It’s been a busy old week for Welsh Rugby Union CEO Steve Phillips who, after spending as much of his time in the top job on Westgate Street in hiding thus far, has now become impossible to get off the TV!
Unfortunately for the former finance head, rather than a great awakening of visibility and accountability, it’s been car crash after car crash as he started with a slightly bizarre Wenglish interview on S4C Current Affairs programme Y Byd ar Bedwar (The World on Four) in which he neither stated or was pushed on anything of note, before squirming his way around difficult questions on the Scrum V Podcast.
Between that he appeared at a press conference officially unveiling Warren Gatland as the new Head Coach of Wales for the second time during which he answered just one question on the 60-cap rule, and even that was a non-answer.
The soundbite which has probably done the rounds the most following this run of media appearances though is what Y Byd ar Bedwar chose to lead with on Twitter when trailing their interview with Phillips, where the WRU CEO discusses criticism of the Union’s amateur governance structure and of community game appointed board members;
I don’t really like the criticism, to be bluntly honest, (towards) the community-appointed directors, I just think that’s inappropriate. You’ve got to remember, the WRU is here to serve not only the professional side of the game. It’s got a commercial side of the game, it’s got a community arm to deliver, it’s got a professional arm to deliver, and if we don’t deliver all of them, and around the same time, we’re probably doing something wrong.Steve Phillips, talking to Y Byd ar Bedwar
Phillips then followed that up with the following on the Scrum V Podcast;
What I didn’t like about (the criticism) is that people don’t appreciate what the WRU does sometimes. To criticise the people on the board who look after the community side, that is what I don’t like and I don’t think it is particularly fair. I do think it’s got a little bit personal, unfairly personal…what I don’t like is that people get criticised, unfairly, for what is really doing their job.Steve Phillips, talking to the Scrum V Podcast
Now, there is the point that his comments deflect from the fact that having so many amateur game committee men on the board gives them undue influence over the professional and commercial arm which is the heart of the governance issues and wider problems in Welsh rugby. Whether that’s done purposely or, perhaps even more worryingly, he actually doesn’t realise, I’ll leave up to you to decide.
However, I want to focus on what is actually inappropriate.
Inappropriate is leaving so many players in the lurch not knowing if they have a job after next summer, not being able to get new mortgage deals, putting their bodies on the line without knowing if they’ll have medical assistance in six months, and putting their friends and families under that same pressure.
Inappropriate is asking supporters to part with hard-earned cash for merchandise, tickets and season memberships without knowing if their club will actually exist by the start of next of the following campaign.
Inappropriate is professional clubs having to ask staff members to take reduced wages or to be paid late in order to ensure the business can survive through to end of each month while a new payments model is agreed through the Professional Rugby Board.
Inappropriate is purposely deceiving people into thinking that fair criticism of the WRU is invalid, or not understanding that’s what you’re doing and remaining in a very well paid job despite clearly not being capable of doing it while overseeing the collapse of a country’s historically and culturally national sport.
That is inappropriate. Not people rightly suggesting that the community game committee men should have no majority governing rule over a £90m business, and that when they don’t do enough, or anything, to make the necessary changes then it may well be because they are quite happy riding the gravy train until every lost drop of gravy is gone.
Perhaps while Steve Phillips considers his own position as WRU CEO then he might also consider getting a sense of perspective.