The Welsh Rugby Union is preparing to start a new era over the next few weeks and months with changes in the Chairman and Chief Executive role.
Over the last five years Gareth Davies and Martyn Phillips have led Welsh rugby away from the catastrophe that was Roger Lewis’s spell in charge and towards a future that is more recognisable in a world of professional sport.
It has not been plain sailing, it’s important to say, and there have been many times under Phillips when I have been totally pessimistic about the game in Wales. Project Reset, for example, almost became a second civil war as a direct result of disastrous management, or complete lack of management more accurately, from the WRU executive.
However there have been important steps made towards modernising the governance of Union, particularly with the slimming down of the Board and the establishment of the Professional and Community Game Boards which have begun the move towards splitting the management of the two elements of Welsh rugby.
The simple fact of the matter is that the community element of Welsh rugby should be totally separate to the professional element. Local club committee men voted on to WRU Councils and Boards are invariably not qualified to have any input into modern day professional sport.
A prime example of that is the vote for the new WRU Chairman this week as former Wales winger Ieuan Evans, who’s only business experience is as a director of his own company with a £50,000 turnover, goes up against Rob Butcher, a former teacher with no business experience. The Welsh Rugby Union is a £90m business.
Both of these men will run on an agenda of ensuring that the community game remains in control at the Union, attempting to increase the amount of money local clubs have to spend and weakening the regions by continuing to avoid any financial risk that the professional game presents.
The community game currently has £11.3m of ring-fenced funding, more than any other British or Irish Union comparatively, while it spends less on the professional game than any of those. Despite that there are still regularly calls from the community game to take back money that the professional game is ‘stealing’ from them.
Meanwhile nobody dares questions the community game. That money is routinely misspent on paying players or ensuring blazers have days out at internationals, or the fact that there are clearly too many local clubs in some areas for the population size and number of players.
As has quite often been the case over the last 100 or so years, Rugby League may well be leading the way in this respect as the Rugby Football League (RFL) administers the professional game while the British Amateur Rugby League Association (BARLA) looks after the community game, working together through the RFL Community Board.
The tail does not wag the dog in the 13-a-side code.
Over the last few weeks we have seen interviews from each of the chairmen/owners of the four professional rugby union sides in Wales and all have accepted that a British and Irish League, or some variation of it, is on the agenda as CVC begins to make it’s mark on domestic rugby in Europe.
With their financial power there is a possibility that the professional game could break away, rather than split from the community game in an organised and controlled manner. Welsh community rugby could be on it’s way to causing itself big problems.