Category Archives: BBC

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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A toxic relationship

There’s been an enormous amount of online discussion following last night’s BBC ScrumV Special . In fact, the “scrumv” hashtag and “Roger Lewis” were both in the top ten UK trending topics on Twitter at one point yesterday evening. As someone who was at the recording of the programme, I thought it might be useful to give my impressions of how it went in the studio, and also how it looked to people watching on TV. These two impressions are quite different.

The fact is that those of us who are interested in the current crisis in Welsh rugby (and it is a crisis, in spite of what Roger Lewis seems to believe) have been mostly living off scraps of information in the Welsh media relating to the issues. Gwladrugby is a notable exception to this, of course. Our analysis has become the one of the definitive sources in recent weeks.

Therefore, many of us were relieved last week when we heard the announcement that BBC Wales were planning a ScrumV Special, with an invited audience and a panel representing the key players in the debate. Our immediate thoughts turned to the likely composition of the panel. Would Roger Lewis or David Pickering put themselves forward? Who would represent the fans? Who would represent the regions? Would we be able to directly question the panel?

Some of these questions had been answered by the time we arrived at BBC Wales at 10am yesterday. Some, but not all. It was still unclear who the WRU representative was going to be, but we did know that former Chief Executive and self-proclaimed saviour of Welsh rugby, David Moffett would be there, albeit in the audience rather than on the panel.

In the days leading up to the recording, some information had trickled out regarding who was going to be there. We knew Dragons CEO Gareth Davies would be, and Martyn Thomas, former chief of the RFU. There were mutterings that Paul Rees, the Guardian rugby writer who has done some sterling work in uncovering the details of this sorry affair, would be on the panel. But even as the clock ticked past the planned start time of 10.30am, there was still no word on who the WRU representative would be.

Finally, at 11am, we heard the news that WRU CEO Roger Lewis had decided to attend. At this point many of us had been drinking BBC coffee for over an hour. The atmosphere in the room was tense. Bladders were close to bursting point.

Eventually at 11.15am, 45 minutes late, we were called into the studio. No reason was given for the delay, but several people were convinced that one of the panellists had only just arrived.

For those of you familiar with the BBC studios in Llandaf, the recording took place in studio C1, the former site of the Pobol y Cwm set. A fitting location for a scene from another very Welsh drama to be played out.

As we made our way to our seats, we spotted David Moffett on the front row, chewing his fingernails. Several members of the audience were being miked up, as the producers planned to come to them for comments during the debate. There were also boom mic operators standing at either side of the seating, presumably there to capture questions from the audience.

On the stage, there were five empty chairs. One for presenter Gareth Lewis, the other for the four panellists. After some sound checks and some house rules from the floor manager, the panel filed in and were introduced to the audience one by one. Three of the panellists made their way quietly to their seats on the stage. But Roger Lewis strode across the room, waving and smiling at a number of audience members. He was clutching a leather folder brimming with notes and a spiral bound document, which we were later to discover was the fabled PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) report concerning Welsh rugby finances.

I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow description of the debate which followed. You can see most of it on BBC iPlayer. The programme was recorded “as live”, but there were several exchanges which failed to make the version which went to air.

At one point, during a particularly lively exchange between presenter Gareth Lewis (GL) and Roger Lewis (RL), GL asked RL for his reaction to Peter Thomas’ claim that Regional Rugby Wales (RRW) have “no confidence” in RL. RL’s response to this was the decidedly evasive, “I had coffee with Gareth [Davies] last Thursday.” This exchange was not broadcast.

At several points during the debate when RL was speaking, the audience reacted with jeers and cries of “answer the question!” We had been told we could express our reactions to the discussion, and so we did. At one point, after a succession of questions regarding whether he had made plans to set up new regions, RL responded that he had not. The audience erupted into loud jeers of derision. This reaction is not audible on the broadcast. There may be technical reasons for this, but the fact remains that for large parts of the debate, the audience were loudly expressing derision at much of what RL said.

Another important point to make about the programme is the involvement (or lack of it) of the audience. The show had been set up in a “Question Time” format, and we had been asked to submit questions in the days leading up to it.

When we got into the studio, it was clear that the producers had already decided who would be contributing, and these people had been miked up. These included, David Moffett, a lawyer, a representative of the four Regional Supporters Clubs, and Mark Davies, CEO of the Scarlets. In fact, the boom mic operators might as well have spent the morning at home in bed, for all the use they were. The only spontaneous intervention came from a member of Cross Keys RFC, who spoke in support of RL. At no point were the dozens of regional fans in the room invited to ask a question. Furthermore, there were several occasions where fans put their hands up in response to something one of the panel had said, and they were ignored.

You might say that I’m being naïve in expecting a full and frank debate. But that was what we were led to believe it would be. I can understand why someone who has been under siege as much as RL has would want to carefully control the question topics. However, the BBC are always banging on about balance. I would say, where were the voices of the fans on yesterday’s programme? How’s that for balance? The inclusion of Martyn Thomas was a complete waste of time. He is a largely-discredited has-been; the Nigel Farage of English rugby. As Brian Moore put it on Twitter, the only reason he could think of including Thomas was that the debate was about maladministration. Make of that what you will.

At one point GL asked RL whether he was happy with the way in which he’d conducted himself during this affair. That would’ve been the point to ask him about BBC 5 Live presenter Alastair Eykyn’s claims that RL and Warren Gatland had been badgering Alun-Wyn Jones on a “daily basis”, trying to get the Ospreys player to sign a central contract.  That’s a question I’d have liked to have asked RL, if I’d been given the chance.

I realise I’ve gone on about this quite a lot already. But before I stop, there are a couple of other impressions I took away from yesterday’s programme.

The first one is that Roger Lewis got very bad tempered when he was asked about central contracts and his plans for what happens if the regions walk away. He also waved the PWC report around a lot to make his points. If the report is so marvellous, why doesn’t he publish it?

The second clear impression which came out yesterday is that the relationship between Roger Lewis and RRW is toxic. It’s a word David Moffett used, and he’s right. There are a couple of moments where Gareth Davies visibly winces in response to the things Roger Lewis is saying. There is never going to be a deal between RRW and Roger Lewis, because the relationship is irrevocably broken. That means that this thing is going to court, and a judge will decide the future of Welsh and probably European rugby.

 

 

 

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Assembly members call for review of WRU governance

The BBC are emphasising First Minister Carwyn Jones’ offer to mediate between the WRU and the Regions in their ongoing bitter dispute over the future of our professional game.

However, the real story of today’s debate in the Senedd is that opposition AMs were united in a call for a thorough, independent review of the governance of the WRU. That piece of information, which should make very uncomfortable reading for WRU CEO Roger Lewis, is buried in the BBC piece, several paragraphs down.

Unlike the First Minister who only turned up for the last five minutes, I was in the Senedd to listen to all of today’s debate. I was horrified by the lack of knowledge of the basic issues displayed by most of the Assembly members who spoke. However, one AM had clearly done her homework.

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Bethan Jenkins of Plaid Cymru had taken the time to speak to all the parties involved: the WRU, the regions and the supporters.  She had clearly done her research and returned to her theme of governance several times during the debate.

The rest of the speakers spent most of their allocated slots either reminiscing about watching rugby, or expressing their heartfelt – albeit bleeding obvious – hope that the WRU and RRW could come to an agreement for the benefit of Welsh rugby as a whole. Blah blah blah. Other AMs, on the whole, contributed the sum total of nothing to the debate.

Mike Hedges (Labour) rambled through a confused rant against the regions, citing recent match results as reason to look at an alternative.  What Hedges and his ilk fail to recognise is that the regions have been very successful in the Celtic League and Anglo-Welsh cup. Their contribution to the last eight years of unprecedented success of the national side should be obvious to anyone who understands how professional sport works.

What is most worrying is that we allow our elected representatives to debate important issues like this without many of them appearing to have done any research whatsoever.