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EGMre we go again

This is an email today sent to all WRU member clubs.

To WRU Member Clubs
 
Dear Secretaries,
 
I write to you, with ever increasing sadness and despair, regarding the league restructure that is being imposed on us by the WRU Board and its Chief Executive, against the wishes of a large number of our fellow clubs.
 
From talking with many of you, I know that you feel aggrieved, not just at the outcome of the restructure, but also at the process that led to it, including the embarrassing way that the Chairman & Chief Executive handled the situation at the EGM, and the farcical postal ballot that ensued.
 
Despite many promises, the WRU have never engaged in a proper consultation exercise with us regarding the league restructure. As usual, we have been treated with contempt by those who think they know better – the same people who needed a 3-month review in order to understand Welsh Rugby.
 
I have taken legal advice and am confident a prohibitive injunction can be quickly obtained in order to stop these ill-conceived changes from being implemented.
 
I am seeking your support to apply for the injunction and also to call an EGM.
 
At that EGM, I propose that we should properly debate the league restructure and the Board’s related conduct, plus hold a Vote of No Confidence in The Chief Executive, who ultimately must bear responsibility for not just this situation, but also the many others that have led to our Union being held in such “low esteem” across World Rugby
 
We pay this man almost £6,500 a week yet, as Gerald Davies stated so powerfully at the June EGM, “our reputation is tarnished and it’s not a good image. We are not held in high regard, we are held in low esteem. It is disappointing and distressing we have such a reputation. 
 
“We need desperately to restore our dignity and reputation. We need a strong identity, we need cohesion, collaboration and cooperation. We need to restore Welsh rugby and not through self-interest. We can’t carry on with having more of the same.
 
I acknowledge that I will not gain the support of all clubs, but I ask that you read and carefully consider the content of this letter before you and your fellow Officers make a decision, as the restructure in its current guise will affect the majority of clubs for many years to come and will cause untold damage as a whole to rugby in Wales.
 
Please don’t hide behind the relative comfort that comes from currently being in a higher division, as things change rapidly in rugby!
 
This is the last chance for us to put a stop to this rushed restructure.
 
Lack of consultation
 
Despite Mr Lewis’ assertion at the June EGM that he presides over a listening Union, he is still not hearing. I have personally written to Mr Lewis on several occasions asking who was consulted about the restructure amongst our member clubs and when, and why he continues to avoid further consultation. As usual, I have yet to receive a suitable response.
 
In Mr Lewis’ latest letter he asserts that the restructure will go ahead, but will be further reviewed in a year’s time by yet another Working Party. It is interesting to note what he didn’t mention: consultation. Why won’t Mr Lewis and the people on the Working Party (that he has chosen) talk to us, the clubs, the people most affected by these changes?
 
Why did it take the Chief Executive almost 6 months to discover the depth of ill feeling towards the restructure following its announcement last August? Many clubs have informed me that they have challenged the restructure at District Meetings, and have written letters, emailed and called the WRU directly but did not receive a response.
 
Mr Lewis cites the recent ballot as justification to proceed with the restructure, but that is a fundamentally flawed argument on several fronts.
 
The ballot
 
It is worth stating that we should never have been put in the situation that a ballot was required to ratify a league restructure. The way that the decision to call a ballot was reached at the EGM was manipulative and disgraceful. The unedifying sight of our Chairman, President and Chief Executive first disagreeing over due process, then making up solutions on the hoof to placate the anger that was growing at the EGM, was quite frankly embarrassing and “below the dignity required of a National Governing Body”, to use Mr Lewis’s own oft-quoted words.
 
I have major concerns about the ballot itself, and the disingenuous way the results were presented.
 
The WRU issued ballot papers without explaining:

  • What the “geography and meritocracy” criteria that will be applied prior to the 2015/16 season are and what effect they could have on the outcome of hard-fought promotion and relegation
  • Why some clubs have been offered a general opt-out to promotion and relegation
  • On what basis changes to the initial proposals were made such that several clubs were moved out of West Divisions to East Divisions, creating imbalances such that some clubs will play fewer games, but have the same chance of promotion as those playing a fuller fixture list.

335 members were sent ballot papers (including Member Clubs & Associates, plus District Members). I have been informed by a number of clubs that they did not receive their ballot papers, and they will have been included in the 95 that the WRU says did not respond.
 
Of those that did respond, 137 clubs were in favour of the league restructure, which is not even a majority (it is 41% of those balloted). More significant is that 88 clubs explicitly voted against the proposals, or the equivalent of 7 of the proposed new leagues!
 
So, we now have a situation where 59% of those balloted have either said no or not said anything at all, yet the Chief Executive still pushes ahead.
 
How can he possibly justify making such fundamental changes when less than half of our clubs agree? Surely, somewhere in the constitution of the WRU, a minimum of at least 50% of any full vote is required before change can be implemented?
 
Two weeks ago, I emailed The Chief Executive and asked him to forward a copy of the relevant part of the WRU constitution that is related to ballots. I wanted to establish what the correct procedure is and whether in this instance it has been followed.
 
The Chief Executive has not even had the decency to acknowledge my enquiry.
 
The mechanics & consequences of the restructure
 
32 clubs in North Wales appear to have been given their own league structure, with a relatively straightforward ‘2 up 2 down’ system of promotion and relegation. The winner of Division 1 North cannot be promoted into the Championship, however.
 
Of the remaining 269 league clubs, just 19 clubs (7%) will be promoted in any one season, 19 clubs (7%) will be relegated, and the vast majority, 231 clubs (86%) will be left without ambition or aspiration.
 
This will take the heart, pride, and passion out of Welsh Rugby and will have a catastrophic effect on every facet of the game in Wales.
 
At the half-way point in a season, the vast majority of clubs will have nothing to play for, and the retention, excitement, ambition of players will be lost. We all know how hard it is to motivate amateur players at the best of times. These leagues will make this virtually impossible.
 
It’s not just those clubs destined to be forever mid-table or lower that will have such problems. A club could win their particular league year on year and never get promoted due to the ridiculous play-off process that also allows an arbitrary one in three of the clubs TWO chances to get promoted.
 
The new Division Three will hold a massive 147 clubs across the 13 different-sub divisions. Only the 13 winners of a sub-division can progress into a promotion play-off; the runners up get nothing.
 
So, out of those 147 Division 3 clubs, just EIGHT can be promoted in any one season, and there is NO relegation.
 
A Division 3 club that has a bad start to the season, and finds itself at the lower end of the division after Christmas, will inevitably struggle to field a side on a Saturday, That club may not worry too much as they cannot be relegated, but what of the other clubs in that Division? If the fixture list isn’t completed, most clubs will have the points for the early season wins deducted. Final positions in the division will then change causing confusion and discord at the end of the season.
 
Division 2 clubs will do everything within their power to avoid being one of the 8 relegated to Division 3. The best players in Division 3 will be headhunted by those Division 2 clubs who are fighting to stay up. Money will undoubtedly change hands.
 
This will probably also be mirrored in Division 1 as the fear of being one of the 8 relegated to Division 2 bites. We are all too aware of clubs that have previously gone into free-fall from higher divisions and ended up sinking into oblivion. This league restructure makes that scenario even more likely.
 
The hidden agenda
 
I would ask all Secretaries, Chairpersons and officers of clubs to look properly at what is being offered by the WRU in respect of the league restructure. There is no doubt in my mind that that there is a hidden agenda to ‘cull’ the number of clubs, and many of the people I have spoken to agree.
 
Indeed, the vast majority of clubs I have been in contact with me, from North to South, and East to West, have grave concerns about this restructure.
 
Many refer to that ‘hidden agenda’ and the secrecy surrounding the so-called working party, and the lack of information and due process, which caused June’s EGM in the first place.

The Board and the Chief Executive should have delayed these changes until a full, inclusive, professional and proper consultation process was undertaken.

Why would they not do this?

Mr Lewis counters our legitimate concerns by pledging to monitor and then review the situation at the end of the season. If he has enough doubts to suggest that a review will be required, why are we still going ahead? It is just sheer bloody-mindedness, and typical of a man who does not like to admit his mistakes.
 
He would do well to remember that it isn’t the regions or the supporters club that sell the majority of international tickets, it is the clubs whose numbers he is trying to reduce.
 
It is the clubs that nurture the grassroots of our game by raising the spirit of amateur players, supporting and financing youth rugby, schools rugby, and mini/junior rugby.  Without our clubs, parents will have nowhere to bring their children to introduce them to our great game.
 
The stark reality of a bleak future under the new league system
 
Clubs will fail if the restructure kills the ambitions of the majority. Even now, keeping our clubs viable is very challenging within the current economic climate; these changes will make it even more difficult. Already, one third of our clubs suffer year on year financial losses and 128 clubs are in long-term debt; the WRUs own press releases have confirmed that. Sponsors are already realising that there is dwindling support for the game in Wales and therefore will not spend money where they see no potential for return.
 
It is with deep regret that I have had to write this letter, but I hope you and your club officers will respond by return and confirm that you will support me in stopping these league changes before it is too late.
 
Yours sincerely
 
John Manders

We understand that Mr Manders is confident of getting the required number of clubs.

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