An appalling failure of statecraft

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The title of this piece is a quote from Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin this week, and it sums up the situation we find ourselves in succintly.

Mr Martin was actually referring to the ongoing Brexit negotiations of course, but the statement fits the immeasurably more important crisis in Welsh professional rugby, which seems to be worsening at an alarming rate over recent weeks.

There’s been a distinct lack of coverage of this in the media, but the Welsh Rugby Union has suffered a serious embarrassment in recent weeks when it comes to securing financial support for the game in Wales from the UK Government.

Before the Autumn it was the case, confirmed by WRU CEO Steve Phillips in an interview with WalesOnline Business Editor Sion Barry, that the Union was talking with Westminster in order to receive funding to ensure the survival of professional rugby, through a mixture of loans and grants. This was led by the Rugby Football Union though, rather than done directly.

The RFU subsequently received up to £135m for the game in England, but offered nothing for Wales because the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in London cannot fund sport outside of England. The WRU were seemingly unaware of this, and the fact that funding would not automatically be given to Welsh organisations through the Barnett Formula, and left with egg on their face.

With coffers emptying quickly they turned back to Cardiff Bay, but as things stand money for the professional game in Wales it still not forthcoming, despite Scotland managing to secure £20m towards their survival from the government at Holyrood in the meantime.

It feels very much like the WRU are preparing to crash out with a no deal, but will try to palm it off as an ‘Australia deal’. Of course, much like in those Brexit negotiations, this is just a cover up for a dire situation. Rugby Australia are in serious financial trouble, after all.

Over the last week we have seen severe warnings from Cardiff Blues chief executive Richard Holland who has called the current situation ‘a fight for survival’, and Ospreys chairman Rob Davies who has put a figure of £40m on how much the professional game in Wales needs to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

Before the community game comes calling with a ‘what about us?’, it’s important to acknowledge that their £11.3m funding is ringfenced, meanwhile payments from the WRU to the professional game have been cut from £26m to £3m, and the four pro teams saddled with a £20m loan that has been thrust upon them by the Union with no option but for them to accept.

Without the professional game producing players for the national team the national team does not drive the revenue that is required to ensure the community game’s ringfenced funding is fulfilled, therefore it is in the interests if the community game to see the professional game survive.

So as the gunships prepare to take up posts in the Bristol Channel in an attempt to keep prying eyes off our star Wales players, while their agents apply for permits to queue on the far side of the Severn Crossing to get their clients out of the soon to be cut off country, Steve Phillips and Rob Butcher flounder around like blokes from the accounts department and a former Geography teacher attempting to run a £90m business.

Rob Davies’ seemingly heavily sarcastic suggestion that Phillips could ask for “assistance from high calibre, experienced directors to help the game through this period then I’m sure between the four of us we could find some for him”, referring to the four chairmen of the professional sides of course, is exactly the way we should be heading.

High quality businessmen like Davies, David Buttress and Simon Muderack, alongside an experienced lawyer in Alun Jones, and with the chair of the Professional Rugby Board in Amanda Blanc, Aviva plc CEO, would no doubt be leading the professional game towards a much brighter future than we are currently facing under the Union of amateur clubs led by gravy train riders.

It’s time for a split between the professional and community game in order for both to survive, otherwise men totally under-qualified for their positions are going to lead us into many years of financial ruin.

And Brexit isn’t going very well, either.


  1. I live in England but what depresses me about this situation is the absence of any meaningful media scrutiny of either the WRU or the Assembly leaders. At Westminster no one can hiccup without a multitude of adverse comment. It seems to be different in Wales. Maybe it’s a century of being a one party state. Maybe it’s the absence of any quality journalism. Either way it does the Welsh game and Welsh society a huge disservice.


    1. Wales certainly suffers from a distinctly weak media presence. WalesOnline’s ability/willing to hold power to account is very hit and miss. Aside from that we’re relying on London-based media who largely aren’t interested.


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