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WRU chairman Ieuan Evans and acting chief executive Nigel Walker admit being 'in denial' over sexism, misogyny in organisation

Acting WRU chief executive Nigel Walker said: "In any organisation, it's possible for things to happen over a period of time and for people to turn a blind eye and not to address those problems...To be candid, as an organisation we've been in denial as to the extent of the problem"

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The Welsh Rugby Union's acting chief executive, Nigel Walker admitted the organisation had been in denial, despite the warning signs, after allegations of sexism, misogyny and a toxic culture at the organisation were revealed

Welsh Rugby Union chiefs have admitted being in "denial" over the extent of sexism and misogyny in the organisation and said warning signs were missed.

Chairman Ieuan Evans and acting chief executive Nigel Walker appeared before the Senedd's Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport and International Relations Committee on Thursday.

They were called to give evidence after serious allegations were aired in a programme by BBC Wales Investigates last week, which have rocked the WRU.

The union's chief executive, Steve Phillips, stepped down at the weekend and it was announced that an external taskforce has been asked to carry out an independent review.

Evans and Walker apologised to members and said they accepted there was a problem in the culture of the WRU and were committed to implementing all of the recommendations made by the taskforce.

The Rt Hon Dame Anne Rafferty DBE PC has been appointed as chair of the Independent Review, which will start on February 13.

The review will "report on the organisational culture and behaviour within the WRU" from 2017 to the present day and be published in full.

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The terms of reference of the review are:

  • The culture within the WRU
  • The actions and behaviour of leadership [at all levels] within the WRU
  • The extent to which employees feel able to voice concerns or to challenge inappropriate and discriminatory language and behaviour
  • The effectiveness of the WRU's Whistleblowing Policy and Procedures
  • WRU's actions in response to individual complaints set out in the BBC Wales Investigates programme of 23 January 2023.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland, with WRU Chief Executive Steve Phillips (left) and Ieuan Evans (right) during a press conference at the Principality Stadium, Cardiff. Gatland makes a return to the post he held between 2008 and 2019, during which time Wales won four Six Nations titles, including three Grand Slams, reached two World Cup semi-finals and briefly headed the world rankings. Picture date: Tuesday December 13, 2022.
Image: WRU chief executive Steve Phillips resigned from his position as a result of the allegations of sexism and misogyny

Asked if WRU staff members who had been made to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) would be allowed to give evidence as witnesses to the review, Walker said he would "look to facilitate it to make sure they can be interviewed".

However, he said they were unaware currently of how many people had signed NDAs.

Walker said: "I think in any organisation, especially a large organisation like the Welsh Rugby Union, it's possible for things to happen over a period of time and for people to turn a blind eye and not to address those problems.

"So the warning signs have been there for quite some time.

"When it's presented as graphically as it was during that programme, the BBC Wales programme the week before last, it hits you like a 10-tonne truck."

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Welsh Rugby Union chairman Ieuan Evans has vowed that an external taskforce will be established to help tackle the recent discrimination allegations

Walker added: "To be candid, I think as an organisation we've 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, and I think each individual case is an indication that there has been a wider problem, but that people have not joined the dots.

"When you see it presented over a 30-minute programme in the way that it was, unless you're going to bury your head in the sand for another six months or 12 months you have to take action and that's the position we're in.

"None of us are proud of the position we're in."

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Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Jo Stevens has called for an independent regulator to investigate the Welsh Rugby Union

Jenny Rathbone MS, of Welsh Labour, questioned whether the WRU board had the "capacity" to change given the issues that had been "rife" within the organisation for "so long".

Evans and Walker denied being aware of the wider culture of misogyny and both said they had not personally witnessed incidents of sexism or discrimination.

They confirmed no board member had been disciplined over claims.

Walker said he had "no objection" to a redacted version of the 2021 women's rugby review being published but said conversations were still ongoing about doing that.

He said the report would make "uncomfortable" reading for those involved in the WRU.

Sports minister Dawn Bowden was also questioned over when the Welsh Government were made aware of allegations.

Bowden said she was aware of claims over sexism and misogyny in the WRU last year but had not seen any formal complaints, saying: "I did what I could."

Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi, who appeared in the BBC documentary, said she wrote to Bowden last year setting out her concerns.

Sky Sports' Geraint Hughes: Warning signs were there

The chief executive and chair of the Welsh Rugby Union faced an hour-long grilling by a Welsh Parliament scrutiny committee. It was uncomfortable at times, but necessary. Also came an admission that the warning signs about discriminatory behaviour within the organisation were there in the past.

The WRU has publicly and with interviews to Sky Sports News apologised, admitted mistakes and outlined plans for major reform, but to do it in front of a committee of elected Government officials adds greater scrutiny and accountability.

If the WRU doesn't do as it says and allows a wholly-independent taskforce to investigate it and also bring in major reforms to its board structure as it has now promised, then it could be hauled back in front of this committee again for a very public and embarrassing dressing down.

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Welsh Rugby Union chief Ieuan Evans says he will take steps to address the culture within organisation after allegations of sexism emerged in a BBC Wales documentary

You do get a sense that won't happen in the short term, that both chair Ieuan Evans and acting chief executive Nigel Walker - both new to their posts - want to bring about progressive and meaningful change to the WRU. They are now also well aware of how failing to act quickly towards discrimination allegations makes an already terrible situation even worse.

Both Evans and Walker today effectively confirmed to the scrutiny committee that they expect to be out of their jobs once a new governance structure is voted through. A 'new' WRU board must be diverse, reflect its communities so either of a new chair or CEO must be female and at least five of a 12-person board must be women.

The next hurdle after the independent taskforce begins its work next week is then to convince all members - the rugby clubs across Wales - that change has to happen and happen now. A 75 per cent votes-in-favour mandate will be set when voting takes place at an EGM called for March or even sooner if possible.

Once again in front of this Government committee, Walker and Evans laid out a stark message, maybe even a warning to its member clubs. Don't vote against progressive change and reform otherwise none of us might exist in the future.

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