ON SUNDAY morning (Jan 29), the WRU announced the departure of Chief Executive Steve Phillips.
Mr Phillips’s resignation came after WRU Chair Ieuan Evans announced the formation of an external taskforce to investigate racism, misogyny, and sexism inside Welsh rugby union’s governing body. The former CEO attended the meeting about the task force’s formation but decided he was not the person to lead the WRU through the investigative process.
NIGEL WALKER TAKES OVER AT THE TOP
The WRU announced that former Welsh rugby international and current Performance Director Nigel Walker OBE would immediately take over as Acting CEO.
“It is with huge regret that I have decided to hand in my resignation,” said Steven Phillips.
“I have always had the best interests of Welsh rugby at the heart of my every action and thought, but I have concluded that it is now time for someone else to lead the way.
“This is a sport I love and is so admired around the world, and I wish everyone involved in the game every success and my heartfelt best wishes.
“I am absolutely aligned with Ieuan’s commitment to re-examine and further improve the cultures and behaviours at the WRU and fully support the formation of a new independent Taskforce. I am pleased I have been able to start this process for the WRU.
“On a personal note, I wish Nigel Walker well and thank all of the dedicated staff at the WRU, who can be extremely proud of the efforts and hard work they put in daily for the betterment of our game.
“I am on record already saying how much I hugely regret the feelings and emotions expressed recently by former members of staff.”
WRU Chair Ieuan Evans also described a meeting with the Welsh Government’s Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport, Dawn Bowden MS, as “constructive”.
Sport Wales will now advise about a Chair’s appointment to oversee the investigation, set its scope and parameters and recruit key personnel to its panel.
Ieuan Evans thanked the departing CEO for his service and pointed out positive developments at the WRU during his time at the organisation’s helm.
He continued: “We are delighted to be able to call on an individual, a businessman, and former elite sportsman, of Nigel’s calibre to come in as Acting CEO.
“Nigel will work closely with the new Taskforce and help lead us through the next urgent steps, as we seek to learn from the current serious and significant issues we face.”
WRU DAMAGED BY “TOXIC CULTURE”
Steve Phillips faces no allegations of personal misconduct. However, his lengthy employment by the WRU left him tangled in the wreckage following the revelations about the treatment of the former general manager of Welsh women’s rugby, Charlotte Wathan. Ms Wathan described a “toxic culture” of sexism inside the WRU, which, she alleged, the Union did little to address.
Marc Roberts, a former director of the community game for the WRU and who worked for the Union for twenty years before leaving last month, told BBC Wales the WRU’s internal culture had worsened in the past five years. He said he warned bosses about complaints from women in the organisation but was ignored.
He said: “I have seen no change in our culture. It’s not a culture that likes to be challenged.”
Nigel Walker said: “There is no doubt that Welsh rugby is facing an existential crisis,
“This has been a wake-up call. It may be an overdue call. The first step to any recovery is admitting the problem.
“We must now listen intently to what people outside our organisation are telling us. We care and are committed to equality, diversity and inclusion. We work hard in this space with dedicated resources and investment. But we need to do better. We need to do much better, and we will.
“I will work tirelessly and relentlessly with our chair Ieuan Evans, our board, and the newly appointed Taskforce to ensure the WRU progresses to a better place.
“Welsh rugby is an integral part of Welsh society and we need to ensure that we are not only perceived as a welcoming institution with a place for all, but that our every action reflects this in all quarters of our business.”
SPONSORS GIVE WRU WARNING SHOT
And therein lies the true sting. Sponsors are very twitchy about their brands appearing anywhere near a scandal, particularly involving any allegations of sexism or racism.
The loss of sponsors could financially cripple the Union and seriously affect the Welsh game at all levels.
A Principality Spokesperson said: “We take great pride in supporting grassroots rugby within the diverse communities we serve, as we have for over 20 years, and want to work with partners who share our values. The allegations in the emerging BBC investigation are extremely concerning and we would expect the WRU to take the immediate and decisive action required to remove any discriminatory and bullying behaviours and to uphold the inclusive values that we should all live by.”
Admiral, another WRU partner, said in a statement: “Our culture is of paramount importance to us, so naturally the cultures of the partners we work with are also important. While this is a matter for the WRU, given the serious nature of the allegations made, we have and will remain in discussion with them.”
The Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies MS, said: “There is no doubt that these appalling and substantial allegations have damaged the reputation of the WRU.
“I hope that with a change in leadership, the WRU can regain the trust of the people of Wales, behaviours can be reflected upon, and the organisation can begin to repair its image.
“After raising this matter with the First Minister and writing to the Senedd committee Chair on Tuesday asking her committee to investigate these serious allegations. I am pleased that the committee will be questioning the Chairman of the WRU and Deputy Minister on Thursday.
“The status quo is not an option.”