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Minutes of the Joint Supporters Group meeting with Regional Rugby Wales Sunday 22nd December 2013

Minutes of the Joint Supporters Group meeting with Regional Rugby Wales
Sunday 22nd December 2013

Parc-y-Scarlets, 4pm

Attendees:

Annette Thomas and Mike Phippen from OSC

Dorian Davies, Barrie Jones and Neil Bathgate from Crys 16

Nigel Short, Stuart Gallacher, Mark Davies, Andrew Hore from Regional Rugby Wales
Apologies:

Apologies were received from Cardiff Blues Supporters’ Club, Friends of Newport Rugby, Richard Holland of the Cardiff Blues and Gareth Davies of Dragons.

Minutes:

All present introduced themselves to each other.

AT stated that the supporters’ representatives have a responsibility to their members and the intention was to provide a full update post the meeting. It was confirmed that a copy of the minutes would be send to RRW in advance of general release to ensure that nothing commercially sensitive or inaccurate was reported as had been done with the WRU.

MP asked the RRW representatives if they had seen the minutes from the Supporters Group meeting with the WRU which they confirmed had been provided by the relevant supporters group. It was suggested that RRW provide a response to the points raised at that meeting and recorded in the minutes which was agreed by all present as a basis and structure for the meeting.

DD raised the first point regarding the WRU reference to “vested business interests” and asked if RRW could comment on what interests would be referred to as “vested” ?

MD stated that it was difficult to understand any reference to “vested” in this context given that a small number of investors/benefactors have put over £40m into Welsh Rugby over the last 10 years and questioned where Welsh Rugby would be without that level of subsidy, which no other rugby nation has benefited from. The inference appears to be that there is some unwelcome interest from individuals or businesses, when that has clearly not been the case, beyond any investor clearly needing to protect their investment.

DD asked if RRW agreed that the WRU has always “acted in the best interests of the game”?

MD stated that if so, surely this must have included the creation of the regions in the first place? It is difficult to understand how the only direction that is “in the best interests of Welsh Rugby” , seems to consistently be the Elite National game, rather than the Regions, the Premiership, and particularly the grass roots community club game given the clubs trauma as a result of cuts to their funding. If £2.6m was spent on Millenium Stadium boxes, why not spend £2.5m and restore the Community Clubs grant funding reduced by £100k 2 years ago?

BJ referred to the assertion by RL that a British & Irish league was proposed by RL but rejected by PRL.

In reply, SG referred to the recently published quote from PRL where they refuted that they rejected any such a proposal. SG stated that that he was at a meeting where this was a brief discussion at a lunch break rather than any form of formal proposal from RL.

NB followed on with reference to the question RL posed with respect to the regions having to break existing contractual arrangements to play in an Anglo Welsh competition ? SG stated that the only contract that the Regions have in place is the existing PA. The Regions are a signatory to the existing ERC Accord – which ceases to exist at the end of the season due to the English, French clubs and French federation issuing notice nearly two years ago. The Regions are not a signatory to the Celtic Accord. Therefore no contractual arrangements would be broken by the regions if the PA was not signed.

DD asked if it was true that RL had been invited to attend any discussion regarding the possibility of an Anglo Welsh competition by RRW, as RL had denied this was the case. The group were shown email evidence that a formal invitation was sent to RL. The written invitation also referred to the discussion having taken place at PRGB and this was confirmed by NVS and SG.

NB referred to the WRU statement that no discussions had taken place about a Plan B if Regions don’t sign the PA. He stated that he understood there was a players meeting immediately following the meeting the Supporters had with the WRU at the Millennium Stadium where players were informed that the WRU had actually considered a number of options and would be meeting on January 2nd 2014 to finalise these. MD and AW confirmed that they had been informed of the same.

DD referred to the statement from WG and others that the approach to the players during the Autumn Internationals being ‘a complete and utter lie’.

MD and AW acknowledged that they only had “third party” comment as, having first read references to meetings in the media, they had only been told by players and their agents that the meetings had taken place and obviously not attended themselves. They also explained that in the circumstances they would not expect or ask the players to confirm this due to the impossible situation that would place them in.

In line with the players’ discussion, AG expressed concern regarding the statement by WG that Adam Jones had not yet been offered a contract by Ospreys.

AH provided dated written evidence that showed this was not correct.

MP asked for comment regarding the statement by WG that the proposed “one off” WRU payment of £1 million for International player development, recruitment and retention, would be better used on quality coaches

MD stated that Mark Jones was the backs coach for the 6N winning team, whilst Danny Wilson was the Wales U20 Coach when the team reached the JRWC final. AH stated that the new Ospreys coach was WG no 2 in NZ. Both outlined the investment in World Class

Conditioning & physio set ups at Regions plus huge investment in training facilities & Stadia. NB also referred to an article on BBC online with WG referring to the superior coaching & care facilities in Wales which should contribute to keeping Welsh players playing in Wales.

MP asked for clarity of the PWC report comments and conclusions referred to by RL and SP. The group was shown the actual wording of the PWC quote in the report, which is ; “The Regions have recognised that the financial position in FY11 (financial year 2011) was unsustainable and have taken actions to improve the management and performance of the Regions.”

In addition, “The Regions have implemented cost cutting strategies and the new Management teams appear to be putting a strong emphasis on improving the commercial and marketing activities.”

Finally, “External market forces have also had significant impact, which were difficult for the Management teams to combat without a collaborative approach with the Regions and the WRU.”

NB questioned SP’s assertion that the WRU give £16m to the regions and asked for confirmation that only £6m of this is WRU money. SG confirmed this was the case and that the rest is competition revenue (primarily TV revenues) passed through WRU.

SG further confirmed that the Regions solely carry the cost of competing in those competitions – including £1m cost for travel (flights) across the four, plus over £2.5m on coaching infrastructure which is defined as a requirement within the PA. This is in addition to the Squad cost required to be competitive, including the cost of additional player contracts required to enable the Regions to continue to play when International players are with Team Wales, for a longer period than any other country.

MP made reference to the point that RL suggested that the regions should use WG and the Welsh coaches’ expertise more often and asked if this was something the Regions should take up. The group were shown written requests from one of the regions to the WRU requesting coaching support from mid 2013, along with confirmation that no support had been provided.

In relation to the statement that the Wales team returning the region’s “assets in better shape” SG,MD and AW pointed out that there were more examples of the top players returning from Wales with injuries or fitness issues than without – e.g. Jamie Roberts playing only a handful of games for the Blues before his departure to France and more recently Sam Warburton and Jon Davies. MD stated he would like to understand how that constituted “better shape” and would like some proof.

AT referred to the response to the supporters questions about the 4th Autumn International with the WRU stating that this was at the regions’ request and to support WG vision that ‘beat the best you have to play the best’

SG stated that the Regions received £400k from the Australia International- just £100k each. NB commented that he understood that Australia received £750,000. SG stated that sounded about right and that, including TV revenues , he would estimate that income for the WRU from this would be circa £2.5m – £3m. That’s 80-90% revenue to WRU and 10-15% to the Regions. By contrast in England, RFU agreed 4th International every two years with the revenue split 50:50 between RFU & Clubs. AH and MD stated that the impact of the 4th International timing, the week prior to the Heinekin cup obviously had a fundamental effect on the competitiveness of the Regions in European Competition. MD pointed out that if it is possible to assimilate players back into Regional squads effectively in just a few days, why was it necessary to have such extended player release to ensure the National Team can perform.

NB asked for clarification of the point made by SP regarding distributions for player release. SG stated that this is factually incorrect as the payments purely related to player release monies as defined in the PA are actually distributed based on call up, not equally split as SP had stated. However the other monies – Welsh Qualified Player Incentive, Autumn International, Participation payment are split equitably across the four regions. The direct payment for player release is £1.2m not £6m. A significant element of the remainder is for maintaining a very high level of Welsh Qualified Players in their squads throughout the season – a higher level than other Nations.

AT asked why the Regions believed that the obvious answer of ‘Gatland’s law’ was not being applied. SG and NVS stated that whilst WG has been supportive of this suggestion, with some sensible safeguards, RL Has consistently and formally stated it will not be applied. MD presented dated material that confirms the Regions have included a version of “Gatland’s law” as part of their proposals since May 2012.

AT then asked what the Regions’ view of the point made by DP where he suggested that “pertinent questions” should be asked by supporters of their regions. MD stated that perhaps in the next meeting with WRU DP could be asked to define the pertinent questions he referred to. AH stated that the PWC report cost WRU circa £60k and asked every question possible of the Regions as you would expect from such a reputable organization. MD stated that he was unaware that DP had asked any business question of the Regions at any time and is always welcome to personally review with the Regions Management teams.

NB asked if the WRU were actively involved in running Dragons given their 50% shareholding. SG stated that as far as he was aware the WRU do not attend any Board meetings at Dragons, nor have any involvement in its management.

MP made reference to the statement made by RL and SP that the Regions need to better maximise their income, MD stated that the biggest earner for the WRU was a home game against England every other year where there is no air travel involved. WRU do not sell out Italy, Tonga, Samoa, Argentina, or possibly Scotland. The Regions play teams from Italy, Scotland and Ireland. Eight of the Eleven Home games for the Regions would involve flights for any away supporters travelling to Wales, with almost no service into Cardiff and very little into Bristol. This results in the Regions enjoying no away support at all. In addition, whilst the WRU has the ability to market their games 6 -12 months ahead with confirmed kick off times, the Regions have only 3 weeks at the start of the season and 3 weeks for the second half, with no consistency of KO time at all. This point was strongly acknowledged by all supporters as a huge factor from their own experiences.

Currently, the Regions cannot currently confirm or sell next seasons games as they have no knowledge of competitions for next year; they cannot confirm ANY sponsor revenue for next season – games & TV – as the competitions are yet to be defined.

The group were shown that RRW have raised all of these points to the WRU with no response.

With reference to the point raised by SP that 12,000 attendees are required at each game, MD and AH stated that this was at best disingenuous as it did not take any account of the many factors impacting on attendance:

  • Local populations at a fraction of Irish provinces or Scottish, English, French and even Italian teams
  • The difficult economic and employment situation in Wales
  • The short notice and confirmation of kick offs and inconsistent days and times
  • No away support due to air travel and the difficulty of access to Wales
  • Dragons & Blues do not have 12,000 capacity

Even if 4000 extra/Region/16 home games x £15 were possible – that would amount to £3.8m TOTAL across all 4 Regions – a fraction of the anticipated 80 – 100 Million Euro or the French Clubs’ TV deal.

AT confirmed that as stated at the start of the meeting the supporters representatives have a responsibility to their members and the intention was to provide a full update post the meeting.

AT thanked the RRW for their time and urged them to continue to talk to supporters. RRW encouraged the supporters to ask them any questions to ensure that they understood the full picture.

delmethomas

Cawr o Gymro

Petai rhyw greaduriaid o blaned arall yn glanio yn eich gardd cefn ac yn gofyn i chi beth yw Cymro, man a man i chi ofyn iddyn nhw fynd i bentre Bancyfelin yn Sir Gâr a ffeindio Delme Thomas. Dyma gawr o ddyn. Cawr o ran maint ond hefyd cawr o ran ei gymeriad; boi ei filltir sgwâr ond yn un sydd wedi teithio’r byd; caled a gwydn ar y cae rygbi ond yn gyfaill tyner oddi arno.

Wel, dyna sy’n amlygu ei hun yn ei lyfr, Delme, ta beth. Alun Gibbard a fu’n helpu ysgrifennu hanes ei fywyd. Cam naturiol i Gibbard, efallai, ar ôl cyhoeddi’r hanes am awr fwyaf Delme, sef buddugoliaeth Llanelli yn erbyn y Crysau Duon yn 1972, Who Beat the All Blacks? Ar ôl y llun enwog o’r sgorfwrdd ar y Strade’r diwrnod hwnnw, y llun o Delme’n cael ei gario gan y dorf yw’r un mwya’ cofiadwy, mae’n siwr. Ac yntau’n gapten ar y tîm, fe wnaeth, gyda Carwyn James, ysbrydoli’i gyd-chwaraewyr. Fe wnaeth hynny drwy ei esiampl ar y cae ond hefyd trwy ei araith cyn y gêm.

Mae dwy bennod wedi eu rhoi ar gyfer y gêm fawr honno ond mae’n dweud y cyfan am y dyn nad yw e’n rhoi gormod o sylw i’r araith, er i eraill wneud ar y pryd ac ers hynny. Mae’n rhoi mwy o sylw i’w gyd-chwaraewyr ac yn arbennig i’w hyfforddwr, Carwyn James, am y fuddugoliaeth chwedlonol. Yn wir, mae yna dipyn o sylw i Carwyn yn y llyfr. Carwyn fel hyfforddwr ond hefyd Carwyn fel person. Roedd yr hanesion hynny’n rhai darllenadwy iawn. Roedd e’n amlwg yn gwybod sut i drin pobol, p’un ai’n ddyn a oedd yn feistr ar y maes chwarae neu’n fenyw â oedd yn cyd-weithio ‘da fe yng Ngholeg y Drindod. Mae’r hanes amdano yn ymwneud â’r cymeriadau gwahanol yn un o uchafbwyntiau’r bywgraffiad.

Ond nid gyda’r Crysau Duon mae’r hanes yn dechrau. Yn hytrach gyda Delme’n cael ei ddewis i fynd ar daith y Llewod i Seland Newydd, ac yntau heb chwarae dros ei wlad. Hyd yn oed wedyn, y peth sydd amlycaf yn y bennod cyntaf yw nid y Llewod ond y filltir sgwâr. Bancyfelin. Cartre’ i dri Llew erbyn hyn wrth gwrs, gyda Mike Phillips a Jonathan Davies, yn ymuno â Delme. Anodd credu heddiw bod taith Llewod yn parhau cyhyd. Mae hi hyd yn oed yn anoddach dychmygu Alun Wyn Jones yn cael ei ddewis i chwarae fel prop mewn gêm brawf dros y Llewod, ond dyna a wnaeth Delme. Wrth ddarllen y llyfr, dyna un o’r pethau sy’ mwya’ trawiadol: cymaint mae rygbi wedi newid.

Mae’r newid hwnnw yn cymryd tipyn o sylw’r awdur. Mae ei farn ar pa mor galed yw’r gêm heddiw’n ddiddorol. Er bod yr ‘hits’ yn galetach, mae’n argyhoeddedig bod rygbi’r gorffennol yn llawer mwy peryglus. Heb lumanwyr i ymyrryd â’r chwarae a heb y camera, roedd yr hyn a ddigwyddodd pan nad oedd y bêl yno neu yn y ryc a’r sgarmes dipyn mwy brawychus. Newid arall sydd yn ddiddorol yw’r newid hwnnw o fod yn chwaraewr i’r hyn a ddigwydd ar ôl ymddeol. Bu Delme am gyfnod hir yn yr ysbyty yn dioddef o iselder. Yn ddigon o ddyn i fod yn onest am hynny, mae’n adrodd yr hanes yn dyner ac, eto, yn ddiolchgar iawn i eraill gan dynnu sylw oddi arno’i hunan. Mae’r gonestrwydd hynny a’r modd mae e wedi ymdopi yn ddigon gafaelgar i’r darllenydd.

Fel cefnogwr Llanelli fy hun, mae’n anodd peidio closio at Delme. Ac yntau’n Gymro Cymraeg i’r carn ac yn chwaraewr heb ei ail, mae hwn yn fywgraffiad sydd yn mynd y tu hwnt i ddisgrifio un gêm bwysig ar ôl y llall. Fe fyddwn i wedi hoffi petai e wedi sôn mwy am ambell i hanes, fel y teithiau i Dde’r Affrig y bu arnynt yn ystod cyfnod apartheid, ond dyw e ddim yn gwneud. Beth sydd yma yw hanes Cymro. Llyfr am un ohonom ni. Mae’n werth ei ddarllen.

Llyfr Delme yn cyhoeddi gan Y Lolfa.

 

control

Everything you wanted to know about Welsh rugby, but were afraid to ask

As a response to the debacle surrounding regional rugby in Wales, and the letter sent by the WRU to its member clubs this week, I thought I would take this opportunity to express my concerns and thoughts as to the culpability of the WRU in this matter.

The context of the debate is that Wales operates a model of control and governance whereby the four regions (RRW) are privately owned and contract with the governing body (WRU) for participation in tournaments and compensation for international players produced.

The RRW and WRU had an agreement for participation called the PA which ran between 2009 and 2014. Recently, after much media bullying and threats from the WRU to set up new regions owned centrally at the cost of a thousand Welsh jobs, the regions declined to roll over this agreement.

Before I discuss why I think they declined this option to replicate the PA for another five years, let me break down the PA.

It is worth:
- Circa £10m split four ways p/a for TV rights and competition monies. This is money dependent on the regions playing, however the money is paid into the WRU accounts and then distributed by the WRU under the union run competition rules. The WRU acts merely as a middle man for this money and includes it on their balance sheet as money ‘pumped’ into the game.

- £6.6m p/a in further funding, which is a bone of contention. The WRU has claimed frequently that this is for extra access to Wales international players, who are contracted to the RRW but who play for Wales for up to twenty weeks a year. This is a misrepresentation. The £6.6m breaks down as follows (approximately):

  • £2.4m split four ways as core grant
  • £2.4m split four ways as a limit for non-Welsh qualified players
  • £0.6m to contribute towards the four regional academies
  • £1.2m as compensation for releasing Wales players for extra training and extra matches not sanctioned specifically by the IRB test window

At this point, it should be clear that £1.2m to compensate for the loss of internationals is derisory and cannot be sustained. The RFU have an agreement with their clubs for the same access and this costs £13.75m, to give you an idea of the market rate for internationals.

As such, it is clear that rolling over this agreement would have been detrimental to the business of the regions due to the WRU declining to contribute any further to the £5m annual funding gap identified by a PriceWaterhouseCooper report.

However, it was also impossible for the regions to have signed due to ongoing uncertainty surrounding the £10m relating to competitions as both the HEC European Cup and Rabo league are not confirmed for next year.

So why not sit around a table and find the best way forward for Wales in the collaborative approach recommended by the PWC report? It is my firm belief that the desire of the Group Chief Executive to control all of professional rugby in Wales is behind this impasse. He is documented as stating that he believes the WRU should control the four regions (despite the PWC demonstrating they were financially in no such position to support four regions without private finance – to date £40m of private finance has been invested in the regions).

As seen from his threat to close down the regions on 31.12.13, his agenda has been to force the regions to fail by refusing to negotiate for a new, fit for purpose agreement to reflect the realities of the current economic climate. He now finds himself forced by his Board of Directors to offer a new deal to meet a RRW deadline of 31.1.14 (the deadline by which RRW have to explore alternative contracts with PRL in England) despite having had years to prepare negotiations and having refused to come to the table. The question has been posed by journalists such the Guardian’s Paul Rees and BBC Wales’ Ross Harries, ‘is the WRU trying to bankrupt the regions to pick up their players on the cheap?’ This would allow the WRU to concentrate funding on retaining Wales players, probably with two fully pro sides and two development sides: a dismantling of the successful four region model which has provided three Grand Slams, a World Cup semi final, a victorious Lions tour and a further 6N Championship.

The arrogant and divisive manner in which Lewis has acted has threatened over a thousand Welsh jobs and has threatened to devastate professional rugby in Wales for at least a generation. Is this the man who should be representing the interests of a city region in Wales?

donkey

Lions led by donkeys: the WRU board.

Today, on 2 January 2014, the board of the Welsh Rugby Union Limited (WRU) met to discuss the next stage in their attempt to reach agreement with the four professional teams they put forward to compete at the professional level of the game of Rugby Union. On the 31 December 2013, the professional sides represented by Regional Rugby Wales (RRW) declined the opportunity to continue their participation agreement with the WRU for the next 5 years.

On 1 January 2014, the Chief Executive of one of those four teams, Gareth Davies, challenged the WRU board to carefully consider at their next meetings whether the route of non-negotiation with RRW as laid out in their press release of 31 December, was really the route that they wished go down.

Effectively, he was asking the board of directors to challenge the executive directors, led by Roger Lewis, to justify the actions that were being done in their name.

So who are the board of the WRU, and what should be their role and composition?

We will firstly look at the role of the board.

It is accepted that good corporate governance in public interest entities such as sporting bodies, and that the work of the staff at such bodies (including the Chief Executive) is monitored and controlled by an effective board of what are termed ‘non-executive directors’.

In other words, directors of the business that have no day-to-day involvement in the business. The Institute of Directors (IoD) state that the non-executive director’s (NED) role “is to provide a creative contribution to the board by providing independent oversight and constructive challenge to the executive directors”.

In terms of composition, the UK government recently put their name to a set of guidance rules for sport and recreation boards, such as the WRU. In section 4 of this guidance they outline the following (amongst other points):

- Bodies should have a board of no more than 10 members

- The board should have at least two independent NED’s bringing knowledge and experience from outside the sport

- Ideally should have an independent Chair to bring an objective perspective

- The board should be chosen on the basis of their competence, ability, quality, leadership, integrity and experience

Let us look at three comparable bodies and the composition of their boards.

The Scottish Rugby Union has a board of nine members. One of these is an executive director. Of the other eight, two appear to be completely independent NED’s, including the chairman. The Chairman is a former CEO of First Group PLC, and the other independent NED is the UK CEO of Deutsche Bank. Of the other 6 NED’s, one is a former rugby player who is a specific NED appointment and the other 5 appear to be elected. Of those 6 though, there is an entrepreneur, a Chartered Accountant, and a CEO of a listed company.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) has a board of 15 members, including three executive directors.

They have 3 independent NED’s, who all current hold senior appointments at businesses, for example, a large law firm. Of the other 9 directors, many have held, or do hold, senior positions in a variety of businesses.

The English Football Association (FA) board is made up of 12 members. One of these is a staff member, the General Secretary. There is an independent chairman, who is a former Director General of the BBC, amongst other appointments. Of the other 10 directors, 4 are elected from the grass roots of the game, 4 from the professional game, and 2 appointed NED’s. One is a barrister and local authority CEO, and the other is a former executive director of Hilton International and Ladbrokes.

So, how does the WRU match up against these? Who actually sits on the WRU board?

There are 18 directors, only one of whom is an executive director. That is Roger Lewis, the Chief Executive Officer.

There is a chairman, David Pickering. He is not independent, as shortly before being elected as Chair in 2003 he was employed by the WRU as Wales team manager. His business experience is somewhat unclear.

Another two directors sit as a ‘National Representative’. One is Gerald Davies. Whilst he has a healthy business background, his independence could be questioned due to his previous rugby career. The other is Martin Davies. Whilst being a Chartered Accountant, he does not seem to have experience at a senior level in a large business, according to the WRU website.

If the WRU claim that the ‘National Representatives’ are the equivalent of an independent NED, then I would question their independence. The skills and expertise of the other National Representative do not appear to be as strong as the comparable bodies laid out above.

The other 14 directors are elected by WRU districts. Not one of these directors has any senior business experience. Many are retired, and worryingly, 6 of them were directors when significant decisions were made in 1999 and subsequent years, decisions which almost placed the WRU into an insolvent position.

To summarise, the composition of the WRU board, in the author’s opinion, fails to comply with best practice set out by government endorsed guidance relating to the governance of sport. In addition, the business acumen and experience of its board members falls short of that of comparable bodies, and if the National Representatives are the independent NED’s, their independence and calibre is questionable, certainly when compared to similar bodies.