Welsh Rugby Union apologises after damning report reveals toxic and sexist culture

The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) has apologised after a damning independent review laid bare a “toxic” culture of bullying and misogyny.

The review was launched earlier this year after a BBC documentary, aired ahead of the Six Nations, reported allegations of racism, sexism and homophobia inside the organisation.

The report, 133 pages in length, describes an “unforgiving, even vindictive” environment for employees of the Welsh union, including the use of sexist and homophobic language towards women.

Evidence heard included testimony that a WRU representative had expressed the view that “men are the master race”, while there was gossip that a female manager had “slept her way” in to a job.

The report also stated that the WRU’s governance was not fit for purpose, highlighting a reliance on non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to silence employees.

The review panel included former England international Maggie Alphonsi and made 36 recommendations, including appointing an external group to oversee and monitor the organisation and increase investment in the women’s and girls’ game.

Former WRU chief executive Steve Phillips resigned a week after the documentary originally aired. The WRU accounts last week revealed that he received a payoff of £480,000.

Incoming chief executive Abi Tierney has vowed that the organisation will “turn this around” after accepting all of the recommendations made.

Witnesses interviewed as part of Dame Anne Rafferty’s nine-month review of the union reported feelings of powerlessness and fear, with the WRU described in the review’s report as an organisation which was “unsure on its feet”.

The WRU’s toxic workplace culture has been detailed by the report

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“If you look at the recommendations, I remain hugely optimistic about Welsh rugby. We now have a process to do this,” said Tierney, who will take up her post in January.

“We don’t have a choice. We’ve got to turn this around. What is the alternative? We are all committed to that.

“We will do this together. We will, because of the pain we are going through now and with gratitude to those who have spoken up and made us listen, become better.

“The fact that we have a report like this from an independent source identifying any issues and problems that exist in our culture is a great opportunity for us to transform the way we work.

“We can feel inspired that everything is out in the open. We can feel empowered that our people know they will be listened to and that we will act proportionately and appropriately to behaviour that is called out in the future.

“We will only improve if we do this together, if we listen – and not only listen, but hear – and if we act appropriately in response. The review and its recommendations will help us do that, but we must also be fully invested in the idea that we all need to evolve, change and progress together.”

Steve Phillips resigned as chief executive of the WRU earlier this year

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Successful businesswoman Amanda Blanc stepped down from the WRU board and as chair of the Welsh Professional Rugby Board in November 2021. Her resignation letter and speech are featured in the report and accuse the organisation of “sitting on a ticking time bomb”.

Blanc highlighted how saddened she was at the approach taken to the women’s game in Wales. She described a review into the game as “verging on insulting towards women”.

Tierney added: “It [Blanc’s resignation comments] was the hardest part [of the review] as it was black and white that someone who wanted to contribute to Welsh rugby’s success … wasn’t listened to. I will make sure it won’t happen again under my leadership.”

The review’s recommendations cover governance, complaints handling, the union’s approach to inclusion and diversity, and investment in the women’s game.

WRU chair Richard Collier-Keywood said: “I want to start by saying again that on behalf of the whole WRU, we are truly sorry to those who have been impacted by the systems, structures and conduct described in the report, which are simply not acceptable.

Asked how he felt when he read the review, he continued: “I felt awful. I felt sad.

WRU acting chief executive Nigel Walker has admitted mistakes were made

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“I felt there were missed opportunities to avert what had happened. But I also felt committed to making a change. I felt the changes were really sensible. I suppose I felt it’s a good road map for us.

Interim WRU chief executive Nigel Walker added: “It wasn’t any easier reading this than watching the programme in January.

“We’ve made progress in certain areas. At some stage, we will begin to throw forward and maybe look at this period as a watershed moment when the Welsh Rugby Union began to make the appropriate steps to be the governing body we want to be.

“I do believe we will look back and say that is the moment when we become a truly world-class body.”

On the women’s game in Wales, Walker said: “We clearly made mistakes. We didn’t recognise the importance of women’s rugby, not just in this country but around the world.

“I was recruited later on, and a lot of my interviews were spent talking about the women’s game, so clearly the penny had dropped.

The WRU has insisted it will provide more backing for women’s and girls’ rugby

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“I was left in no doubt when I started that it would be a priority. Do we have a strategy? Well, it’s there in part and we will commit to it.”

Changes already made by the WRU, after backing from its member clubs, include addressing gender imbalance on the board, and an appointed independent chair, rather than one elected by the clubs.

Additional reporting by PA