WRU’s ‘toxic’ culture of discrimination lambasted by independent panel

An independent review of the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) has delivered a scathing verdict on the organization, describing a "toxic" culture of bullying and discrimination, along with political infighting and general incompetence. The review, conducted by a panel of three individuals, was prompted by a BBC Wales program that aired in January and featured former employees making allegations of sexism and discrimination within the WRU.

The report, published on Tuesday, highlights inadequate governance, a lack of commitment to developing the women's game, internal political tensions, and a culture of bullying and misogyny within the organization. The review panel made 36 recommendations for improvements and reforms, including the appointment of an oversight body, ongoing reform of the WRU board, increased investment in the women's game, and a clear public alignment with inclusion and diversity.

Over the course of a seven-month investigation, more than 50 witnesses or witness groups were interviewed, including players, staff at professional and amateur clubs, and external stakeholders. The panel also considered 5,000 pages of documentary evidence. Summing up the overall governance culture, the report quotes a former WRU director as saying, "The board was both frightened of what they had to do and unaware of what they had to do: if I ask the right question, I don't know what to do with the answer. So it's much better not to ask the question."

Furthermore, the report describes a general failure of governance, stating that the WRU lacked the necessary skills to effectively manage a £100m business. It criticized the organization for allowing problems to develop and for managing the problem rather than addressing underlying issues. The report also highlighted a "too political" governance culture, in which employees expressed a lack of trust and vulnerability.

Abi Tierney, the incoming WRU Group chief executive, expressed deep regret over the issues outlined in the report and committed to implementing all the recommendations made by the review panel. Richard Collier-Keywood, the current WRU chair, acknowledged the difficulty of the report's contents and vowed to regain the trust of colleagues, players, volunteers, and supporters.

The report also revealed the resignation of former chief executives. Steve Phillips stepped down shortly after the BBC program aired, and Amanda Blanc resigned in November 2021. Blanc criticized the organization's governance process and expressed disappointment with a review into the women's game, alleging a focus on defending a male staff member accused of bullying. She also warned of the need for improved diversity and inclusion within the WRU.

The report concludes by acknowledging that the situation within the organization may have improved, as some individuals involved have since moved on. However, it emphasizes that a significant number of employees experienced a toxic environment characterized by bullying and discrimination.

Nigel Walker, the interim chief executive of the WRU, expressed appreciation for the review panel's work and reassured that the recommendations would be fully implemented. He emphasized the organization's determination to cultivate a culture that all those involved in Welsh rugby can be proud of.