Welsh Rugby Union boss 'truly sorry' amid sexism allegations

Report by ITV Wales Sports Reporter Matthew Southcombe

The chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union has told ITV Wales that he is "truly sorry" for how some ex-employees felt while working for WRU, but says it's not currently necessary for anyone to lose their job.

It comes after a BBC investigation made allegations of sexism and discrimination against the organisation last night (Monday 23).

Steve Phillips, who was WRU's finance director during the time of the allegations, said he didn't think it "necessary" that the allegations should cost anyone their job, but says the WRU "will do better".

Sponsors and the First Minister have voiced their concerns about the WRU's handling of the claims, while the official Joint Supporters Group of all four professional Welsh rugby teams have called for Mr Phillips to resign or be sacked "immediately".

Mr Phillips said that the allegations "appalled" him, adding that the behaviour was "surprising and disappointing" and "wholly unacceptable."

He said he "wouldn't have recognised" some of allegations made about the WRU at that time, but "that doesn't necessarily mean they didn't happen, because that wouldn't have been my position at the time."

He said: "I don't recognise that as today's WRU, and I certainly do not recognise that as the organisation that I lead."

"We have also got to be concerned about, as inferred in the programme, that we had a culture in the WRU, which argued was between 2017 and 2019, where employees were not comfortable enough to come forward to us and raise their concerns. It's just not good enough," Mr Phillips said.

What is the background to the scandal?

Allegations of sexism and discrimination against the WRU came after the former general manager of women's rugby in Wales, Charlotte Wathan, claimed she faced offensive comments by a colleague which left her "in tears" and "feeling sick."

Ms Wathan made the accusations, having resigned last February.

Another former WRU employee, who is unnamed, said her experiences of bullying and sexism at work left her contemplating suicide.

The WRU says it has reached an "amicable agreement" with Ms Wathan "satisfying both parties" following an investigation by an external law firm, but said a confidentiality agreement between the parties prevented them giving further details.

Speaking on Monday, Warren Gatland said he was not fully aware of the issue following his recent return to coach the men's team Credit: PA

It also said another complaint had been investigated and then withdrawn, while new information brought up during last night's programme would be "followed up and acted upon".

What does the WRU say about the allegations?

In a letter to rugby union member clubs this evening (Tuesday 24), the Welsh Rugby Union CEO said the organisation knows "it has fallen short in presenting Welsh rugby to the world in the best light.

"We have fallen short of the high standards I expect."

The letter commits to creating a "safe environment" by "re-examin[ing] our structures and procedures to make sure our employees find a business that is caring and sensitive to their needs and welfare."

The letter continues: "I cannot turn back the clock but I promise you we will start work on making necessary changes immediately.   I will not lead an organisation which would walk past or excuse any of the behaviour described.  I will not stand by and watch a culture which falls below the high standards we set."

In a statement, the WRU responded to the investigation by saying it "condemns the use of racist, homophobic or sexist language and states in the strongest possible terms that racism, homophobic, sexist or bullying behaviour has no place in Welsh rugby."

The statement continued: "It is vitally important to note that we have a duty of care as employers to both the complainants and those complained against.

"That duty of care continues and we are deeply concerned about the effect of this programme on those individuals in respect of the fact the allegations described remain unsubstantiated following a thorough independent legal investigation."

Reaction to the scandal

Stadium sponsor of the Principality Stadium, Principality Building Society, said it "wants to work with partners who share our values" in supporting grassroots rugby, and called the allegations "extremely concerning." It urged the WRU to act to remove discriminatory and bullying behaviours.

The WRU say that they have spoken to all of their sponsors and have recognised their concerns.

The Welsh Government, who are facing calls to open an inquiry into the allegations, said that The Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport was "engaging" with the WRU on "the immediate actions it must take" to address allegations.

Gower MP Tonia Antoniazzi said she had been left "very concerned" for the women's game in Wales Credit: Brett Phibbs/PA Wire/PA Images

“Women and girls have the right to be safe in all aspects of their lives," it said.

"The Welsh Government is committed to tackling abuse in the workplace and challenging damaging behaviour and attitudes head on so all women and girls in Wales can live fear free."

A spokesperson on behalf of the Senedd’s Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport and International Relations Committee said it was aware of the allegations, and that "everyone should be able to access and participate in sport without fear of prejudice, and no one should ever be exposed to toxic language or abuse anywhere in their lives, least of all in the workplace."

“These accusations about one of our country's leading sporting bodies are extremely serious. The Committee expects the WRU to address these issues immediately and will be considering the situation further at the Committee’s next meeting.”   Conservative Shadow Sports Minister Tom Giffard MS said the revelations were "bitterly disappointing" and said there was a "culture of indifference" to "certain types of unacceptable behaviour", as well as a "lack of thorough investigation."

He added: “I truly hope that all of these issues can be investigated fully to give those involved assurances that action will be taken and ensure that women are not discouraged from participating in the game or the governance of it.”