the regions will have to release players for internationals outside the IRB window at their own expense, with no compensation from the WRU.

2.  The new European Cup

The WRU have finally agreed to a new competition, not run by the ERC. But we already knew that.

Stuart Gallacher (RRW CEO) resigned from ERC once RRW had stated they supported the new Rugby Champions Cup, to avoid any conflict of interest. If Roger Lewis is involved in negotiations on a new European Cup, surely he should follow suit and resign from ERC to avoid a similar conflict of interest?

3. The outstanding ERC payments

The WRU Finance department assured RRW in an email back in January that the payments would be made as expected. The ERC board were supposed to meet before January to decide on whether the payment would be made, but that meeting never took place.

4. The TV position

Sky and BT have met, but there is no agreement

5.  WRU accounts

A thorough review of  WRU financial position is needed, in light of the surplus highlighted by David Moffett.

6. WRU governance

Are the WRU board holding CEO Roger Lewis to account? An independent inquiry is needed.

7. WRU Director of Rugby

Josh Lewsey was appointed by a one-man interview panel. What qualities make him suitable for this role?

8. Central contracts

Why is the WRU pursuing this unilateral policy when it is obvious they are not the solution?

9. Celtic League

There has been no progress in planning for the future, for example sponsorship, TV contracts and composition. What are the Irish and the Scots doing to help keep this league going? The Italians have already said they are ready to leave.

10.  WRU “loans” to the regions

These have to be paid back by 31st March, even though it is not clear whether the money will ever be paid by ERC.

11. The Anglo Welsh League

This is still an option. The English clubs are also anxious to have a competition to help them sell season tickets.

In summary:

None of this information is a surprise to those of us who have been following the issues. What is of most concern is that RRW don’t seem to be able to speak for themselves, and instead seem happy to rely on well-meaning but incoherent information from meetings with supporters.

If RRW want to achieve their goals, they need to adopt a far more professional approach to communication. The WRU are already miles ahead of them in the PR race. RRW are falling further and further behind by the day. This is too important a matter to ignore.

 

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Robert Davies lets rip at Roger

Ospreys shareholder Robert Davies was interviewed by Ian Hunt on Radio Wales last night. Here’s what he had to say.

IH:
“… before that’s we’re going to look at rugby. We touched on the Six Nations right at the top of the program, of course, and the top Wales players are nicely cocooned away from all the politics swirling around Welsh rugby right now. But the Six Nations continues against a backdrop of more discussions and debate over the future of the domestic game with meetings taking place in London today and Dublin tomorrow partly aimed at thrashing out which competitions the Welsh regions will be playing in next season. A row brewing also over the missing £800,000 the Regions’ claim they haven’t been paid for this season’s Heineken Cup. It’s emerged that they could take legal action if the European Rugby Cup decide to withhold this money. Well, last night the WRU Chief Executive Roger Lewis gave us his thoughts on this and the various issues. Earlier though I got a regional perspective from Robert Davies, speaking in a personal capacity as the major shareholder at the Ospreys. Here’s what he had to say”.

RD:
“I was quite shocked to read your report, the BBC that is, report about what Mr Lewis had said and he was saying that:
- firstly the regions are open to the idea of expanding national contracts – that’s untrue;
- both sides plan to make more deals – that’s untrue;
- we have a plan on the table that we are discussing – that’s untrue;
- the regions have engaged with that plan – that’s untrue;
- WRU has been working on the plan for several months – that’s untrue;
and
- (the) regions originally contacted the Union to keep six players in Wales – well that’s untrue

In fact, there is no relationship with the Regions and the Regions have been consistent in the view there is no system to support central contracts in Wales”

IH:
“Yes, well Regional Rugby Wales have reiterated today they stand by what they said last week about central contracts, namely that no agreement is in place to play players who are centrally contracted”

RD:
“That’s correct”

IH:
“Can you outline, you know, the issues around this and what the objections are to central contracts”

RD:
“Well, it’s not being debated. It’s just something that has been put on the table by Mr Lewis and has not been debated as to whether or not it’s good for Wales, whether it’s bad for Wales, it’s not part of a strategy, it’s not part of a plan. The PwC report which the Union commissioned actually stressed the need to increase revenues. Now, those revenues can only come from the club game in reality because the international game is saturated with fixtures. And therefore what we try to do is to increase revenues for our own benefit and for the benefit of the retention of those players in Wales and there has just been no debate about central contracts whatsoever”

IH:
“Do you not think it is a good plan, though? I mean, if we’re struggling to keep players here in Wales… we’re losing players to France and to England left, right and centre. Isn’t it a good thing if it will…”

RD:
“Well, there’s no proof that the players will stay in Wales. It’s got to be part of an overall plan. We employ 400-500 professional people. To employ one or two is not going to build the base for a professional sport in Wales, that’s not going to do it. You have to have a whole plan not just a plan that grabs headlines and says that certain marquee players are staying in Wales. We’ve got one player so far, fine, good luck to him. But the issue needs hundreds of players”.

IH:
“Can they contract anyone down at the Ospreys? I mean Alun Wyn Jones has signed with the Ospreys”.

RD:
“Well, anybody who’s out of contract with the Ospreys, yes of course they can sign, there’s no way they can’t”.

IH:
“Would you see that that happening?”

RD:
“No”.

IH:
“You don’t think any Ospreys players will end up being centrally contracted?”

RD:
“Highly unlikely…because, the players are already contracted other than one and we’re in discussions with that one. As I say, you have one or two or three players centrally contracted, it just doesn’t work. The Union tried it once before with, I think the first player to be contracted centrally strangely enough was Derwyn Jones who was Warburton’s agent, and that proved not to be successful because there was no plan to go with it. If there was a plan to increase the strength of rugby in Wales, right throughout, all the way down to the grass-roots, fine, let’s debate it. But there is no plan, or at least not one that we’re aware of”.

IH:
“Can I ask you Robert about the other issues swirling around at the moment? There are two big meetings this week to try and resolve the future of all the various competitions. There’s one today in London. Do you know what happened at that meeting?”

RD:
“I haven’t heard as yet, I’m not sure if it’s finished, but it would to be very difficult if there’s anything to come out of it as the English have stated, they stated a long time ago, eighteen months ago, that they will not participate in the European competition. And that will not change. So therefore I cannot see how anything can come out of that meeting today. But I haven’t heard”

IH:
“There’s a big meeting in Dublin tomorrow, ERC meeting, which the Regions have been invited to attend. Do you know whether they’ll be sending someone to that?”

RD:
“We won’t be.”

IH:
“Why not?”

RD:
“Because there’s no point. Look, this is the ERC, this goes to the root of the differences between us. The ERC is run by the Unions and they, this week, have decided not to pay the Regions in Wales £800,000 which is due to them. Nobody had the decency to tell anybody. This was to enable the Regions to pay the players wages. The WRU’s FD Steve Phillips attended the meeting when they decided not to make the payment. He did not inform the Regions and the Regions had to make arrangements to pay the wages themselves. We’re not going to turn out there as one vote out of many and just be like nodding donkey. There’s just no point. There’s nothing we can contribute and nothing they want us to contribute.”

IH:
“But surely its in your interests to attend to fight your corner, isn’t it?”

RD:
“We have written to them today voicing our concerns, but one vote out of many, there’s just no point in being there because we know this is just a kangaroo court”

IH:
“That sounds like a defeatist attitude though doesn’t it? I mean, if you’ve got a seat on the board…”

RD:
“No, no, we’ve written to them today and we expect them to honour the agreements they’ve committed to”.

IH:
“How tough has it been, Robert, for the Regions to, you know, to bridge the gap with this money missing? How tough has that been? As you’ve alluded to already you have had to scrabble around to pay the wages, haven’t you?”

RD:
“Well it’s no different to any other business if, suddenly, you’re confronted with somebody who’s promised to pay you – and they don’t – a large sum of money and you have to make alternative arrangements to cover the shortfall. And that’s what we did last Friday and we covered it to enable the wages to be paid. But it’s no way to run a business. We’ve got no relationship, any meaningful or trustworthy relationship, with the Union. It’s no way to conduct any business let alone one like the WRU which is really a public body. It’s disgraceful”.

IH:
“If this money isn’t paid, what’s the worst case scenario? Could this send one of the regions out of business?”

RD:
“Well, at the end the day, we are owed a lot of lot of money, and maybe it’s a way of the Union threatening us again. There is a history of threatening and using the big stick. That’s one of the reasons why we no longer wish to be party to an organisation that’s run by the Unions. We would rather be dealing with proper business people who act in good faith. And the outcome? Who knows? If they continue not to pay us we will have to make alternative arrangements, and that could be legal or financial”

IH:
“Better in terms of alternative cup competitions for next season? Are you as Regions determined to pursue an alternative European competition that isn’t run by the ERC?”

RD:
“Well, at the moment there is no alternative competition. The ERC has had notice for over 18 months that this is going to happen. We’ve warned them. We’ve repeatedly asked them ‘what are you going to do?’. Our own agreement has come to an end. We’re left just wondering where we’re going to play? There is no Rabo for next year, there’s no European for next year. We’re expected to commit to a payroll and pay players costing us £4-5 million per year and it’s very unfair. We don’t know what income we’re going to have. So, to answer your question, unless the Union comes up and tells us well there is a Europe we can participate in meaningfully, and by that I mean financially meaningful, then I can’t see us agreeing anything other than an Anglo-Welsh”.

IH:
“I was going to say, if the Union sort of meet you halfway, if you find some middle ground on the European Cup issue, would you drop plans to join an Anglo-Welsh league?

RD:
“Look, we’ve been trying to negotiate with the Union for a long, long time. It’s very, very difficult for us to have any sensible discussion with the Union. They’ve reneged on so many agreements with us, there’s no trust left”.

SG:
“These are difficult times, aren’t they Robert? I just wonder if…”

RD:
“Very difficult and it’s very sad. I’m looking forward to going to Ireland this weekend, one of 10,000 or more Welshmen. We’ve all bought our tickets paid for our hotels, paid for our beer, our own food and we enjoy ourselves, and it’s very sad that we should be going there in this atmosphere where we don’t know, next year, what the game is going to look like. And this is a game we’ve all supported for many, many years. It’s very, very sad, and the Union board itself should be looking at itself. I don’t think that anybody comes out very well out of this, but the Union Board itself should have shown more leadership, more decisiveness, more honesty, more integrity. Everybody’s complicit in this and we need really to have a look at the way we run the game in Wales”.

IH:
“Strong words there from the Robert Davies said who’s speaking as a major shareholder at the Ospreys. Regional Rugby Wales, the umbrella organisation acting on behalf of the Regions, declined to respond to what Roger Lewis told this programme last night, apart from reiterating the stance they made last week on central contracts, namely that there is no agreement in place to play centrally contracted players at the Regions.

Bierley_Newport_Road_post_box_snow_2

A Question of Trust

There’s been plenty of debate about the BBC Wales ScrumV Special which aired on 19th January. I wrote about my impressions of the recording and subsequent broadcast here.

However there hasn’t been a response from the BBC. A group of us who were at the recording have written a letter of complaint to the BBC Trust and the BBC Complaints Department. The contents of that letter are reproduced below.

We write to you with concerns over the recent ScrumV programme on the 19th January on BBC Wales having been audience members and subsequently viewers of the show.

We appreciate that this may generally sit with the BBC Complaints department and have copied them in on this correspondence so they may also respond accordingly but as there are question marks over several issues such as editorial content and commercial relationships, we thought it best to address the issue to yourselves also. 

The show was sold to us as a ‘Question Time’ warts and all format, intentionally shot over a short period to get some answers from the panel and an honest viewpoint of the current situation in Welsh rugby with plenty of interaction, discussion and questions from a varied audience of regional, club and international supporters of all ages and genders.

Many of us did a great deal of preparation in anticipation of a ground-breaking show in respect of rugby in Wales and we were hugely disappointed to instead listen to the panel discuss pre-planned topics with a handful of opinions from the audience rather than questions and no opportunities to put any questions forward to the panel. The production team had specifically asked us to provide questions prior to the recording. None of these questions were used.

We were led to believe that the programme would be in the Question Time style. Before the recording started we were encouraged to put our hands up during the show if we had any questions or wanted to express our opinions. We were also encouraged to make our feelings known through applause or boos so the show would accurately reflect the audience’s mood.

In respect of the format of the show we left the studio disenchanted and frustrated having prepared and taken time out of our weekends to travel from all over Wales. We appreciate that the set-up of the show is entirely the BBC’s prerogative, but we feel we were invited to the show under false pretences. We were led to expect an interactive programme but it was nothing of the sort.

Our frustration turned to anger when we watched the recording later that day. We had not expected much having been there, but as the very least we thought we’d left the studio safe in the knowledge that whilst we weren’t able to direct questions at the panel or voice our concerns or approval, we did express our feelings through the applause, laughter and boos. However, it transpired that this wasn’t reflected in the final edit.

Several of the comments made by Roger Lewis were followed by jeering and various comments were made by us in the audience. However, the audience reaction only came across once during the broadcast version of the show, which made the debate seem much more amicable and considerably less confrontational than it was. Even some of the more confrontational comments from the panel and host were edited out, for example when Gareth Lewis pushed Roger Lewis for an answer as to whether the WRU had looked to set up new regions.

There were several further examples of this with what appeared to be the one common theme that the show was edited in order to be favourable to the WRU and Roger Lewis. For those of us in the studio there was no question that there was a very clear discontent with the WRU from the majority of the audience which did not come across in the final edit.

The whole WRU/RRW/Welsh Rugby debate has been poorly reported by BBC Wales and ScrumV, after being very late arriving at the party the impartiality has been questionable on simply too many occasions. You only have to look at the way the impasse is being reported by both local and national newspapers such as The Times, The Guardian, The Rugby Paper and Evening Post to see a balanced unbiased view on the topic; indeed Paul Rees’ article in the Guardian on the ScrumV programme in question (he was a panellist on the programme but was given limited opportunity to speak) speaks volumes on the standard and impartiality of the show and reporting of the topic.

This raises many questions over not only the individual show but also whether BBC Wales is profoundly compromised by their commercial relationship with the WRU and/or its employees. The indisputable difference between the unedited and edited version can’t be masqueraded as coincidence or poor editing so there appears to be something untoward. We know that the WRU were accompanied by their legal representatives when they attended the recording and we are concerned that the presence of these representatives may have adversely affected the balance of the programme which went to air.

We anticipate that BBC Wales Complaints will be well versed in respect of responding to this issue as they will no doubt already have had complaints on the matter. We expect that the BBC Trust will be able to delve a little deeper than the likely response from BBC Wales Complaints (having to edit the show as it overran, giving the panel sufficient airtime or whatever stock answers are generally given) and give us a meaningful response.

The public generally look to the BBC for unbiased and objective news and content and BBC Wales and ScrumV’s recent actions and coverage have brought into question whether the BBC is acting correctly in their role as a public service broadcaster and we implore you to fully investigate this. We feel that we have very real and legitimate concerns and we would be reassured to know that this issue is being treated seriously and would welcome any feedback you could give us and if you require any further information from us we are more than happy to assist.