Independent panel criticizes WRU for promoting a ‘toxic’ culture of discrimination.
An impartial evaluation of the Welsh Rugby Union has presented a severe judgement on a “poisonous” environment of harassment and prejudice, combined with widespread internal conflicts and overall incompetence within the group.
A program aired by BBC Wales in January sparked controversy when several ex-employees came forward with accusations of sexism and discrimination during their time at WRU. The report published on Tuesday sheds light on issues such as poor management, a disregard for developing women’s rugby, internal political conflicts, and a pervasive culture of bullying and sexism.
The report depicts a thorough depiction of failure within a hostile and unforgiving work environment, as reported by certain employees. The report states that the WRU has verified the accuracy of the factual information presented.
The review committee, consisting of three members – chairperson Dame Anne Rafferty, Quentin Smith, and Maggie Alphonsi – was selected in February. They have presented 36 suggestions for enhancing and transforming the organization. These recommendations involve establishing a supervisory body, ongoing changes to the WRU board, greater investment in women’s rugby, and publicly demonstrating a commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Over 50 individuals or groups were questioned in the seven-month probe, including both amateur and professional players, high-ranking and lower-level employees from professional and amateur organizations, and external parties. The investigation also reviewed 5,000 pages of written evidence.
In summary, the report cites a previous WRU director who stated that the board was afraid and uninformed about their responsibilities. They were hesitant to ask questions because they did not know how to handle the answers.
The report also discusses a widespread breakdown in leadership, stating that the WRU did not possess the necessary abilities to manage a business worth £100 million. It also notes that the organization was uncertain and incapable of addressing problems at their root, instead opting to simply manage the immediate issue.
The management style has faced criticism for being overly political. One manager expressed their uncertainty about who to rely on, stating: “I don’t feel comfortable being completely honest because there are issues I want to address or mention, but I feel vulnerable not knowing who I can trust.”
Abi Tierney, the future chief executive of WRU Group, will start her position in January. She stated, “The report from the independent review is very humbling and highlights regrettable issues, actions, and attitudes. These should not be present in our workplace or any workplace … We will follow through with all of the suggestions made by the independent review panel.”
Richard Collier-Keywood, the chair of the WRU who was selected in June, stated: “It is a challenging read for those who have a passion for Welsh rugby, and it is even more challenging for those who are employed by the WRU.”
It is evident that there were numerous chances to prevent the significant issues that were mentioned but were not acted upon. We have a significant amount of work ahead of us to regain the trust of our colleagues, players, volunteers who are the backbone of our community game, and supporters.
We apologize to those who have been affected by the systems, structures, and actions described in the report that are deemed unacceptable. We must improve and we are committed to doing so.
After the BBC programme aired in January, Steve Phillips stepped down as chief executive within a week. In a letter found in the report, Amanda Blanc, who resigned as chief executive in November 2021, expresses her dissatisfaction with Philips’s appointment, stating that it was a clear example of a flawed governance process that would not have been acceptable in any other organization she has worked with globally.
Blanc had stated that she was extremely let down by the assessment of the women’s game, which she found almost insulting. She also claimed that during a board meeting, the majority of the time was spent coming up with ways to defend a male employee accused of harassment instead of addressing the issue at hand.
She expressed concern that the WRU was facing a pressing issue in regards to diversity and inclusion. The report refers to her as a highly ranked female executive in the UK and mentions that another board member had asked her, “What is your understanding of governance?”
The report states that there is a possibility of improvement within the organization due to the fact that many individuals involved have left. It clarifies that the findings do not indicate that everyone, or even a majority, have encountered bullying or discrimination. However, a considerable number of individuals did experience a negative and unhealthy work environment as described in the report.
Nigel Walker, the interim CEO of the WRU, expressed his appreciation for the efforts and examination of the review panel. He also stated that the suggestions made by the independent review will be fully implemented. The goal is to establish a positive culture that all members of Welsh rugby can take pride in.