rebeccariots

Welsh Rugby Wrangle

Today, for the first time in the 16-year history of Gwladrugby.com, I had to pull an article from the website.

The article, published last week, was one of the best-researched pieces of writing about Welsh rugby I had read in a long time, and it was very well-received by readers of this website and our followers on social media.

I didn’t write the article myself, I hasten to add. The author had put a lot of hard work and diligence into the piece, and I know he is very disappointed that it has had to be taken down.

Now I’ll move on to tell you why I felt I had to remove the article.

At lunchtime today I had a message from the author, telling me that he had been contacted by Simon Rimmer, the Welsh Rugby Union’s Corporate Communications Manager. Rimmer was complaining about two paragraphs in the article where the author had quoted Rimmer. Rimmer claims that his words were taken out of context and that he understood the interview was “off the record.”

The interview was carried out as research for the author’s university dissertation, which Rimmer was well aware of when he was interviewed. The interview was also recorded by the author, to ensure any quotations were 100% accurate.

Rimmer’s assumption that the interview was “off the record” therefore seems either naive or disingenuous.

Whatever the reason for this assumption, the fact remains that Rimmer cannot contest that the article quotes the actual words that he used. Those words don’t make comfortable reading for the WRU.

There are some other rather disturbing aspects to this case.

The article was published a week ago, on 31st May. Why did it take the WRU 7 days to decide Rimmer’s words had been quoted out of context?

Secondly,  Rimmer not only objected to the author quoting him from a recorded interview, he also suggested a replacement form of words that the author could insert into the article. This is what Rimmer wanted us to publish:

“Discussions between the WRU and RRW are ongoing, regular and positive but we are not in a position at the moment to discuss the content or comment on conjecture.”

This isn’t anything like what Rimmer said in the original interview. In fact, it is almost the opposite. There can be no confusion over context here: Rimmer is quite clearly trying to change his entire message.

Having discussed this with the author this afternoon, I decided that there was no way I would accept Rimmer’s demands to substantially change the article. Instead, I decided to pull the article altogether. I felt that I could not refuse without putting the author in a very difficult position where he was likely to attract more unwanted attention from the WRU.

If it had been me who had written the article, I’d have refused to change a single word. Those of you who have read the original will agree that there is no ambiguity over the words Rimmer used.

It is a real shame that this happened. This was one of the best articles we have ever published. The analysis of the particular issues and research were far more rigorous than anything I’ve read in the mainstream media over the past year or so.

That the WRU are prepared to go to these lengths to quash debate over the current issues in Welsh rugby demonstrates that they have, in the words of Roger Lewis, “lost the airwaves.”

In acting in this bullying manner, they have merely made the situation worse for themselves. This has shone a light on the way in which our governing body works. It is not a pretty picture.

David Moffett, the Chief Executive of the Welsh Rugby Union

Putting the record straight over the demise of the Celtic Warriors

The dislike for me over the Warriors continues to be argued using half- truths and misinformation. Here are the facts, like them or not.
1. Leighton Samuel approached me to say he wanted out as he could no longer sustain the losses of £1 million a year. (Remember what happened with his RL team)
2. Pontypridd had been declared bankrupt and with the exception of 2/3 matches their supporters did not follow the Warriors in sufficient numbers and LS moved all games to the Brewery Field.
3. Neither I nor the WRU made any promise to continue with the Warriors.
4. I was expected by the remaining Warriors fans (approx. 2,500 regularly attended matches) to commit the WRU to on-going losses of £1 million plus per year.
5. I was not prepared to do that and recommended to the Board that the Warriors be closed down. The Board voted unanimously including those that are still there from the Region affected.
6. There is no way I was prepared to put the Board or myself at risk of being prosecuted of entering into financial arrangements knowing we could not meet our financial obligations.
7. This was in an environment where the WRU had been left on the edge of bankruptcy and technically insolvent by the Board prior to my arrival.
8. 10 members of that Board are still there and have been rewarded with an extra 10 year’s service with no accountability for their actions. I saved their jobs and reputations.
9. The Chairman, in particular has recently sought to take all the credit for the rescue, in a letter to clubs. He was on the Board for 5 years before my arrival and did nothing. He was not even aware of the size of the problem.
If there are any clubs, Chairmen or Secretaries out there who would have behaved differently and would have put themselves and the Union at risk, will they please have the courage to publicly say so.

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

Charity begins at home

It’s been clear for some time that many of our community rugby clubs are struggling to survive and blame a lack of support from the WRU for their plight. Fifty one of them felt sufficiently strongly to put their names to a call for an Extraordinary General Meeting of the WRU, expressing their lack of confidence in the governing body.

Not every club in Wales is struggling to survive, of course. Many of them are in rude health. Take Cefn Cribwr RFC, for example.

Just this week they opened their new clubhouse. It cost quite a lot of money to build, but luckily the WRU and other bodies were able to step in and fund the project to the tune of £90,000.

This is great news for Cefn Cribwr, and their President, Mr Roger Lewis. Here he is with his friend Carwyn Jones and the coach of the Welsh rugby team, Warren Gatland, at the opening of the new clubhouse.

In case you didn’t know, Carwyn Jones is the First Minister of the Welsh Government. He’s also a member of the National Assembly for Wales, who are supposed to be responsible for making sure things are run properly in our country.

The National Assembly committee responsible for sport in Wales recently decided that it wasn’t worth their while carrying out an investigation into the running of Welsh rugby. I recently decided that wasn’t a particularly good decision. It might have had something to do with Cefn Cribwr’s new clubhouse.

At this point it’s probably worth explaining a little bit more about where the money for Cefn Cribwr’s new clubhouse has come from.

There’s this thing called the Millennium Stadium Charitable Trust (MSCT). Its purpose is to give grants to “inspiring projects throughout Wales.” The MSCT gets its money from a levy from every ticket sold at the Millennium Stadium. The MSCT isn’t controlled by the WRU but the Union like to include the money distributed by MSCT in the total handed out to Welsh rugby from central funds.

The MSCT have put £20,000 towards the Cefn Cribwr Clubhouse project.

But, according to the MSCT’s own website, they are only supposed to award a maximum of £2500 to “local” projects and £7500 to “regional” projects.

Now, considering Roger Lewis himself refers to Cefn Cribwr as a “village”, that would tend to suggest that the new clubhouse isn’t a “regional” project. It’s probably fair to say it’s a “local” project. So by the MSCT’s rules, it should only have been allowed to receive a maximum of £2500.

But it’s received eight times that amount.

According to the most recent published accounts for MSCT, their total annual grant spend was £236,000. So by that measure, Cefn Cribwr RFC received between 8 and 9% of the total amount MSCT dished out in a year. Considering it’s only in Division 5 South Central, Cefn seems to be punching well above its weight.

A further £50,000 of the funding comes in the form of a loan from the WRU. According to the WRU accounts, that loan is due to be repaid to the WRU at the end of June. Let’s hope Cefn Cribwr are able to find some inventory to cover the bill.

Of course, this probably has nothing to do with the fact that the club president is also the CEO of the WRU, but you’d be forgiven for thinking there might be a link. Mr Lewis himself seems to be very proud of the link between his club and the governing body.

Back in January this year, Mr Lewis took part in a debate about Welsh rugby on BBC Wales. He said he didn’t understand why people thought there was a crisis in Welsh rugby. There may not be a crisis from his point of view, either as CEO of the WRU or President of Cefn Cribwr, but out in the real world of Welsh rugby there are many clubs who haven’t been as lucky as Cefn Cribwr. These clubs are faced with the real prospect of going out of business due to lack of support from their Union.

The forthcoming EGM gives those clubs a chance to hold Roger Lewis and the WRU to account. If they don’t take that chance, then the community game in Wales faces oblivion.

 

 

 

Life-of-Brian

Time to stand up and be counted

Today, David Moffett defied his doubters and marched right up to the gates of the Millennium Stadium with 51 signatures in his red box, more than enough to force the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) to convene an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) of all its member clubs.

Moffett, the former CEO of the WRU, will attend the EGM as a newly-inducted member of one of those clubs, to put himself forward as a candidate for election to the board of the WRU.

His campaign can no longer be dismissed as a side show. Nearly a quarter of the WRU’s member clubs have been brave enough to risk the Union’s wrath in order to support Moffett. According to the WRU’s constitution, as far as we can tell (it’s difficult to get the WRU to be open about even the simplest things like the number of clubs who are actually members of the Union), the EGM has to take place within 60 days.

Let’s remind ourselves of the issues which will be discussed at the meeting:

The 9 issues to be raised at the EGM are:

  1. The CEO and the Executive must confirm the League structure for season 2014/15. The new league structure was decided with no direct input from clubs. In recent meetings with the Districts the WRU was informed that the new league structure was unacceptable. The Executive have ignored the clubs and have not provided a viable alternative. To date clubs have not been directly informed by the WRU of their intentions
  2. The CEO and Executive continue paying down debt at a rate that is detrimental to the clubs.
  3. The CEO and Executive have allowed the cost of tickets and management of the ticketing office to spiral out of control.
  4. The CEO and Executive are operating without a proper business and strategic plan that has been communicated in full to all stakeholders.
  5. The CEO and Executive are withholding urgently needed funding to all levels of the game despite reporting £11million in Reserves in FY2013.
  6. Despite a promise from the Chairman, CEO and President have not provided the facts to contradict a ‘scurrilous’ and inaccurate financial expose by a former WRU Group CEO David Moffett, they have not done so.
  7. Since 2007 the CEO and Executive have failed to recognise the urgent need to evolve the Professional, Semi Professional and Community games in line with best practice.
  8. The Board, have themselves, not followed best practice as recommended by the UK Government and the Board of WRU is not fit for purpose.
  9. Despite a document entitled A Manifesto for Change provided to all clubs by former WRU Group CEO, David Moffett, and numerous attempts by him to contact the Chairman, the WRU has ignored its existence whilst belatedly announcing identical strategies many weeks after its release.

In spite of this, the WRU even today tried to claim that the primary issue raised in those 51 letters was “the proposed league restructure.” The proposed league restructure is a big issue for all rugby clubs in Wales, for sure. But it’s by no means the only issue the clubs are complaining about.

The WRU have nearly two months to start spinning their side of the story in an attempt to get enough clubs on side to avoid a vote of no confidence. For a no confidence motion to succeed, it would require at least another 100 clubs to support the 51 who’ve called for the EGM.

There are certainly enough clubs who are sufficiently angry with the WRU’s attempts to wreck the lower leagues, but will they be brave enough to stand up in an open meeting and show their opposition?

We’ll know soon enough. What you can be sure of is this: the WRU aren’t going to go down without a fight. You can expect to see a lot of good news press releases emanating from the WRU’s spin doctor John Williams in the coming weeks, and maybe even an appearance or two from CEO Roger Lewis and Chairman David Pickering on BBC Wales, the WRU’s unofficial PR agency.

Today, even BBC Wales grudgingly admitted that Moffett’s campaign has succeeded mostly through the use of social media. The corollary to that admission being that he has succeeded in spite of the attempts of the mainstream media to suppress all coverage of his activities.

Personally I’m looking forward to the usual ill-informed nonsense from Andy Howell of the Western Mail, who made a complete fool of himself at Moffett’s press conference today. If the EGM vote of no confidence does succeed, we will not only have the relief of seeing the back of the incompetent, self-serving egos at the top of the WRU; we will also have the satisfaction of proving the likes of Andy Howell and his friends wrong once again. It’s been a long battle, but finally it’s starting to feel like it’s one which has been worth fighting.

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?

doublespeak

The Orwellian world of WRU Doublespeak

Ladies and gentlemen. We have now entered the end times. In the face of widespread criticism, the embattled Welsh Rugby Union has now truly lost the plot and is turning on the very supporters it pretends to respect.

What follows is a statement from the joint group of Welsh regional rugby supporters’ clubs. It includes a letter written by the Chairman of the WRU, David Pickering, which contains so much management rubbish that it is almost impossible to understand. The WRU have reached a point where they are unable to articulate what it is they are supposed to be doing.

Here is the statement:

Fellow Supporters,

You will be aware that following our meeting with the WRU in December 2013 we were offered a follow up meeting in the New Year which has still to materialise. We had a meeting scheduled for the end of March which was postponed by the WRU as they said it would not be a good time to meet. We of course registered our extreme disappointment and asked whether they would be prepared to answer some questions in writing whilst we waited for them to reschedule the meeting. The request was accepted and we posed the following questions:

  • What is the WRU’s strategy and vision for Welsh regional rugby?
  • What are the WRU intending to do to improve the commercial aspects and competitive nature of the Pro 12 game in Wales?
  • What actions do the WRU intend to take to attract more support for the regional game?
  • What would you like to see from us as a Joint Supporters’ Group in support of the strategy for regional rugby?

These questions were duly answered in a letter from David Pickering and the response reads as follows:

The WRU strategy and aim is that the four existing Regional Operations develop and thrive as the professional strata of the national sport of Wales. Our Regional organisations are funded by competition income, direct funding from the WRU and commercial income generated by their own business operations. We seek to monitor progress of each Regional Organisation through the forum of the current PRGB where concerns are shared and positive actions are identified. The professional level of the game in Wales is a crucial element of the pyramid of rugby which starts at grassroots level and leads through to the senior international team. This structure feeds the success of the sector of the senior international team which is the principle means of generating the level of income needed to support the priorities of elite and community rugby and the upkeep and use of the Millennium Stadium.

The future of the Pro 12 is linked to the new European competitions which will rely in the national and Celtic league structures as the means of entry qualification. That qualification is proposed to be based on meritocracy which the stakeholders are agreed and will introduce a level of jeopardy which should improve the attraction of the competition for teams and supporters. This, in turn, will help improve the commercial focus of the competition for future reasons. The impact on the elements of income generation which lie in the hands of the Regional Organisation is sure to be improved

The WRU has always sought to assist the Regional Organisations in improving the level of support for the professional level of rugby in Wales and that dialogues takes place in a structured way through the PRGB. For example the WRU has long suggested the Judgement Day format as a means of introducing new fans to Regional rugby and this has now been adopted by the four Regional Organisations.

The supporters groups are a vital foundation for the success of Regional rugby in Wales. Your passionate support will always play a crucial role in helping to make the Regional environment engaging and entertaining for new or old fans and you play an important role in spreading the word about why Regional rugby deserves to be followed. Your voice will continue to be heard and the WRU looks forward to hearing your views, concerns and ideas in the future.

The remainder of the letter from Mr Pickering was based around the disappointment of the WRU that we took minutes at the meeting and put them into the ‘public domain’ as they did not understand that this would be the case. 

We have responded to them pointing out that not only did we make this clear at more than one occasion at the meeting because we are elected by our members and have a responsibility to communicate with you, but that a copy of the minutes were sent to them (and amendments made by their representatives) prior to them being circulated to members. 

They also stated that they ‘found it unhelpful to the course of the dialogue we had hoped to develop in the future’ and that they ‘will ensure that they are fully conversant with the understanding and terms of any meeting we mutually agree to take part in’.

We will of course keep you updated on any future communications.

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