Category Archives: Rugby

wruin

The WRuin

“Is there anybody there?” said the Supporter,
Knocking on the Union door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grass
Of the Millennium’s crumbling floor;
And a turd flew up out of the turret,
Above the Supporter’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
“Is there anybody there?” he said.
But no one descended to the Supporter;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his pleading eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of Lewis’s listeners
That dwelt in the Union house then
Stood unheeding in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the regional men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Supporter’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the palletted turf,
‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:–
“Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I wanted a word,” he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the WRU house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
And the whole Welsh team were gone.

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.

 

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.

grass-roots-background

Putting greed before the good of the game

Over the past few months we have watched as Welsh rugby has done its best to tear itself apart. The Regions and the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) don’t seem any closer to reaching agreement over the future of their relationship. In fact, they’re probably further away than they’ve ever been.

But this is not the biggest crisis facing our game in Wales. It is what is happening to our community game which should be of gravest concern. Recently, the WRU have been trying to impose an unpopular re-organisation of the lower leagues on their three hundred or so member clubs. This has not gone down well at grassroots level.

Not content with trying to wreck the amateur league structures, driving more community clubs to the wall in the process, the WRU have also decided to set up a series of summer Touch Rugby leagues in direct competition with the successful, independent Wales Touch Association. It seems the WRU are intent on controlling every aspect of the sport in Wales, regardless of whether it’s within their remit, or whether they destroy it in the process.

If this wasn’t enough, the WRU have now joined forces with their business partners, BBC Wales, to stymie another popular independent initiative which had been encouraging interest and participation in community rugby.

Inside Welsh Rugby (IWRTV) started their YouTube channel just over three months ago. A collaboration between ex-Wales international Paul Turner and Dischro Creative, IWRTV have put a lot of time and effort, at their own considerable expense, to produce a series of excellent programmes exploring the issues facing grassroots rugby in Wales.

IWRTV has attracted a strong following via social media, and has challenged the mainstream media by providing a truly balanced view of the current issues facing the Welsh game, as opposed to the skewed, superficial, WRU-friendly fodder peddled by the likes of the Western Mail and BBC Wales. IWRTV had hoped to broadcast footage of community rugby matches from clubs up and down the country, but unfortunately, the WRU and BBC do not want them to do this.

When IWRTV approached the WRU and the BBC to outline their plans for broadcasting grassroots rugby, they were told by the Union and the broadcaster that they would have to pay two hundred thousand pounds and submit a business plan with their editorial stance for the privilege of showing footage of club rugby matches. This is footage that the WRU and BBC have shown no interest in broadcasting themselves.

The BBC have paid for the rights to broadcast rugby from the lower leagues, but their entire output consists of an occasional few seconds of clips on the Scrum V programme on a Sunday evening. Hardly worth £200,000 to anyone. That’s before we ask why the WRU would want to be paid TWICE for the rights to the footage. In addition to the ridiculous price tag demanded by the BBC, the WRU have intimated to IWRTV that they would want to have control over the editorial content of any programmes which were broadcast.

IWRTV have asked the WRU to participate in their programmes, but the Union did not even have the decency or common courtesy to respond to them until the morning of the show. The Union appear to have a deeply paranoid attitude to free speech in the media. If they are not able to control the agenda, then they just don’t want to know. It makes you wonder what they’ve got to hide.

It is very sad that IWRTV will broadcast their final programme this Friday, 16th May, as they are no longer able to sustain production without further funding. It doesn’t have to be like this, of course. In a more sensible world, the WRU and BBC might decide to back IWRTV and invest in showing club games to a wider audience. Surely this would be to the benefit of the whole of Welsh rugby? This leads to another question. If the WRU are not acting in the interests of the game, are they acting in anyone’s interests other than their own?

pirate_treasure_xlg

Irish Player Costs- An analysis

Gerry Thornley, 29 April 2014 “That there is likely to be more money for players is overdue and the Irish provinces have a proven culture, sense of identity and loyalty, as well as competitiveness, which their fellow Celts would covet. They’ve defied the odds before.”

On 3 March 2014, Andy Howell, rugby correspondent of the Western Mail, supposedly Wales’ No.1 rugby journalist, claimed that the Leinster Rugby team had a budget of £4.1m, including its academy players. In the quote above, the archetypal Irish rugby journalist, Gerry Thornley, implies that Irish players stay with their provinces due to loyalty, not money. That would be true if Howell’s budget was correct.

But is Howell correct? What did he do to verify the figure given to him, presumably by Leinster.

The first thing is to layout the structure of Irish Rugby at professional level. It is entirely controlled by the Union. The IRFU own the professional teams. Munster, Ulster, Leinster & Connacht Rugby are all entities it seems who are owned 100% by the IRFU. It is those entities that operate the relevant provincial sides. There are limited companies set up that protect those names, but they are dormant. Those businesses appear to be ‘branches’ of the IRFU.

Reason for arriving at those conclusions? The IRFU accounts. These account for the competition monies for those sides, but unlike the WRU, the outgoings do not go to the four teams, but appear to be spent on players wages (of which more later).

Alongside the rugby sides there, provinces also have Branches that are owned, it seems, by their constituent clubs. The accounts of the branches are not made publically available, but are commented on in the press following AGM report. I have also had a copy of the Leinster Branch Accounts sent to me, which help enormously to understand how professional rugby in Ireland works, and crucially how much money they spend on player wages.

In terms of income, the IRFU appear to account for all the competition monies the 4 provinces get. This totals approximately €11m. The other income of the IRFU appears to derive out of the international game only. Then in schedule 3 to the accounts we are told that player and management costs come to €28.5m. This excludes academy players and coaching support staff (such as U20 coach Mike Ruddock) as they appear to be included in the costs laid out in schedule 4.

So the wage bill for pro players in Ireland is €28.5m, less say €1m for the senior side coaching team.

At the moment in Wales, RRW are asking for £10m between the 4 sides. The four Irish provinces, in 2013 (with similar figures for previous years) received approximately €16.5m over and above competition income. This does give the IRFU MORE control than RRW appear to be happy with, but it does indicate the funding difference.

The remainder of the income for the branch accounts that I have seen for Leinster, states that all other income such as provincial income and ticket monies go through the branch accounts. The Leinster turnover, even without competition monies remember, is over €12m. This is in excess of the top welsh pro team, where competition monies are included.

So if the IRFU pay the players, where does this money go? Well, it seems that the Leinster branch also pay the players (senior ones) to the tune of €2.7m. The coaching staff expense is elsewhere in the accounts.

So, if we stay with Leinster at the moment, if we say the split of the €27.5m between the four provinces is that Connacht get half the other 3. That means that Leinster get the wages of 2/7ths of €27.5m. This is approximately €7.85m. Add in the €2.7m, and you get €10.55m. Or £8.75m. Or more than double the RRW salary cap, and significantly more than the PRL clubs.

I even think it is above the French salary cap.

#foodforthought ’ndy

Conclusions:

1- The Irish provincial sides are not overperforming. They are performing on par with their funding. Maybe even below it.

2- Where the Irish are performing is income generation. The Munster branch turnover is apparently more like €17m.

3- RRW demands for £10m do not seem unreasonable.

4- RRW need to improve their income streams. The WRU should be helping them with this, not hindering them. Part of this would be to empower regions to build relationships with clubs. In Ireland, the branches award significant grants as well as the Union.

5- To make it clear, the Lenister playing wage bill is obviously not £4.1m, Andy. According to official audited accounts.