Violin Section

Fiddling while Rome burns: WRU proposing more changes to league structure

A couple of weeks ago, the WRU sent this letter outlining more planned changes to the structure of the middle and lower leagues in Wales.

There are several problems with the proposal:

  • They need an extra 24 refs for the new Div 1 and 2 – these will be drawn from Level 2 refs currently reffing Youth/2nd team rugby
  • Teams currently in Div 6 will play teams from current Div 3/4 next season. These means a lot of mismatches and dilution of quality of the games
  • Has this been agreed by the WRU Head of Rugby and Head of Refs? If it hasn’t, what does that say about the way the WRU is behaving?

This will undoubtedly lead to a lot of smaller clubs getting pissed off with having beatings dished out to them by much better teams on a regular basis. Many of these clubs and their players may just give up. This doesn’t seem to be a very sensible approach for the WRU to be adopting at a time when they need to bolster their support at grassroots level instead of alienating it.

To all Referee Society Secretaries and P.B. Executive

Following on from last Friday nights Parent Body meeting where we discussed next years league and fee structures I have listed below a number of bullet points for further discussion with your members, which we discussed at the meeting.

  1. As stated on Friday, next season (2014-15) we have a potential increase of games from 126 this season to 155 next season
  2. The number of officials at Level 3 will increase from approx. 150 to 180 in order to service the increase
  3. The lowest league proposed for next season is Division 3 which will be regionalised
  4. Divisions 1 & 2 will become 4 divisions within each. Currently these are 1E & W and 2E & W.
  5. There will be obvious dilution in the quality of games within these two leagues
  6. A third division being created in North Wales will add extra cost. When you consider it costs the department approximately 200/230 pounds to send a referee to NW or vice versa to SW.
  7. We will need an extra 24 referees to referee at Div 1 & 2 next season
  8. Our development pathway will be eroded in as much as Level 2 referees will now move straight from Youth/Second team rugby to Division 3
  9. If the fee structure were to stay the same (up to Dev 3 which will be the lowest league next season) there is a potential budget increase of £41880.00. This will be in match fees only. This does not account for mileage which is somewhat of an uncontrollable
  10. With the proposal that I have put forward which I believe is a fair and responsible one we will still have an increase of £21110.00
  11. There will be an obvious number of mismatches next season when Div 6 teams come up against teams from Div 3 / Div 4

Just to put you in the picture for those who are not familiar with next year’s league structure and how it will look I have outlined below.

Season 2014/15

Premiership – no structural change

Championship – no structural change

Division 1 – 4 leagues of 12 clubs, which will consist of the current 24 clubs in Division 1 plus the 24 clubs in Division 2 (league based on geography)

Division 2 – 4 leagues of 12 clubs, which will consist of the current 48 clubs from Division 3 (League based on geography)

Division 3 – There will be 13 Divisions consisting of the 48 clubs from Division 4, the 60 clubs from Division 5 and the 39 clubs from Division 6 (the 147 clubs will be assigned a league dependant on geography)

Division 1 N – 12 clubs

Division 2 N – 10 clubs

Division 3 N – 10 clubs

I hope the above gives you a bit more of an insight into the challenges that lie ahead and as always if there are any queries please do not hesitate to call me. As stated I have to factor in the dilution of the system and quality of the rugby that will be played in certain leagues next season.

I look forward to your response in early February as outlined in the meeting. By then we can hopefully work together and move this amended structure forward.

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.

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

The sum total of desperation

A statement was recently released by the WRU purporting to outline its philosophy and success with debt. I’m no accountant but I do have an MBA which makes me very good at spotting a bullshitter.

Here is their statement in full:-

WRU Bulletin to clubs – bank debt

The Welsh Rugby Union, in response to questions from its member clubs, has decided to address recent comment about its debt management policies since 2006, suggesting they are hindering re-investment into the game. This is not the case as this note clearly outlines.

Through negotiation with the bank since 2006 the WRU has:

- reduced its interest rates by 58% from 6.5% to 4.1%

– kept its cash repayments at exactly the same levels
- achieved a course to become debt free by 2021
– boosted reinvestment into rugby by 86% from £11.8m to £22m a year

The negotiated drop in interest rates has, between 2006 and 2013, reduced the interest costs by £1.8m which is now available to plough back into Welsh rugby year on year.

By sound financial management and ensuring compliance with the banking terms, the WRU wishes to avoid the conditions of repayment of the original £10m loan being met.

Since 2006 the WRU has carried out two successful renegotiations with Barclays Bank plc which have allowed the governing body to make its banking arrangement far more flexible and to reduce its interest costs. The overall bank debt stood at just below £19.5m in 2013 down from its 2006 level of £39.1m.

It is important to note that the fundamental priority of the WRU is not to become debt free but to manage its loans in an efficient and flexible manner to drive down its interest costs to promote further re-investment in the game.

If the WRU were to seek to renegotiate its current debt structure the interest rate of 4.1% would probably rise meaning that money currently invested in the game would be paid in interest instead each year and the term of the arrangement would reduce.

In simple terms the current debt repayment structure is a valuable business asset in that it helps us invest more money into the game year on year.

The successful bank negotiations mean that the vastly improved loan terms have been achieved without a penny increase in the annual cash repayments since 2006.

One core reason why the banks now have renewed confidence in the WRU is that since 2006 our turnover has gone up by 32% from £46.1m to £61m.

The increased turnover and revised banking arrangements have helped the reinvestment into the game since 2006 rise 102% into the Regional game, 50% into the Premiership Division and 48% into the community game. The revised banking arrangements have very much aided the re-investment and not hindered it.

In figures those increases are:

- from £8.3m to £16.8m for the Regions
– from £0.8m to £1.2m for the Premiership
– and from £2.7m to £4.0m for the community game

The WRU wants to put on record its gratitude to Barclays Bank for the confidence it shows in the governing body and continued support.

ENDS

So, do they want to be debt free or not? They think they are some kind of financial wizard ‘negotiating’ with Barclays Bank but have only managed to do this twice in 8 years!

The genius of the maths is the reduction in interest rates. The WRU think moving interest from 6.5% to 4.1% is a 58% reduction. I may have an MBA but my 12 year old will put them right on this, it’s actually 37%.

This begs the question, are they competent enough to manage a business turning over £61 million? Or are they being smart, thinking they can kid every one with their bluster?

So the WRU don’t know if they want to be debt free or not, don’t know how to calculate simple percentages and can only manage bank negotiations every four years. And why do they still think they are “investing” £16.8 million in the regional game when > more than 10 million is just broadcasting money which is passed straight through to the regions.

Either, the WRU are fools OR they think we are. Unfortunately I think it’s both.

Flock of sheep

Central Contracts: the differences and similarities between NZ and Welsh Rugby

There is currently a lot of interest in the differences between the NZ and Welsh Rugby structures. Having been CEO of both organisations and delivering Pro Rugby in NZ and Regional Rugby in Wales I might have some knowledge to impart of how each country works. In the table below I set out the current structure in both countries. There are obvious differences; however I do propose a structure for Wales at the end.

New Zealand

Wales

The 600 clubs (Wikipedia/IRB) are the owners of the game in NZ. The 330 clubs (WRU) are the owners of the game in Wales.
The clubs are distributed around NZ and are formally part of one of 26 Provinces. The clubs are distributed around Wales and are formally part of 9 Districts.
The clubs elect a board to their Provincial Governing body. The clubs elect a board to their District body.
The PGB’s elect members to a 9 man NZ Board, which does not include the CEO. The Districts elect 13 members to a 17 man WRU Board which includes the CEO.
The NZRU owns the 5 Super Rugby Franchises, although they have recently decided to sell shares to PGB’s and individuals. The Union still Centrally Contract all pro players and control most sources of revenue. TV, commercial etc. The SRF’s keep all gate receipts and some commercial revenue. The 4 Professional teams in Wales – referred to as Regions are privately owned. They are funded by TV Revenue which is negotiated by the Union, some additional WRU funding and additional income from gate receipts and commercial activities. They are responsible for contracting their elite squad. They provide the players for Wales at a level higher than IRB requirements.
The Union sets policy and maintains control of Inter provincial competitions at all age groups. They also provide high level support for the development of the game. They provide direct funding to PGB’s who in turn are responsible for the Provincial Teams, clubs, schools, juniors, girls and women and Maori teams. This support involves some funding and grass roots development The Union controls all aspects of the game in Wales, including development of players and all income. The Regions are barred from having any involvement in the development of the game. The Union controls all levels of club competition in Wales. They have recently introduced Central Contracts and have succeeded in signing 1 player on a contract that makes it impossible for their own Regions to compete with them.

 

There are 3 glaring difference between the 2 systems:

  1. The NZRU owns the Professional Franchises and centrally contracts all professional players.
  2. The NZRU has a much more mature and evolving approach to the ownership of the franchises.
  3. The NZRU (clubs) trust their PGB’s work in their best interests and be a fundamental part of the development of the game. This includes opportunities to raise funds.

So, what is the solution for Wales?

Once an agreement has been reached on the way forward for the pro game in Wales, it is my view that the critical next step is to address the issue of governance. This does not need a long drawn out study at huge cost. It needs to be discussed by the owners (clubs), agreed then acted upon.

This is an option that I favour, would be easy to introduce and would be easy to implement. It would approximate the NZ model whilst still recognising the history of Welsh Rugby.

The key to any governance change to ease the tension between the Pro and Community game is to give fans a reason to buy in. New history and tradition has to start somewhere. It is a matter of record that the WRU, in particular and the Regions have not evolved the Regional structure. This shows a genuine lack of leadership.

  1. Maintain ownership and control with the clubs.
  2. Disband 9 Districts and replace with 4 Rugby Provinces and 1 Development Province.
  3. Clubs in each Province would elect a Provincial Rugby Board.
  4. Each PRB would elect 2 Board members to the WRU. There would be 3 Independent board members elected at the AGM by all clubs. The CEO would not be a board member = 11 member board.
  5. Provinces given meaningful and historical names that are easy to say and remember i.e. Gwent
  6. The Pro Team represents the Province and is called say Gwent Dragons. There is no mention of any existing team in the names i.e. Newport. There should be a rep from the PRB on the pro team.
  7. The Provinces are given devolved rights such as the development of the game in their Province according to protocols set down by the Board of WRU. There would be other devolved powers operating under WRU protocols.
  8. The marketing and branding of the province is a joint initiative with WRU. Every team in the province would be encouraged to have a provincial badge on their kit.
  9. Not only would this encourage a sense of belonging but loyalty as well. The threat of football needs to be taken seriously in all this debate as more and more kids follow Swansea and Cardiff.

Many people will say they favour splitting the Pro and Community game. NZ does not do that and they are the most cohesive, well run Rugby Union in the history of the game.

These are my thoughts and I will be seeking to raise them at the forthcoming Rugby Debates on the future of Welsh Rugby.

baecaerdydd

Welsh rugby crisis: National Assembly asks for WRU statement

A couple of weeks ago I reported with some weary cynicism on the debate in the National Assembly relating to the current crisis in Welsh rugby.  I didn’t have much hope that anything useful would come out of it. But it looks like I might have been wrong. On Monday, the Assembly Committee responsible for sport in Wales wrote to Roger Lewis and David Pickering at the WRU, asking them for a written statement explaining the WRU’s position on the issues. The transcript of the letter is below.

We await the WRU’s response with interest.

Mr Roger Lewis
Group Chief Executive
Welsh Rugby Union

Mr David Pickering
Chairman, Board of Directors
Welsh Rugby Union

27 January 2014
Dear Mr Lewis
I am writing on behalf of the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee to express the Committee’s concerns about the recently reported difficulties in relation to the participation agreement between the WRU and the four regions beyond June 2014, and the possible implications of this for the game, both at a professional and national level and more widely at a club and community level.

Sport in Wales is a matter which falls within the remit of the Committee and, on this basis, I would like to invite you to submit a written statement setting out the WRU’s position with regard to:

- the issues that, in your view, have instigated the current dispute about the participation agreement;
– any action that is needed in order to ensure that such a situation does not occur again in the future;
– any views or concerns that you have about the governance and funding arrangements for rugby in Wales, and whether any improvements need to be made to ensure the game’s sustainability in the longer term.

You will wish to be aware that I will be writing in similar terms to Regional Rugby Wales as well as all WRU District Secretaries, as the Committee is keen to take the views of the clubs. The Committee will consider the responses before deciding whether to take any further action.

I look forward to hearing from you shortly.

Yours sincerely

Christine Chapman AC / AM Cadeirydd / Chair
Cc. Mr John Williams, Head of Group Communications, Welsh Rugby Union

pinocchio-nose-new

One Big Lie

So, another day, another visit to the giggling bizzaroworld which is Welsh rugby. Today, Roger Lewis, Chief Executive of the Welsh Rugby Union, appeared on the channel he used to run. His aim, it would appear, was to secure the higher moral ground as a man of honour, of integrity and of dignity.

“With respect, we have not been playing this out in the public domain. The Welsh Rugby Union has kept its counsel, we’ve retained our dignity and only now this week are we discussing these matters with yourselves,” he said.

“We’ve not been issuing press releases. We’ve not been going to the press discussing these matters.

“We have always wanted to have our negotiations behind closed doors but we are where we are, and we now have to look to the future.”

And he is, of course, quite right. While Regional Rugby Wales have released some statements and taken advantage of high-profile derby games over Christmas to push their case, the Honourable Roger has resisted the temptation to get involved in a slanging match.

For instance, this is Roger not writing to all 320 member clubs on January 4th this year in response to RRWs decision not to sign a new Partnership Agreement which would have meant the same terms for 2018 as 2009 . In this non-communication, he does not criticise the Regions business model, nor does he rather weirdly suggest that they should “improve their structures and commercial synergies to build support and stability.”

He has form for this sort of non-intervention, of course. On 11th December 2013 the WRU did not issue a statement after a meeting with RRW ended without the signing of a new Participation Agreement.

Nor did Roger Lewis tell BBC Wales, on 18th November 2013, that he expected that RRW and the WRU would sign a new deal before Christmas.

On 24th October 2013 the WRU emphatically did not announce that it had offered to employ ‘leading Welsh players’ who are out of contract at the end of the 2013/14 season. 

And those who thought they’d stumbled upon an extensive interview given by Roger Lewis to Scrum V on October 6th last year were mistaken . They’d actually tuned in to Rob Brydon’s new comedy vehicle “The Secret Life of Uncle Bryn Mitty”.

Uncle Bryn talked about negotiations between the WRU and RRW and warned of an uncertain future for the regions. In fact, he went as far as to suggest that, should the regions refuse to agree to roll on the then existing Partnership Agreement,

“They would not be playing in Rabo [Pro12]. They’d not be receiving the monies off the Welsh Rugby Union, they would not have insurance off the Welsh Rugby Union for their players and they would not have any referees.” Good job that these aren’t the words of Roger Lewis, isn’t it?

This dearly held principle of conducting negotiations behind closed doors and not playing this out in the media goes back a long way. On 31st March 2013  the WRU issued a wide-ranging statement, disclosing private information and private conversations, and making direct criticism of the regions, specifically in connection with George North’s transfer from the Llanelli Scarlets.

The November before that, in 2012, he gave his solemn word to The Independent that, “We are where we are largely through past managerial incompetence at regional level,” before going on to add in the very same sentence, “I’ve kept my counsel on this until now. Why? Because a year ago, when we saw the regions heading towards the rocks, we commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers to produce a detailed report.”

A fair bit of keeping his own counsel has been going on for quite a while. Glad we cleared that one up.

So, either the man in charge of Welsh rugby is deranged, or he’s a compulsive liar who thinks that he’s dealing with a bunch of idiots with the memories of some particularly forgetful goldfish.

Can we really do no better than this? It’s time for him to go.