Pwyllgor Diwylliant, Cyfathrebu, y Gymraeg, Chwaraeon, a Chysylltiadau Rhyngwladol

Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport, and International Relations Committee

02/02/2023

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Alun Davies MS
Delyth Jewell MS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Hefin David MS
Heledd Fychan MS
Jenny Rathbone MS Dirprwyo ar ran Carolyn Thomas
Substitute for Carolyn Thomas
Tom Giffard MS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Dawn Bowden MS Dirprwy Weinidog y Celfyddydau a Chwaraeon, a’r Prif Chwip
Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport, and Chief Whip
Ieuan Evans Undeb Rygbi Cymru
Welsh Rugby Union
Jason Thomas Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Nigel Walker Undeb Rygbi Cymru
Welsh Rugby Union
Steffan Roberts Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Craig Griffiths Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Lleu Williams Clerc
Clerk
Manon Huws Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Nia Moss Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Osian Bowyer Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Robin Wilkinson Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Tanwen Summers Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.

The committee met in the Senedd.

The meeting began at 09:30.

3. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
3. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Bore da. Hoffwn i groesawi'r Aelodau i'r cyfarfod hwn o'r Pwyllgor Diwylliant, Cyfathrebu, y Gymraeg, Chwaraeon a Chysylltiadau Rhyngwladol. Dŷn ni wedi derbyn ymddiheuriad gan Carolyn Thomas, ac mae Jenny Rathbone yma ar ei rhan. Oes gan unrhyw Aelodau fuddiannau i'w datgan? Dwi ddim yn gweld bod, felly fe wnawn ni symud ymlaen.

Good morning. I'd like to welcome Members to this meeting of the Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport, and International Relations Committee. We've received apologies this morning from Carolyn Thomas, and Jenny Rathbone is substituting on her behalf. Do Members have any declarations of interest? There are none. We will therefore move on.

4. Cyhuddiadau yn ymwneud ag Undeb Rygbi Cymru: Sesiwn dystiolaeth gydag Undeb Rygbi Cymru
4. Allegations surrounding the Welsh Rugby Union: Evidence session with the Welsh Rugby Union

We are having an evidence session with the Welsh Rugby Union, following allegations surrounding the Welsh Rugby Union. Can I invite firstly Mr Ieuan Evans to introduce himself for the record?

Ieuan Evans, cadeirydd Undeb Rygbi Cymru.

Ieuan Evans, chair, Welsh Rugby Union.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. 

Thank you very much.

And, Mr Nigel Walker.

Nigel Walker, acting chief executive officer of the Welsh Rugby Union.

Thank you so much. On behalf of Members, I really would like to thank you for accepting our invitation to give evidence today. It's a really important issue; it's something that has the interest of Members of the Senedd, members of the public, and obviously the press and the wider public in Wales. This is something that has come out following the BBC Wales Investigates programme on 23 January. Would you like to make a short opening statement?

Diolch, Cadeirydd, a diolch ichi am y gwahoddiad i ddod i gyflwyno i'r pwyllgor y bore yma. Rŷn ni'n falch iawn o'r cyfle ac rŷn ni'n ymwybodol, fel stiwardiaid rygbi Cymru, fod cyfrifoldeb mawr arnom ni, ac yn ymwybodol ein bod wedi siomi'r teulu rygbi ar draws Cymru. Mae'r profiad wedi ein sobri ni, ond dwi, fel cadeirydd newydd, yn benderfynol o wneud y newidiadau sydd eu hangen i wella ein sefydliadau a rygbi yng Nghymru. Byddwch yn ymwybodol o rai o'r newidiadau rydym wedi eu cyhoeddi. Yn ogystal, mae Nigel wedi cymryd y rôl fel prif weithredwr interim.

Thank you, Chair, and thank you for the invitation to appear before the committee this morning. We're very pleased to have the opportunity, and we are aware, as the stewards of Welsh rugby, that we have a great responsibility, and we're aware that we've disappointed the rugby family across Wales. The experience has been sobering for us, but as the new chair, I am determined to make the changes that are necessary to improve rugby in Wales. You will be aware of some of the changes that we have already announced. Also, Nigel has taken the role of acting chief executive.

We fully understand and embrace the WRU's unique role in the sporting, economic and civic life in Wales, embedded in its social fabric, and how we project ourselves is critical. We need to get this right; we need to take advice and seek input from others, so we've been working closely with Welsh Government and Sport Wales, and of course, talking to our staff, our players, our member clubs and our commercial partners about the next steps. We are a £100 million-turnover business, and that includes some public funding. We take our responsibility for spending public funds extremely seriously. We have 80,000 players across 300 clubs, and many more thousands of young people in schools across Wales playing rugby. We're a showcase for Wales to the world. We have a duty, and a responsibility to be as good as we can be, and it's my job to make that happen.

Hopefully, today, we can outline for you the changes we have already put in place and answer some of the questions that I'm sure you have. As you know, we will be working with our partners to establish a taskforce with external expertise to help us achieve the cultural change we need, and we'll have more information about that this morning as we finalise some of those details, as they're not all in place as yet. And we've agreed, of course, that Sport Wales will be identifying an independent chair and we will be working with them and the membership in terms of reference for that review, and I'm sure that we can elaborate on that as the hearing goes on. We're happy therefore to provide more details to the committee when those arrangements are finalised.

Thank you for that. So, we'll move on to questions. Why do you think the WRU is in this situation?

As a relatively new chair—a matter of weeks—I've been humbled and harrowed by what I've heard, particularly the impact on our female staff and players. I think we all know that we should do more, we need to do more to make the game and our organisation more inclusive, but I was shocked by the personal stories highlighted by our former staff in the programme, and I can only apologise once more to them, and not only them but people elsewhere affected by the allegations in that programme as well, and to say that I will work night and day to ensure that all of our staff feel safe and valued.

09:35

Thank you for that. I'll bring Alun Davies in in a moment, but could I just press you on that, because your words are obviously heartfelt, and I appreciate that, but in terms of why you think this has happened, what would be your analysis of that?

I'm happy to come in there. I think, in any organisation, especially a large organisation like the Welsh Rugby Union, 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, and then it's not until, sometimes, an organisation is forced to face the reality of the position they find themselves in that they begin to really look deeply and look back to the past and begin to join the dots. So, the warning signs have been there for quite some time. When it's presented as graphically as it was during the BBC Wales programme the week before last, it hits you like a 10-tonne truck.

I should offer my apologies. My thoughts are with those members of staff, those players and ex-players who have had an experience that no individual should have. The key now is, yes, we're apologetic, yes, we've made statements, yes, we've accepted that we've got a problem; the key now is to begin to understand the scale and scope of that problem, to seek outside help, which Ieuan has referred to, and to give an undertaking that, when those recommendations come through, whether it's in three months, six months, whenever they come through, we will do everything in our power to implement them, to make sure that the experiences that those women, players, young girls, maybe, have experienced, won't be repeated in the future, or at least you minimise the prospect of those things happening again.

Thank you for that. When you say the very graphic nature of some of these reports that have come out, could you tell us why it took that happening for action to be taken, rather than it happening when these reports had first been made clear to you?

To be candid, I think, as an organisation, we have been in denial as to the extent of the problem. So, there have been cases in the past that have been dealt with—in theory, dealt with, and people have moved on. I think each individual case is an indication that there has been a wider problem, but 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.

Thanks very much. Can I challenge you a little bit on your assertion, Mr Evans, that you were shocked by what you've learned? I was reading parts of your autobiography that were scathing about the WRU in different ways. You said that there were people on the WRU who were simply not capable of taking the right decisions because they were too parochial, too insular or just plain short-sighted. You went on to ask how you could have officials from small clubs with no real knowledge of world rugby making decisions that affected the national team, and more often than not affected it for the worse. And you also said, 'At a time when our rivals were planning ahead and learning from the likes of Australia and New Zealand, too many of our people seemed more concerned with ensuring that they had their supply of free tickets and hotel accommodation for international weekend junkets'.

Now, that's harsher, in many ways, than anything we've heard in the last week, and that was written some years ago. So, you were clearly aware that there were significant and deep-rooted problems with the WRU, so what you've heard this last week couldn't have shocked you.

One of the reasons I came on to the board—and I have been chair for, as I said, a matter of weeks—I've been quite open and candid in my desire to ensure that our organisation is a high-functioning organisation, to drive us to new horizons, and we need to be reflective. My desire—and you've read the press release that went out last night with regard to it—and, as a board, our desire is to convince and compel our member clubs, as we are a union of member clubs and the constitution dictates that clubs need to vote through changes before they can be implemented, that we need to be a diverse, skill set-based board, with an independent chair. I've actively campaigned to find my replacement; we need to have an independent chair. I'm conscious, for us to deliver on our strategic objectives, that we need a board composition overhaul, and it's how we achieve that. We were quite open in the press statement with regard to what we intend to put to the clubs in an extraordinary general meeting at the end of March or earlier. That is our aim, because that's how the organisation needs to be run. Yes, we have a main board, we also have a community game board, which runs the community game with elected representatives from the clubs, and I wish to broaden that and make it a broader church to be truly representative of our game.

09:40

I don't disagree with that, but my question was—I think the statement last night was very positive, by the way, I've got no issue about that—my question was about your knowledge about what was happening. You're both giants of our game. You must have had an awareness of what was happening. Your words, Ieuan, were absolutely brutal about the WRU.

Can I—? Not that Ieuan needs me to defend him, but the words that you've—and I haven't read Ieuan's autobiography, by the way.

I'm sure that those words were talking in general terms about the running of the organisation. It was the graphic nature of the sexism and misogyny in last week's programme that was the bit that was particularly distressing, talking from my point of view, and I know that Ieuan shares that point of view.

There was a review in 2021 into the women's game, could you tell us how the WRU responded to that and would you commit to making those findings public?

I went through and interview process in May/June 2021. At the latter stages of that process, certain elements of that review were presented to me and it became one of the interview questions: 'What would you do?' I was appointed in July and started in September. When I read the review, I was shocked as to the extent of the problem. There are 40 recommendations in the review, and it was obvious that the Welsh Rugby Union had failed women's rugby. You'll find, during the course of the next 40 minutes, I'm just going to be completely honest with you—

So, one of my first tasks was to try to address the problems that were present in the women's game. I remember, even before I took up my appointment formally at the end of September, I addressed the women's squad. They were at the NCE, the national centre of excellence, in Hensol, they were all sitting in front of me, and I apologised. Steve Phillips, the CEO, was next to me. I apologised for what they had been through in the recent past and I said that I was here to make changes and that I would be actively pursuing the prospect of a world class programme for our women players. I said that I would have professional contracts in their hands by the end of December. When I said that, at least half a dozen of them looked up at the ceiling—and I've related this story to them—because they'd heard it all before. But, by December 2021, they had professional contracts. We have made enormous progress against the 40 recommendations. I think the recommendations of that review have been circulated. I'm happy to answer any questions, I can talk about the progress that we've made, and I can talk about the areas that are still to be corrected. But, probably 32 or 33 of those recommendations have been implemented in full

The full report—we've got a little bit of an issue with the full report being published, because when the panel was commissioned to conduct the review it was on the basis that the report would be internal. I have been in conversation with the chair of the review panel in the last couple of days. The chair of the review panel is happy for the recommendations, but we've still got a way to go before the full report, because of the detail of the report and the ability to identify certain individuals. Now, I know we can go through the Maxwellisation process and it could be redacted—

09:45

But that's what I was going to ask you, if a redacted version—. Because obviously no-one would want to compromise anyone's information that they had given, wanting it to be anonymous. But could a redacted version of that report be—

We're working on that. The conversation is ongoing. We are completely transparent. The report will not make comfortable reading for those involved in the WRU, but I personally have no objection to the report being published.

That's useful, and I appreciate the fact that you're saying—. I don't think that we've actually received those recommendations, so it would be useful if you could send those to us, please.

We will do. We'll make sure that happens. Sorry, I believed they'd been sent last night, but obviously that's my misunderstanding.

If I could also add that I was part of the panel that interviewed Nigel, and thank him for the hard work he has done in bringing us so far. It's not enough, it's nowhere near enough, but I commend Nigel on the work he did in his role as the high-performance director, and now as chief exec, because that was one of the key aspects, when he stepped into the role of high-performance director, that we wanted him to focus on.

Can I ask what are your minimum expectations of the external taskforce?

I'll give you a bit of background on where we are, because it's only Thursday, but it seems like a very long week. We've had a number of meetings with Sport Wales, Welsh Government officials and a company called Sport Resolutions, who are an arbitration service, if you like. Where we've arrived at at the moment: the terms of reference are just about complete, we've got another call at 5 o'clock this evening, those terms of reference will be signed off, and it's fairly broad, the terms of reference, to look at the culture of Welsh rugby, to look at sexism, misogyny cases. It's fairly wide, going back to 2017, although if the panel uncovers things that go back further than that, they can look at them. What we didn't want was for the review to be so all-encompassing that we're sitting here this time next year and it hasn't presented itself. So, there's a balance between what we want them to look at and us being able to take action. 

Sport Resolutions will appoint an independent chair. I've got the name. I can't release it at the moment, the name of the independent chair, but I don't think anybody will have any concerns when they see the name of that chair. By tomorrow, we should be able to name the chair and publish the terms of reference, and by early next week, the other panellist will have been identified, and by the tail end of next week we'd expect the review panel to begin their work. 

Okay. I'll come to the terms of reference in a second. I noticed Tonia Antoniazzi MP said that she'd like someone outside of Wales to chair, and she's had involvement with the WRU and as a player. Someone outside of Wales to chair it—is that going to happen?

I don't want to mention the name. I don't know where the person hails from.

Not in any way, shape or form.

No, not in any way at all. Not at all. And just to confirm the process we've gone through: Sport Wales has advised the Welsh Rugby Union on the appointment of the independent body to lead the review. The WRU has commissioned the independent review through Sport Resolution, another independent entity, on the advice of Sport Wales.

So, Sport Resolution, where is that based? Is that a UK-based arbitration service?

No, it's based in London.

A London-based arbitration service. And I imagine they've done work with other bodies before. 

They have indeed.

Judging by the name that I've seen, and I haven't had time to go back to work, so I only saw it this morning, I would suspect that this individual is English—he says; maybe an overreach—and they have worked in the judiciary. So, I don't think anybody will complain about the calibre of person  who's going to be the chair.

Not this afternoon. It could be today, it could be tomorrow. We've got a call at 5 o'clock to confirm.

And what about the members? How many members will there be of the external panel?

This is completely within the remit of the chair. A conversation will take place, probably tomorrow, between the proposed chair, myself, Ieuan, Sport Resolution and Sport Wales to talk through the terms of reference, because how you interpret those terms of reference—. And then the chair will identify panellists, so that she—and it is a she—will have the skill set required to look at the issues at hand.

09:50

So, can you give us an idea of how big the panel will be?

I would imagine it will be three or four people.

Three or four people. Okay. So, let's look at the terms of reference. How were they arrived at? Was it something that you suggested to Sport Resolutions, or did Sport Resolutions say to you, 'This is the kind of thing you should be investigating?' How did you come to this? 

The first call, I think, was Tuesday. It's Thursday today. Tuesday. Welsh Government officials, Sport Resolutions, Sport Wales, we talked about the problems. Sport Resolutions said, 'We've been through this before.' Sport Wales said, 'We've been through this before.' We were then sent, as the Welsh Rugby Union, a starter for 10, and we've had a conversation about that. So, they're not our terms of reference. I should have said as well that there'll be a commissioning panel that sits below the review panel that will have representation from Sport Wales, Welsh Rugby Union and another independent to make sure that, if the WRU were minded to do it, they cannot skew the process. 

We are mindful that this needs to stand up to public scrutiny. That's ever present in our thinking here.

And there's going to be a lot of interest as the panel progresses before we come to the outcome. Will they be able to call witnesses, and will they hold evidence sessions? Is that the idea? 

I don't know whether they will be public or not—we haven't got to there—but certainly we are opening our doors and our books. They can go—. The review could take any direction that the chair suggests it should take.

Okay, but they'll be holding formal evidence sessions with witnesses. 

The only outcomes that I'm thinking about are a list of recommendations. There will be a report, obviously, and there will be a list of recommendations. And we, as a body, have committed to implementing those recommendations.

Okay. And how long is it going to take before we see that report? 

Funnily enough, that's the question I asked. 'Impossible to say' was the answer I was given. 

Okay. The longer it goes on, the harder it will be to take action, so can you give us an idea of how long—? Well, how long do you think it should take?

I don't have—. I'm not in a position to say how long it will take and I'm not going to constrain the panel. I accept the concerns you have; I have similar concerns. The sooner the panel can report, the sooner we can get on to putting things right. We are doing other things in the background; we're not waiting for the review panel. There are lots of things that we're doing, and perhaps we can talk about some of those over the course of the next 30 minutes or so. But I share your concerns. If it were to take 10 or 12 months, that would be too long as far as I'm concerned. 

And you've expressed to them that 10 or 12 months would be an unacceptable length of time. 

Well, I didn't use the word 'unacceptable'. I've asked them to report as quickly as is possible. 

Forgive me interrupting, Hefin. Would you commit to, perhaps, updating the committee at interim periods during the course of that?

What about witnesses who wish to give evidence privately? That will be facilitated. And also those witnesses who wish to be on the record, will that also be facilitated?

Okay. And are there any non-disclosure agreements involved in any of this, or are you happy that everyone involved is willing to take part?

Absolutely. 

Okay. And the WRU will take part in an open and transparent way. 

Yes. We're not looking to constrain the process in any way, shape or form.

Okay. What kind of stakeholders do you think should be involved in this, in giving evidence?

Everybody who is involved in Welsh rugby, who has been involved with the Welsh Rugby Union, anybody who feels they've been disadvantaged. It is open for the review panel to go in whichever direction they want. We want to get better, so we're not going to close off this panel, we're not going to constrain it unnecessarily. We want them to investigate the areas that have been agreed, to come back with a report, and to tell us how we can get better.

Okay. And just my last question would be: when will we get full details of all of this in writing, all tied down? When can we expect to see that?

The terms of reference—

The terms of reference, the process, the length of time—all the questions I've asked. When is all of this going to be fully tied down?

Well, I can't give you all of those answers. I can tell you that the terms of reference and the chair, we're looking to announce that tomorrow. We would expect to be able to tell you who the other review panellists are early next week. The panel will then need to meet, and then I would expect them to be able to meet your last criteria, which is, 'This is the process we're going to follow.' I would imagine, because I've got a little bit of experience of this, that will take a couple of weeks. But anything we receive, we're more than happy to lay down and to share.

09:55

Thank you. I've got two requests for brief supplementaries—firstly, to Alun, and then I'll come to Jenny. So, Alun.

I'm grateful to you for that. The point that Hefin asked you on NDAs—I just wanted to clarify your answer to that. Because one of the allegations that's been made over the last period is that the WRU has used NDAs to prevent members of staff from speaking about what's happened to them during their employment. Does that mean that you will now revisit those NDAs, that you will speak to those members of staff and allow them and enable them to speak freely about what they experienced whilst they were employed by the WRU?

I personally have no objection to anybody who has an NDA, being constrained by that NDA, going forward and speaking to the panel.

But you not having a problem isn't the issue, is it? Because it's a legal instrument that needs to be lifted by the WRU. So, what we would—

That's why I was very careful in the way that I answered your question.

Yes. So, I would go back, because that request has been made, and I'll see what I can do. I am not going to pretend that I can trample over law—I cannot trample over law. But if it's possible, I would look to facilitate it, so that everybody who has been affected, those people who the panel would be interested in interviewing, can be interviewed.

But it was the WRU, of course, that designed these NDAs. So, it would be for the WRU to actually enable that person, if they so wish, to have those restrictions lifted, to enable them to speak openly about their experiences. And I think that's quite an important issue, about building trust with people and changing the culture.

On that point, Alun, it's really important that we regain that trust and faith, and reassure the public at large within Wales that we're taking every opportunity here to ensure that anything that the panel finds, we will then act upon it. And we have to gain that confidence back; it is critical for our—. Nigel's quoted several times that we're at an existential point in our history. This is a Damascene moment for us as an organisation. We have to do this in a way that gives people comfort and confidence about the direction of this organisation moving forward.

Thank you for that. I'm going to go to Jenny for a supplementary.

Right. Okay. Thank you for that.

Fe wnawn ni symud ymlaen at Heledd Fychan.

We'll move on to Heledd Fychan.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Diolch am fod gyda ni heddiw.

Thank you, Chair. Thank you for joining us today.

I'd just like to ask to start with: when did the WRU become aware that the BBC were working on a documentary, and the nature of those allegations?

I don't know exactly, is the honest answer. Certainly from a personal point of view, I was aware that a programme was being researched, probably as far back as a couple of months ago.

Thank you. Did it prompt at the time any internal conversations around governance? Because obviously, we had the announcement last night about governance changes that you're hoping to make, which have been welcomed by many. But I'm just trying to understand, because, obviously, if these allegations and the nature of the documentary were known, if it had prompted discussions around governance. Or have the changes announced last night, or the proposed changes, been prompted solely by the programme?

What was aired on that programme stunned me. I did not see that. And I've gone on record as apologising. I was deeply affected by them, and I'm sure many others were as well. And my heart—. And as I've said several times, and will continue to do so, I apologise to everybody who's affected there.

On governance, we commissioned a board and governance review in 2022. The findings were accepted in full by the board, and a sub-group worked on a set of recommendations, which were then approved by the board. Yesterday, we announced our proposals to change the composition of the board and council. These changes will lead to an independent chair, which was part of the recommendations, and a skills-based, diverse board, which was part of the recommendations. We're very much signed up to this. We will be taking this to our clubs on 26 March, or earlier if we can. So, we have totally, as a board, accepted it in its entirety.

So, if I can be clear, the recommendations relating to having more women, et cetera, were part of those recommendations.

10:00

Yes, they were indeed, and we've accepted it fully, and we're intent on helping drive this through.

I was really going to say, emphasise, what Ieuan had said. So, we were on this path anyway. Needless to say, the programme the week before last has crystallised people's thinking and we have accelerated that process. It may have been—. We were going to have an EGM anyway; we've brought it forward as far as we possibly can.

We need to—. Sorry. We need to demonstrate thoroughly a modern, fit-for-purpose organisation on and off the field. It requires diversity of thought, and the target of the governing body reflects Wales in all aspects of diversity. Culture is ubiquitous, it permeates everything we do—it's the glue that holds us together—every nook and cranny. It shapes our behaviours, our thoughts, our interactions and so on. We are determined as a body. This has been a sobering and harrowing experience for all of us. But we were on that journey. This has just reinforced our determination, strengthened our resolve and determination, and mine and Nigel's resolve and determination, to drive this through.

Thank you. Obviously, one person who has been very vocal, and prior to this had been, is Amanda Blanc. Questions were raised at her sudden departure and, obviously, she did go public in the middle of last year in terms of some of her feelings about not being listened to, also her concerns that the WRU weren't taking the women's game seriously enough. Had she been engaged—? After going public last year in terms of her reasons for leaving, had there been an engagement so that she could inform some of these governance reviews? Because, obviously, with the experience she had, both within the WRU and professionally, it just seems terribly, well, tragic that she actually wasn't involved and had to leave the WRU rather than being part of driving this change prior to this programme.

It's incredibly disappointing that a woman of her standing, her reputation, a FTSE 100 company chief executive of, listed in Forbes as one of the most influential people in the world—. I pay tribute to her and share her frustration that she felt she had to leave her role on the professional rugby board. We need to learn from our experience and her comments, and I just hope that we never are in that position again. It's obviously outrageous that she had to deal with some appalling comments whilst giving her time to rugby in Wales and she felt frustrated on behalf of our female players. Hopefully, we are making the changes that she would like to see. And I found her comments alarming, and our response to date has not been enough—not been remotely enough—but we are driven to make sure that we are moving forward. That's why we're making a difference now. And I cannot defend or excuse where we currently are, but I know where we need to go and I know where I'd like to go.

Diolch. Have you reached out to her, or will you be reaching out to her?

I'd hope so. As I said, I've barely been in the post, but I would like to, and I'd like to think that Amanda Blanc would give her opinion openly and honestly.

Diolch. Gwnawn ni symud ymlaen at Tom Giffard.

Thank you. We'll move on to Tom Giffard.

Last night you obviously announced a number of changes that you're proposing to make in terms of the governance structure of the WRU. You've already alluded to the fact that you need to take them to an EGM. Last year, you tried to take the appointment of an independent non-executive director to an EGM, and you failed to get that past the clubs. Do clubs have too much power in the WRU structure?

It's union and member clubs—the constitution determines that they vote on any significant changes within the governance of the game. We went to an EGM last year and we didn't put a convincing and compelling enough case forward. We have a convincing and compelling case now, and we have to reassure them that, as I explained earlier on to Alun, when I talked about the governance of the game, how it currently sits, which board operates and what its roles and responsibilities are.

We have a professional game board that looks after the interests of the professional game. So, the regionals—. All the regional chairs sit on this, along with an independent chair, who also sits on the main board. We also have another independent director on there. With that sits the chief exec of the Welsh Rugby Union and the financial director of the Welsh Rugby Union. That looks after the professional game.

The community game board operates the community game and runs the community game, and then elected membership sit on that. So, the clubs influence directly, and they have a ring-fenced funding that matches up to the strategy of the community game. So, it addresses the priorities of the community game, and then that shapes our policies moving forward.

On top of that sits the main board. Now, what we're looking to do is not only change the composition to be a more diverse, more skills-based board, but also have an independent chair. We need to compel the clubs that this is the right thing for the future of our game as whole. It is a £100 million turnover business, as well as being a national governing body. There's a duality to what we do as an organisation and as an entity.

And that's what we have to do now over the coming weeks, coming days, coming hours—conversations are already happening directly between our elected members and those clubs now—so we get to a point in the EGM where it's a compelling enough case and I have confidence in that the clubs understand why we're doing it, for what purpose, and the fact that we'll be a better organisation and a better run game as a consequence of this. And I firmly believe that's the case.

10:05

The reason I asked whether clubs had too much power is because I'm not necessarily convinced that—. I notice you didn't answer my question when I asked whether you thought they had too much power. And referring back to that autobiography that Alun mentioned earlier, you said, 'How could you have officials from small clubs with no real experience of world rugby making decisions that affected the national team and, more often than not, affected it for the worst?' You also said, 'Democracy is all very well, but too many small clubs have too big a say without having any knowledge of what is entailed.' You were quite damning at the time. What has changed?

When I decided to stand for national representative of the Welsh Rugby Union, I stood on a platform that we need to progress, we need to evolve as an organisation. And if we are to compel the clubs, convince the clubs that this is the direction of travel—. The landscape currently certainly should clear people's minds in terms of what is required for us and our success moving forward as an entity. To understand that it's not necessarily depowering the clubs—they still have that influence as regards electing representatives, but, as regards the board structure, we want people on the board who have the skill set, that we have a diverse board, that we have truly independent thought on that board to run the organisation as a whole. They still have an ability, through those two other sub-boards, i.e. the professional game board and the community game board, to shape their own game. They still have that ability to influence on that aspect, but as regards the core group, who sets the culture, who sets the tone, who sets the direction of the organisation as a whole—. That's the reason for the governance changes.  

Going back to that EGM from last year that you mentioned, I looked at some of the photos from some of the member clubs in attendance. It wasn't the most diverse bunch of people I've ever seen in my life, if I'm being honest with you. So, even though you are changing, or propose to change, the composition of the board, it still remains the case that the composition of your member clubs and the people there who are voting are not necessarily diverse. So, how are any of the changes you propose so far addressing the problem at club level?

We firmly believe—I firmly believe—that, currently, we're not truly representative of our game and our nation. We're the national game of Wales. We thrive on community. We have a sense of community, playing as a nation, like no other. You've seen the impact clubs had during the COVID crisis, at the vanguard of communities, at the forefront of that. We're embedded in every community across the country, the length and breadth of the country. We provide an invaluable role in those communities. Where many communities are struggling, where high streets are closing, where there are very few things open, the rugby club stays open. And we have to ensure that that remains. But we also need to be representative. The game is changing. Societal changes mean the game's changing. We have to be aware of that. We have to be mindful of that. We have to be at the forefront of those changes and be representative. 

As part of this process moving forward as regards governance changes, we're talking about broadening the council, where representatives of the game sit. Let's broaden that church out to make sure it's representing all aspects of our game—bring that diversity to the table. 

10:10

We will go out as part of our proposals on governance changes to look at enlarging the council to bring in more stakeholders, more people involved. There are various versions of our game being played currently; we don't bring those people in round the table to have a voice, to have an opinion, to shape our policies moving forward, and that's what we aim to do through the governance changes. 

In terms of the governance—. Sorry, did Heledd want to come back?

If I could elaborate, it's also about—

It's also about bringing new communities into this, making us an inclusive sport. That's what this is about. One of the greatest attributes of rugby on the field is friendship; you cannot do it on your own. And we need to reassure people, 'You're not on your own; we want you as part of our game, of our family', reaching out. And part of the broadening of our church there is actually ensuring that new communities join us in shaping our policies moving forward. 

Can I just add one thing to that? Changing the board or the governance of the WRU is not going to solve all the ills of the Welsh Rugby Union. By having that focus and that diversity of opinion, diversity of skill set, on the board, you increase the chances of the board challenging the executive and asking them, 'What are you doing for the game today?' 'What will the game look like in five years, 15 years, 25 years?' If you then work all the way down, getting people playing the game, involved in the game, loving the game in communities that represent the society that they live in, in 10, 15, 20 years—it's not an overnight thing—you'll have all elements of society represented at all stages of the governing body or of the game in Wales.

That's our problem at the moment, that it is dominated by males—and I haven't got a problem with men; I am a man—it's dominated by males, and it's the uncle of the person who ran the club last year, or five years ago, or 10 years ago; the nephew of somebody else. We just need to broaden that and to make it more open. But that will take time; it won't happen overnight. 

And have you done any work to survey or audit that type of thing, as you identified, to identify the diversity of the people that occupy those positions?

Honest answer—some work, but not enough. 

Okay. Going back to the board very quickly, have any members of the board been disciplined following complaints about behaviour in the last five years?

The board, no. 

Okay. And when was the last board governance report conducted? Reportedly, it was in 2022.

Yes, it was in 2022. That came, I think, back end of last year, and, as I mentioned earlier on to Heledd, the recommendations we accepted fully, in their entirety, and that shapes our direction now with regard to the governance changes we're going out to clubs with. It's shaped our—

Can you tell us what concerns it raised and how you've acted upon them?

Well, it talks about diversity on the board, it talks about skill set, it talks about an independent chair. They're exactly the ones we're driving now. 

Okay. I've got two requests for brief supplementaries. I'll go to Heledd first, and then I'll come to Hefin. So, Heledd. 

Thank you. Just briefly, there was, obviously, a comprehensive governance review in 2014, and it was stated at the time that this would ensure that the WRU was fit for purpose in the twenty-first century. Obviously, seemingly, that's not the case. So, do you have confidence that the proposals that were put forward last night are the right ones and also that they will be implemented and deliver the changes that are needed?

Governance is like painting the Forth bridge; it never stops. We continuously review, we continuously challenge—that's governance. Every organisation, every entity across the globe will do this on a regular basis—constantly review performance, constantly review effectiveness, constantly review governance. You continue to evolve. 

10:15

What would happen if the external taskforce came up with a recommendation that was different to that, and suggested that, rather than broadening, you need to replace? Would you accept that?

That's a very challenging question. Having committed to implement all the recommendations of the review panel and the taskforce, if it came up with something as radical as that, we would have to do it. We are committed to implementing all the recommendations.

Fe wnawn ni symud at Alun Davies.

We'll move to Alun Davies.

Thank you. It's heartbreaking, isn't it, to see and to hear what we've seen and heard. I think for those of us for whom rugby has been a part of our lives growing up to adulthood—. I'm 58, I'll be retiring soon—

It's been part of my life, and to hear—. I want my children to share the same pride as I did in the 1970s, and to experience the same things that I did. I want them to feel that sense of who we are as a country, and the WRU were central to that. One of the things that I've found most striking in the last week has been the absolute silence from anybody willing to be quoted supporting the WRU. The isolation of the WRU in the last week has been something that I don't think I've ever witnessed before in my professional life. I think that speaks—. I was reading Hayley Parsons's letter to you, and I think the point that she made there—. I've got it in front of me here:

'against a backdrop of a long-standing and deep-rooted culture of toxicity and bullying within the Welsh Rugby Union'.

That's a profoundly important statement, because we move away, then, from treating what we heard last week as purely a HR issue, as an issue that affects some individuals and that needs to be dealt with and the rest of it, but it then talks about the nature of the organisation and the fundamental personality of what the WRU is.

I recognise, by the way, that in your answers today you've accepted that, but what I want to be clear in my own mind is that you accept the totality of it. Because one of the things that I've found, as a supporter of the sport—I'll be watchng Ebbw Vale beating Llanelli tomorrow night in Eugene Cross Park—as somebody who goes there, week in, week out, is the rupture between the WRU and almost everybody else. The relationship with the regional clubs and the regional game has been well publicised, but there's that sense of a rupture between the WRU and the people. How do you feel that you can address that culture? Because what Hayley talks about is a culture of bullying and manipulation. She quotes Amanda Blanc, but she talks about something that is more profound than that, and it speaks about what the WRU is as an institution, or has become.

How do you respond to that, especially when you agree with most of it, if not all of it? We are disturbed, embarrassed—

Any adjective you—

Are you surprised? Were you surprised when you read that e-mail? Sorry, Ieuan, it was addressed to you. I can imagine you were shocked to actually see it written down, but were you surprised by the contents?

I was never taken aback by the passion, because rugby drives that passion—we live on that passion. I understand Hayley's passionate desire and demand for changes, and I support her on that, hence the number of—. Nigel and I, over this past week, have driven these changes, and we continue to do so. It is truly heartbreaking. We cannot survive without that trust and confidence being repaired. It's going to take some time to repair it. We're in the early stages of repairing it. We're determined to do so, and it's going to take—. It's not about incremental aspects here. We need major strides very quickly—

Was I surprised with the—

Contents. I accept 'passion'—the word you used—but it's also an analysis, isn't it? It isn't just passion, it's an analysis of a broken culture and a broken relationship. I can't think of anyone with whom the WRU has a healthy relationship at the moment. 

10:20

And we need to ensure that those relationships will continue and will improve, because we need it. We cannot do this in isolation. Nothing is mutually exclusive in Wales, nothing at all. Everything is intertwined, and rugby is intertwined more than anything else in terms of the communities and the thoughts and the DNA of our great nation. It has a critical role to play, and we've fallen down in that role.  

Am I surprised? No. 

No, you're not surprised. Nigel, sorry, you were—. I cut across you. 

There's not a lot I can add to that. I've spent the best part of a week apologising on numerous occasions. If we'd got everything right, if we'd got 50 per cent of the things right, we wouldn't be sitting here today. The Welsh Rugby Union, over a sustained period of time, has not got it right. The culture of an organisation won't change overnight, but you have to recognise first of all that you've got a problem. We've recognised we've got a problem. We've asked for outside help so that we can gauge the extent of that problem, and in that process we'll be given a number of recommendations to put it right. But that won't be enough in and of itself; we've got work to do over the coming weeks and months, internally and in our relationships with others, so that people understand that this is a new dawn, we are going to change, we're going to be easier to work with, we're not going to bully—I think that was one of the words you used, or quoted. It's uncomfortable, but that's the position we're in. But there is a commitment and a desire within the Welsh Rugby Union at board level, executive board level, to change this. The people I feel sorry for—apart from those who have complained, that goes without saying—. There are lots of good people working in the Welsh Rugby Union—

And they're having to live through this. I was in very early this morning, and I just happened to have a conversation with one of our members of staff, and they are heartbroken and they are hurting. So, we've just got to be careful, or I've got to be careful that I am cognisant of how this is impacting on the people who work for the Welsh Rugby Union who, through no fault of their own, are dragged through this. 

And I would endorse that as well. 

Yes, and Hayley says that, that there are dedicated and hard-working staff, most of whom are a credit to the game, and she is very clear that the failure is at board level to tackle the toxic and oppressive culture within the union. That's a different thing, isn't it? 

There's recognition that there are some great people working within the game in Wales, and we recognise that. But what there is is a tragic, if you like, toxicity that exists at board level. And both of you sit on that board. Okay, you've just been appointed, I accept that, but have you, Nigel, in your time as a director at the WRU witnessed any of the behaviour of the culture that has been described?

Clearly, these things have gone on. I'm not here to deny.

But I haven't personally seen anything of that nature since I've been employed. People have recounted things that have happened, I'm not denying those things have gone on. I don't want anybody to misunderstand me. But, personally, I have not seen anything of that nature. I wouldn't stand for those sorts of behaviours, let's be very clear about that. 

I would, if I could, just add to that, before you come in. Sorry, Tom. I strongly believe that I would stand up for people if I felt they needed it. And culture, as I said before, permeates everything—from the top down, from the bottom up, it binds everything. I also have faith that the staff who work diligently, hard, and care passionately about the game—. I echo Nigel's thoughts; I do worry about the effect this is having on them as well. 

Thank you for that. I'm aware of the time. We're likely to run over by around five minutes. Would that be all right with you, to stay for another five minutes? Thank you. I've got a request for a supplementary from Tom and then we do need to go to Jenny, but I'll come back to Alun after Tom for one more question. 

Just very quickly on that point, you both mentioned the hard-working staff who work in the WRU; have you provided any bespoke mental health offer to staff? Because obviously, I imagine that morale must be very, very low in the Welsh Rugby Union at the moment and HR. And also, have you initiated any whistleblowing procedures for current staff since the documentary?

10:25

And you're right to bring that up.

Well, actually, since September 2021, when our director of people, Lydia Stirling, was appointed, there is a whole suite and raft of things that have changed over the last 15, 16 months. So, we're not sitting on our hands and waiting for the review to present—we've put a whole suite of things in. We've appointed an equality, diversity and inclusion manager. We've got an EDI steering group, which meets on a regular basis. The HR team has sought external expertise to provide advice and support in reviewing all of its people policies—that has happened recently. I've talked about the internal working group. Since 2021, all staff and board members have completed EDI training with external partners. We put in place, six months ago, an anonymous external whistleblowing line for staff to be able to raise any issues in a safe and supported way, and a whole raft of other things.

Particularly about whistleblowing, has that been refreshed and have you reminded all staff what the procedure is since last Monday?

Okay, thank you. I'll go bck to Alun for one final, brief quesiton and then we'll move on to Jenny.

I just wanted to confirm what we've heard—that there's an acceptance of the issues around culture within and across the WRU and the acceptance that there is a rupture in the WRU's relationships between itself as an institution, if you like, and then the people around it. I mentioned regional rugby and quoted Hayley Parsons, but I could have quoted Ron Jones, or I could have quoted David Buttress as well. There's been a fragmentation, if you like, around the way in which the WRU conducts itself, but almost every voice we've heard has used the same words to describe their experience of dealing with the WRU and the words 'toxic', 'abusive', 'manipulative', 'bullying' come up time and time again. I understand from your previous answers that you accept that. What steps are you taking to rebuild trust and relationships around the WRU? You've addressed the issue of culture within the WRU, but what about in your relationships around the country?

Well, this week, I've had meetings with sponsors, with representatives of the regions and other such meetings and I've been very clear as to the way that we're going to operate going forward. We're not going to turn it around overnight. I'm in an acting capacity—everybody recognises I'm in an acting capacity—but I am in a position now where we can change the relationship between us and the people we work with on a daily basis to one of equals and to change it from parent-child. The characterisation and the words that you used, perhaps I wouldn't use those words, and it's not to diminish where we are now: we have a problem and we're going to fix it. The important thing is that there is a commitment across the hierarchy of the WRU to fix it and the responsibility rests with us.

Thank you for that. Forgive me for interrupting, but I'm afraid, because of time, we will have to move on to Jenny. I'm sorry about that.

I just want to focus on your capacity to change the organisation in light of the fact that you've been aware of this problem for nearly two years, in the sense that, Mr Walker, your job interview included questions about the internal review. So, the organisation has been aware that they had a problem of misogyny and racism since then. So, I think the key question for all of us really is the capacity of the WRU to now change, now that everybody knows about the serious issues that have been rife within your organisation for so long.

There are two issues within your question: there's the women's review, which centres on resource to the women's programme—whether female players were valued and other such things. Those problems have been largely addressed. The wider sexism and misogyny I was not aware of in September 2021. Over my time on the executive board, I have been made aware of one or two cases that were either in play or have just been settled. But, in terms of the wider case, no, I wasn't. I'm talking personally now, just to be absolutely clear about that.

10:30

Okay. But, Ieuan Evans, you were aware of the serious cultural problems that existed in the organisation. Where you just a lone voice crying in the wilderness?

I wasn't aware of the wider aspects of this. This has come to the fore now. I was aware of the fact that, I think, we needed to address significant issues for us, moving forward, on multiple, different layers; culture being one of them, governance being another. They are two very distinct aspects, but they are intertwined as well. We are determined—and Nigel's been in post a matter of days; I've been in post a matter of weeks—we are determined to address this head on. We are baring this to the world at large and, as heartbreaking as this is, it needs to be done. We have to ensure that we reclaim that ground, that lost confidence, that lost faith and trust in what we are as an organisation, and we are resolute in ensuring that's the case, and we'll be stood up to scrutiny, hence the taskforce.

Just to enable us to understand the size of the task you both face, how many non-disclosure agreements have been signed in the last five years?

I don't have that information at hand, I'm afraid.

I don't have that either.

I can forward that on to you.

Okay. How many members of staff have been disciplined following complaints about behaviour within the last five years?

Again, I don't have that information at my fingertips.

Fine. Perhaps you could write to us about those two points. Could you tell us how patterns of complaint are analysed and reported to senior members of your organisation—obviously, those are historic questions of how it was done before—and how you plan to go forward?

I can talk about how we plan to go forward, because I've had this conversation with our director of people. We just need to make sure that we've got a standardised process and that it's clearly understood. There's also an element of training our managers so that we have a consistency across the organisation, so, if there is poor behaviour in that area and poor behaviour in that area, they are treated in exactly the same way.

We have not trained sufficiently our managers to be able to spot what is poor behaviour and differentiate between poor behaviour and banter, and then, when cases have been presented, the way that they're treated depends on who has seen that behaviour, and that's the bit we need to standardise, and that's where we have failed.

You can have training till the cows come home. You had a training session with Chwarae Teg last October.

I'm sure they didn't pull their punches, but it doesn't appear to have pushed the organisation into the revolution that's required.

With respect, I think we're in a different position from a year ago. I think any training pushed out now in the follow-up and the necessary change of behaviour will be monitored far more rigorously than perhaps it has been hitherto.

Okay. Just a couple of final points, about your relationship with the Welsh Government. The Welsh Government's economic contract, which obviously you enter into when you take on loan agreements or any funding, includes the fair work area of economic contract. So, did the WRU just sign up to a safe, healthy and inclusive working environment and just assume this was a tick-box exercise, and how are you going to change that within your culture?

I don't know, because I wasn't responsible for signing that. But let's take it as read that it was just signed. To repeat what we've said, we are committed to changing the organisation. We need a strategy for changing that organisation. The taskforce is going to look at those areas and is going to present a number of recommendations. We are committed to implementing those recommendations, and those recommendations will be around culture, the workplace and environment. That's as much as I can say at this stage. The option we have now is to continue in the same way, and the Welsh Rugby Union in three or four years won't be here, or it'll 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 highlighted and 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 exists currently in the Welsh Rugby Union. That is under way with the taskforce. When that presents, we will actively put our shoulder to the wheel to implement those recommendations, and, at the same time, there's work going on at a more granular level—the sorts of best practice things that are in placing good organisations. There are lots of good organisations and lots of best practice out there. We need to get on with that in the meantime.

10:35

I think you recognise you're in the last-chance saloon, because, if you don't change, I'm sure intervention will—

There is no optionality here.

I was just going to say that there's a chance for one final question. We'll have to finish in around a minute, but if you were content with that—

There was time for one final question, if you had a final question.

You're content. All right.

Thank you very much for your time. Thank you for being willing to stay an extra five minutes. There were some areas that we didn't quite have a chance to reach. Would you be content for us to write to you with those further questions?

Thank you. A transcript of what's been said will be sent to you for you to check for accuracy, as well.

Diolch yn fawr.

Diolch yn fawr iawn ichi am fod gyda ni y bore yma. Rŷn ni'n ei werthfawrogi fe.

Thank you very much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

Diolch yn fawr am eich amser.

Thank you for your time.

Byddwn ni nawr yn gorffen am egwyl o 10 munud, a byddwn ni nôl gyda'r Dirprwy Weinidog ymhen 10 munud. Fe wnaf i aros i glywed ein bod ni'n breifat.

We will now take a 10-minute break and return with the Deputy Minister in 10 minutes' time. I'll wait to hear that we are in private session.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:36 a 10:45.

The meeting adjourned between 10:36 and 10:45.

10:45
5. Cyhuddiadau yn ymwneud ag Undeb Rygbi Cymru: Sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda Llywodraeth Cymru
5. Allegations surrounding the Welsh Rugby Union: Evidence session with the Welsh Government

Croeso nôl. Rydyn ni'n parhau gyda'n sesiynau y bore yma. Nawr rydyn ni'n cynnal sesiwn gyda Llywodraeth Cymru. Dawn Bowden, ein Dirprwy Weinidog, allaf i ofyn i chi gyflwyno eich swyddogion chi ar gyfer y record?

Welcome back. We are continuing with this morning's session. We will now move to a session with the Welsh Government. Dawn Bowden, Deputy Minister, could I ask you to introduce your officials for the record?

Indeed. On my right, I've got Jason Thomas, who's the director of culture, sport and tourism, and on my left is Steffan Roberts, who heads up the tourism and sport department.

Thank you, all, for being with us. We'll move straight into questions, if that's all right with you. So, we will go straight to Heledd Fychan.

Bore da, and thank you for being with us this morning.

You will have seen, I'm sure, the headlines this morning reporting on Tonia Antoniazzi's comments that she had directly contacted the Labour-led Welsh Government about the concerns last year. So, the first question I'd like to ask: what did you know and when?

Okay, and I think that's a very fair question. I had a letter from Tonia on 9 May. Primarily, that letter was setting out concerns about the women's game. Much of those concerns, of course, were already in the public domain by that time. Certainly, before that letter from Tonia, I'd been having conversations with the WRU about the women's game and about the report and about where we needed to go with that. She set that out in her letter. She also set out her concerns about the resignation of Amdana Blanc from the WRU executive board, and she also set out concerns about anonymous complaints that she was aware of, again, some of which were in the public domain. I think the anonymous complaints were in the Mail Online around about March of last year, which was about the employment tribunal case, which we subsequently found out more about in the BBC programme. But, that was in the public domain as well, as was the Amanda Blanc resignation. She referred to some anonymous complainants who had other concerns about issues of sexism and misogyny.

So, in general terms, that was the extent of my knowledge. I was aware that there were concerns around sexism and misogyny. Subsequently, I had numerous meetings with the WRU over a number of issues, whether it related to the women's game, as I've talked about, or I raised with them in very general terms issues around misogyny, sexism and diversity on the board and so on. But, obviously, I had no detail of anything, so I wasn't able to talk in specific detail. It wouldn't have been appropriate for me to do so in any event, particularly as one of the cases in question was subject to a legal claim at that time. But, that was the moment in time at which that was formally raised with me. But, as I say, that wasn't the first I was aware of it, because it's been kind of in the public domain for some time before that.

Given it was formally raised with you, why wasn't there more decisive action then, in the same way as we've seen decisive action since the BBC programme?

Sure. I think, to be fair, Heledd, the letter that I had gave me no detail; it just talked in general terms about sexism and misogyny, which I think it had been widely known within the WRU, probably for many, many years, probably going back 20 years, that that had been something that was of concern. I heard the previous evidence session where you talked about a Government review back in 2014 when some of these things were raised. So, I don't think any of that was new. The decisive action did come after the BBC programme because that was the first time that we had heard the extent and the detail of the issues. That is not to say that, at any point during that previous 12-month period, I had not been having discussions with the WRU about a whole range of these issues; in fact, I had.

But these were alluded to. Did you not think that it would be worth while investigating those further, so that you were in a position—? Given that the organisation is in receipt of some public funds, did you not think you should have taken action to verify those complaints? Because if you were raising them with the WRU in terms of general points—

10:50

Why didn't you think that it was your role as Deputy Minister to—

It wouldn't have been appropriate for me to have gone, if you like, searching out complaints. What I responded to Tonia was that the people who had complaints needed to make those complaints formal. There is a process. I'm a Government Minister. I have constraints on what I can do. Now, if somebody brought to me direct evidence, substantiated direct evidence, or even a signed affidavit or statement or something that gave me something that I could go on, then I think that that would have been a different story. I never had that. And, as I say, given the constraints that I have as a Government Minister, and the fact that the WRU, of course, is not a Welsh Government sponsored body—they're an independent organisation and an independent business—there were very strict constraints on what I could do. 

Even since the BBC programme on Monday, there have been constraints on what I've been able to do. I've only been able to set out to the WRU—and I've done that very forcefully—what my expectations are. But, at the end of the day, it is for the WRU to make the changes and to implement those changes. 

Thank you, but if I may, did you explore with your officials what options were available to you following receipt of that letter?

Yes, and we responded to that letter, and the response to that letter was following consultation with officials about how best we could respond, and the constraints that were on us in terms of responding. I would have liked nothing more than to have had some kind of detailed allegations, evidence, signed statements or something that I could have moved forward on. In the absence of that, what I did was I took every opportunity that I had, and that I could, to talk to the WRU about the whole range of those issues. As you heard today, the WRU did in fact implement a governance review during that period, which was in no small part due to the issues that were by that time in the public domain. 

If I may, you've referenced that Tonia Antoniazzi talked about Amanda Blanc in her letter to you. Amanda Blanc did go on public record in June 2022, so in terms of verifying or substantiating the claims in that letter, did you take any action following seeing those public comments then in terms of how someone of her calibre felt? I would like to focus specifically—. Because of the element of the public funds—I understand—but that is within our remit as a Senedd; some of the funding does go in to support women into sport, and young women. So, did you not think, once those were verified by Amanda Blanc publicly, that this is something that you should take notice of, and actually, perhaps publicly comment?

I don't think it was appropriate for me to act publicly on something that had not been brought to me formally. These things were in the public domain. I was having those conversations with the WRU about the wider issues of governance, and how they were going to address these issues, and I felt that that was the appropriate way to deal with it. The WRU have never been in any doubt, from my point of view, about my views on all of this and what I felt needed to be done to address all of these issues.

Okay. I just have two requests for supplementaries from Alun and Hefin and then we'll go back to Heledd. Okay—I've got Alun, Hefin and Jenny with brief supplementaries if possible, please. 

The correspondence you're referring to was formal correspondence from Tonia. You didn't receive private correspondence?

I didn't receive private correspondence. I think it would be fair to say, because Tonia is a colleague and friend, that we had conversations about things like that, you know, I've bumped into Tonia at rugby matches and the like, but I'm referring to formal—[Interruption.] I can only deal with formal correspondence that comes into me as a Minister, yes. 

That's the point I'm trying to reach. So, if it was dealt with as a formal piece of ministerial correspondence, you would have been briefed on a response to make to Tonia. 

And did that brief include any briefing on historical issues that the Welsh Government may have been aware of with the WRU?

So, you received no briefing on any other matters, about he issues under question today, from your officials.

10:55

Not on the specifics of what subsequently came out in the BBC—

Well, that's not the question I asked you. The question was: did you receive a briefing on historical issues, cultural issues, within the WRU from your officials in drafting a reply to Tonia? 

No. We were dealing with the issues that Tonia raised in her letter. 

So, does the—? Obviously, it's a matter that goes before your appointment—I accept that—but did the Welsh Government have any historical concerns about any of these issues, or has the Welsh Government had any previous engagement with the WRU on these issues that you've been briefed about? 

I can only talk to you about what I've done since I've been Minister, so I can't comment on—

All right. I have all members of the committee now wanting to come in on supplementaries, but could you confirm, Minister, did you have any contact with Amanda Blanc before her resignation about these issues?  

Okay. Thank you for confirming that. I've got Hefin, then Jenny, then Tom, and then we'll be back to Heledd. So, Hefin. 

As an independent body, the Welsh Government's relationship with the WRU is probably one more of culture than structure, so there are no recognised mechanisms given that you're not a direct funder. So, how often did you meet with the WRU? How often do you have regular meetings and regular correspondence and communications?  

So, very different to the relationship with our sponsored bodies, for obvious reasons. Our sponsored bodies are directly funded by Welsh Government. The WRU is not, and I can talk a little bit more about our funding relationship with the WRU in a moment if that's what you want to explore with me. But the WRU is a multi-million pound independent business; they don't actually need an awful lot of Welsh Government money to run their business, but there are sources of funding that go in for specific purposes, which I'm quite happy to talk about. But you are quite right, in terms of our relationship, it is more about—. It's similar to the relationship that I have with all other national governing bodies. They don't have a remit letter from us. We can't instruct them to do anything, but we have a process where we have a relationship with them because they are important to the national cultural and sporting life of Wales.  

I think one of the things that Ieuan Evans conceded in a very honest and direct evidence session was that the WRU's relationships with key stakeholders were broken. 

So, therefore, the mechanisms that existed for you to have direct engagement would also therefore have been broken. 

There were no formal mechanisms. We would have meetings with the WRU as and when, as I say, unlike with sponsored bodies where I meet them on a regular basis and there are direct mechanisms for my interaction and dealings with them.