There is a school of thought that notes the only way to push the WRU’s Governance into the 21st century is for the turkeys to vote for Christmas at an AGM. There is an archaic structure to the WRU that revolves around the Districts that controlled the game during the amateur era. Representatives from these Districts then sit on the WRU Board which is supposed to act akin to a bunch on Non-Executive Directors, to ensure that the Executive Board of the WRU (Roger Lewis and co) behave properly.
The ability of these representatives to understand the modern professional rugby business, let alone govern it, is at the very least a discussion point. The analysis of this board was undertaken by David Moffett and, love him or loathe him, he simply reported the facts of the make up of this board here http://moffettrugby.com/blazers-biscuits/ The average tenure of these elected gentlemen is 17 years on the board. According to CIMA Global, the average time a non-exec should be in place is two to three years. There are two further key points to remember when looking at the current board of the WRU:
1. These men are voted in time and time again by the Community Clubs.
2. More than half of these men were sitting on the board when the WRU was technically insolvent in 2002. Twelve years on and they are still there. So the question must be that if they allowed the Union to be pushed to insolvency in 2002, why are they rewarded for that incompetence by a further 12 years of re-election?
The obvious answer to this is that the Community Clubs neither care nor understand the mechanisms of professional rugby. The 200+ who get the vote at an AGM care, rightly so it can be argued, only for their own survival and their own income streams. They will vote for self interest, for survival and, if at all possible, to allow a bloody nose to the professional teams who rose out of the Community game from 1996 onwards.
Therefore, it is clear that the WRU needs reform. Even David Pickering, current WRU Chairman recognises this as he has launched a Governance Review led by Sir Robert Owen. That has been two years in the making yet there still is no sign of it being fully reported. And by fully reported, I mean that the full report is published on the WRU website just as the RFU published their Review on line. For comparison purposes, the £60m turnover WRU has taken two years to write its review, so far, whereas the £10.5bn turnover Co-Op Group took about four months. Some might say that there is a reason that the WRU is dragging its feet in publishing, in full, the Sir Robert Owen’s findings.
Whatever you can take from the above, it surely can no longer be argued that the structure of the WRU is suitable for professional rugby. Regardless of the WRU vs RRW ongoing spat over the terms of their trading Agreement, the idea that the Community Club voting model is suitable for a £60m turnover company simply cannot be defended. The Executive is allowed to work without challenge as, with all due respect, the record of the WRU Board proves. The skill set of the Gentlemen who sit on there is insufficient for modern business and that is just the fact of the matter. Therefore, the mode of their election to that post has to change as the game progresses.
There are two real options for change – to maintain the two games (Professional and Community) under one set up by restructuring the District model, the voting model and all therein, OR to separate the Professional from the Community and to keep the existing structure solely in place for the Amateur game. After all, the knowledge and exposure of the WRU Board members is solely to the Community game so why change what the clubs are clearly happy with?
For me, therefore, the goal must be to split the Governance of the Professional game from the Community game and this is what RRW must push for over the coming years. The start of this process was the move to the Professional Rugby Game Board and this must be extended to allow the Professional game to govern itself, free of the need to make decisions that the Community Clubs would agree to. The Professional game must be in control of its own income streams, its own leagues, broadcast partnerships and future.
However, this must come at a cost to the Professional game as the lifeblood to regenerate the game is at the Community Club level. My preference is for the Professional game to agree to a rolling financing of the Community game by providing fixed income to that part of the game. The decision on how that income is spent should be undertaken by the Community Clubs themselves, via the structure they already have in place. Therefore, instead of lurching from season to season with unknown income streams, the Community Clubs would be able to budget for five years as a minimum and would have stability.
Any income left from that payment would then be kept by the Professional game who are therefore, in effect, underwriting the Community game but are not getting involved in its Governance. The crucial change in thought pattern that is required here is to note that the income from Team Wales games belongs to the Professional game and not the Amateur game.
This simple new structure for the WRU would therefore see the existing WRU Board set up control the Community game, the PRGB amended to control the Professional game and the existing WRU Executive shrunk in line with the new requirements. A full WRU Board, with properly qualified non-Executives, would then sit on the outside of those two Boards to control the business and to ensure Good Governance.
I think that this structure is in line, with the necessary tweaks that will come, to ensure that all parts of the game are interlinked and suitably reliant on each other to progress. There is no one blockage of power, no one area where one individual can control the entire game to the detriment of all parties, no chance for a seat of power to go unchallenged.
Therefore, of course, I don’t expect this will ever happen.