Nigel Walker: WRU were 'in denial' over problems as grave warning issued about future of the game

Acting CEO, Nigel Walker said, “I think, as an organisation, we have been in denial as to the extent of the problem."

Acting Welsh Rugby Union CEO Nigel Walker issued a grave warning of the future of the sport in Wales if the organisation resisted change.

Walker, along with Chair Ieuan Evans, were quizzed by a Senedd committee on Thursday morning following allegations of sexism, misogyny and bullying within the organisation.

Since the allegations re-emerged a fortnight ago, Steve Phillips has left his role as WRU CEO, despite none of the allegations being levelled at him personally, and proposals for an overhaul of the WRU Board have been put forward.

Walker, along with Chair Ieuan Evans, were quizzed by a Senedd committee on Thursday following the allegations against the organisation.

Responding to questions on how the WRU has dealt with the issues in the past, Walker suggested that, in the past, a blind eye had been turned to culture issues in Welsh rugby’s governing body.

Walker said: “In any organisation, it’s possible for things to occur over a period of time and for people to turn a blind eye and not to address those problems.

“The warning signs have been there for quite some time. When it’s presented as graphically as it was, it hits you like a 10-tonne truck."

WRU Chairman Ieuan Evans answering questions at the Senedd.

“I think, as an organisation, we have been in denial as to the extent of the problem. There have been cases in the past which have been dealt with - in theory dealt with - and people have moved on", he added.

“And I think each individual case is an indication that there has been a wider problem but people have not joined the dots. None of us are proud of the position we’re in.”

He later added: “We are disturbed, embarrassed - any adjective you want.”

Last night, the WRU announced proposals to revamp its Board. Currently, of its 12 members, just one is a woman - Catherine Read.

The Union’s 300-plus member clubs have a majority of eight elected representatives on the Board.

But under the new proposals, Evans and Walker want the Board to consist of at least five women.

They also want the number of club representatives to be halved, with independent, appointed individuals picking up the spare spots.

Former Chief Executive of the WRU, Steve Phillips recently resigned as a result of the allegations against the union. Credit: PA

Walker added: “The option we have now is to continue in the same way and the Welsh Rugby Union won’t be here in three or four years - or it will be a shadow of its current self - or we can commit to changing.

“We are committed to changing. There are a number of proposals on the table. The governance changes we have earmarked for implementation will be part of that process.

“But there needs to be a root and branch investigation of the way that we work and the culture that currently exists at the Welsh Rugby Union. That is underway with the task force.”

Former Wales international and WRU Performance Director, Nigel Walker (right) has taken over as acting chief executive of the WRU. Credit: PA

Despite the proposals receiving unanimous support from the current 12 Board members, it now has to be voted through by 75% of the member clubs at an EGM scheduled for late March.

Last year, the clubs rejected proposals for the WRU Chair to be independent as opposed to being an individual elected by the clubs.

These latest proposals are far more radical, meaning Walker and Evans have a significant job on their hands to convince the clubs that it is the right thing to do.

When asked if the clubs hold too much power, Evans explained: “It’s a Union of member clubs, the constitution states that they vote on any significant changes within the governance of the game.

“We went to an AGM last year and we didn’t put a convincing and compelling enough case together. We have a convincing and compelling case now.

“We need to compel the clubs that this is the right thing for our game as a whole. It [the WRU] is a £100-million turnover business as well as being a national governing body.

“I have confidence that the clubs [will] understand why we’re doing it, for what purpose and the fact that we’ll be a better organisation as a consequence of this.”

Sport Wales will now be overseeing an investigation in to the culture at the WRU. Credit: PA Images

Last week, Hayley Parsons, a non-executive director on the board of Cardiff Rugby, wrote a damning open letter to Evans.

Parsons, the founder of comparison website GoCompare, was scathing in her assessment of the WRU.

In her letter, she called for ex-CEO Steve Phillips to resign and insisted that the WRU Board was not fit for purpose.

Addressing the WRU’s relationship with the regions, Parsons wrote that the regions were ‘afraid’ to go against the Union on matters for fear of ‘retribution’.

When asked whether he was surprised by the contents of Parsons’ letter, Evans eventually simply said: “No.”