There has never been a more dreadful week for Welsh rugby than the one about to end.

Allegations of bullying, sexism and racism within the Welsh Rugby Union have raised serious questions about the long-term future of the game in this country.

The position of WRU Chief Executive Steve Phillips is now in serious doubt given the pressure on him from multiple angles.

WalesOnline takes a look at the key questions, the questions that still need to be answered and what is likely to happen next:

WRU claims and initial defense

The numerous allegations have now been widely publicised, with the focus of a BBC investigation being the testimony of former WRU women’s rugby general manager Charlotte Watan. The shocking nature of a colleague’s alleged comment that he wanted to rape her, the fact that he continued to work for the union, and Ms. Watan that neither he nor other key witnesses were interviewed as part of the investigation of her allegations sparked outrage.

WRU’s initial comments after the program ended were aimed at defending its way of handling individual issues raised before a more contrite tone was adopted this week, with apologies and promises to review procedures.

The union said it hired an outside legal expert to review Vatan’s claim and found the allegations to be unfounded. Finally, the man who made the comment was interviewed. The WRU also said it could not comment due to an agreement signed by the governing body and Ms. Watan in December, which ended the impending labor lawsuit.

So who actually did the research? WalesOnline can reveal for the first time that lawyers for Hugh James have been appointed to investigate Ms. Watan. The firm is well known, has offices in Cardiff and London and represents the WRU in certain matters.

We reached out to them for comment and the firm insisted it had no business ties to the WRU beyond its role as one of several law firms the union instructs on certain matters from time to time.

A representative for Hugh James said: “Our employment lawyers have extensive experience in all aspects of labor and employment law and work with companies across a wide range of sectors. The work we do for our clients spans everything from day-to-day employment matters to large and complex investigations and disputes.

“In May 2021, the Welsh Rugby Union ordered us to collect evidence in relation to an individual but far-reaching complaint lodged by an employee. We conducted a thorough and independent investigation over several months, which included interviewing key witnesses about key aspects of the allegation.

“Hugh James is one of several law firms engaged by the WRU to provide legal advice on a range of matters. We are not retained by the WRU as employment/personal legal advisers: This case was a one-time filing involving an experienced investigative attorney who was appointed to conduct a thorough investigation of Ms. Watan over a period of several months, the lawyer interviewed many witnesses about key aspects of the allegation. Following these interviews, an extensive report was prepared for the WRU covering all aspects of Ms. Watan. We are unable to provide further details or comment on our involvement in this investigation due to our professional commitment to customer confidentiality.”

Of course, Mrs. Watan is just part of that and the allegations of others, including a former employee who said he considered killing himself after alleged bullying, and the devastating resignation speech by former Rugby Professional Council chair Amanda Blank, in which she exposed the sexism among WRU elected officials – paints an incredibly bleak picture.

why time is important

As with everything, the devil is in the details, and in this case, timing is absolutely crucial. In his letter to clubs on Tuesday afternoon and in subsequent interviews, Phillips put a lot of emphasis on the 2017-19 period, when he said the WRU culture was “far below the bar where people don’t have enough confidence to approach the States United”. . with the care they took.’

This is significant as it is under the mandate of his predecessor Martin Phillips and then President Gareth Davies. It is fair to say that most of Mrs. Watan allegedly took place during this period, but some of the allegations in Ms. Watan, which WalesOnline saw, date back to 2020, while the former chair of the Rugby Professional Board, Amanda Blanc, left Welsh Rugby in December. 2021 year.

This is crucial because, as revealed by the BBC on Monday, Blank claimed in his opening speech that sexism and misogyny were rife in the governing body, with senior WRU figures saying that “men are the master race” and that “women belong in the kitchen”.

Phillips, who became interim CEO in September 2020 before being appointed permanently in March 2021, and the current WRU board would have been present when Blanc spoke, so why was she only focused on 2017-19? In his previous role as chief financial officer, Phillips was also a key figure in the WRU, having joined the union in 2007.

Given the brutality of the current storm and the anger many feel towards the man at the top, is it realistic for Welsh rugby to continue with Phillips at the helm?

A war with the regions and a financial settlement on the knife’s edge

While the current focus is rightly on allegations of bullying and sexism within the WRU, the future of all four regions is at stake.

All four sides – Cardiff, Dragons RFC, Ospreys and Scarlets – backed a letter from Cardiff’s non-executive director Hayley Parsons announcing the resignation of Phillips and the WRU board. You can read it here.

The relationship between Phillips and the regions has been on the verge of collapse for a long time, but it has now reached the point where it has become unworkable. Last week, the four regions and the WRU signed the terms of a new six-year financial framework, but the deal has yet to be signed.

While they would love to have Phillips out of the picture, the prospect of the CEO leaving before a long-term financial deal is signed puts them in a very dangerous position.

The delay in signing the deal has kept the regions quiet in recent months, and any further delay increases the real possibility that at least one of them will end up in administration.

If Phillips steps down, a plan must be put in place to ensure the short-term survival of the four regions as a bridge while they sign a long-term financing deal.

It also casts a shadow over Warren Gatland and his Wales team with the Six Nations just a week away as his contract remains frozen. Many of his squad are out of contract at the end of the season and are faced with the difficult decision of whether to wait this out or risk their international careers by signing in England or abroad. Whether this will affect its performance over the next two months remains to be seen.

The TikTok Women’s Six Nations kicks off in the second half of March, with the Welsh women looking to continue their improvement in just their second year of proficiency and contracts as they compete for the top three to secure a spot in the top tier. . WXV’s new global women’s competition launching later this year. While the Women’s Performance Program and those who participate in it would likely benefit from any future WRU changes to eliminate any sexism, players will no doubt be asked about this big topic off the field before it’s not exactly ideal in terms of performance. revision.

Who has the right to remove Steve Phillips?

All power resides on the WRU mainboard.

As for the possibility of Phillips being fired, that would be subject to labor law and is unlikely to happen because they’ve been supportive of everything he’s done so far. There would be no cases of serious misconduct.

Essentially, he would have had to agree to leave with a negotiated deal and, ironically, a non-disclosure agreement, but as it stands, his position is almost untenable given the loss of trust from certain clubs and key WRU stakeholders.

If he leaves, Euan Evans, as chairman, will have to consult with all eight board members individually or collectively. Then he would propose to the board that Phillips be fired, and then the board could agree to that. The three senior non-executive directors on the supervisory board (Henry Engelhardt, Catherine Reid and Malcolm Wall) are likely to play an important advisory role.

Ewan Evans future

The question people don’t ask is what will happen to WRU Chairman Ian Evans if Phillips is fired?

Evans spoke to the press on Wednesday, and while he promised to do all he can to improve Welsh rugby culture, he was supportive of Phillips. This puts you in a difficult position.

Evans became Vice President in December 2021, so he may have been aware of the allegations amid allegations of a “toxic culture”. To be fair, he has announced plans to set up an external task force to clean up Welsh rugby, and the WRU insists many of these complaints have been investigated. But was it worth doing more? Did Evans make a huge personal mistake by rooting for Phillips during a seemingly unstoppable storm?

Who will replace Phillips if he steps down as CEO?

Meanwhile, the play’s director, Nigel Walker, would be the obvious choice. The former Wales international is qualified having worked for years in sports administration. Previously, he was national director of the English Institute of Sport and also director of sport for BBC Wales for five years.

However, in the longer term, the WRU may have to market for an outside appointment.

Can reputational damage be repaired?

This is a big problem for the WRU.

Big sponsors such as the Principality Building Society have already spoken out to condemn the allegations and don’t want their brands to be associated with sexism, racism and bullying. If sponsors leave and cannot be replaced, the financial implications for Welsh rugby, both professional and community level, will be enormous.

Therefore, the WRU must act quickly and decisively. They are desperately hoping that a successful Guinness Six Nations campaign under Gatland will improve things, but that would be extremely naive. It won’t go away.

Source: Wales Online