10 questions for Scottish Rugby CEO Mark Dodson

Murrayfield's big boss discusses government bail-outs, private equity investment, Lions tours and recruitment

Scottish Rugby Chief Executive Mark Dodson believes the business has adapted well to the seismic challenges posed by Covid. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Scottish Rugby Chief Executive Mark Dodson believes the business has adapted well to the seismic challenges posed by Covid. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

SCOTTISH RUGBY Chief Executive Mark Dodson hosted a press briefing by video conference this [Wednesday] afternoon, and discussed a broad range of subjects related to the business and how it is coping with the ongoing Covid crisis.

Below are 10 takeaways from that conversation:

1. How big a blow was the confirmation that the remainder of the Six Nations will be played behind closed doors?

“It is something we planned for given the impact of Covid. But it does make a substantial hole in revenue. We have had a material grant from government that has allowed us to repair our balance sheet to a certain extent and that has been enormously helpful. We have also done some refinancing around our business. We expected no crowds so we planned accordingly and the business is in a strong position going forward now.”

2. What’s the status with the Government loans and grants which were announced at the start of December to help support Scottish Rugby through the Covid crisis?

“We’ve received the grant of £15million, we haven’t received the loan of £5million.”

2.2.  What’s the hold-up with the loan?

“Just administration. They got the grant to us as soon as the admin was able to be done between both parties, they’ve been extremely supportive and quick. The same will be the case with the loan. We’re about to complete our due diligence around the loan process and then as soon as that’s in place the money will be forthcoming.”

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3. Are you still committed to no redundancies?

“This financial year, we’re not expecting to make any redundancies. We’ve made the appropriate cost savings we said we’d make, in fact we’ve exceeded those as well. We took a tough line on costs and made sure the business is sufficiently refinanced to get us through this period. The government grant has helped tremendously.

4. Will the deal to sell a wedge of the Six Nations to CVC Partners private equity house be concluded any time soon?

“It depends on the complex legal and financial stuff that has to be worked out, and that’s always part of the deal. I imagine it’s between our lawyers and advisers and as soon as we’re in a position to announce anything, we’ll let you know.

“The conversations are going really well, we’re at the tail end of those negotiations now and I expect a successful outcome. It’s a hugely complex deal. There’s six unions and four tax jurisdictions and we need time to get everything in place. In real terms, talks are progressing well.”

5. What’s the latest with this summer’s Lions tour?

“Lions issues are complex and difficult and subject to change all the time. What we’re waiting for is all the information behind any options that are presented to us so that we can make the best decision we can.

“It’s conjecture about where the Lions may or may not go and we’re not in position to make any decisions around a tour that has not been finalised. If there are changes to the original tour programme and it does come back to the UK we’ll be as interested as anyone else is to take advantage of that.

“What we’ve got to do is look at all the options, the facts, from a sporting, economic and player welfare perspective and then take a view. At the moment we’ve not been presented with the detail that sits behind any options that may be on the table.”

6. What about the Rainbow Cup?

“That’s exactly the same scenario [to the Lions tour]. Yes, it is a great idea. I think the idea of the PRO16 with those sides is also massively attractive but again we will be governed by external factors and we have to have the best information to base a decision.”


7. The pro teams have been active on the recruitment front, how did you manage that in the current climate?

“There was a hiatus as we waited to do our business. We had to make sure we were in a position to have adequate squads for next season and that stopped us doing business as we’d like. Once we were working in option three [Scottish Rugby’s recovery plan for the Covid crisis] we were able to go back into the market and capture the players we targeted before we had the Covid impact. There will be more signings to come as well.”

8. Will you allow Dominic McKay to leave Scottish Rugby early to take up his next role as Chief Executive at Celtic Football Club as they look to appoint a new manager?

“From my point of view, what’s happening at Celtic is something that is out of my control. I clearly know that Dom will have a very full in-tray when he gets there. The issue for us is that he has a notice period here and we need stability in our business too. I expect him to be here with us for a while yet.

“You’ve got to remember that we’ve got our own business to stabilise as well, so until we’ve stabilised our business, until we can replace him and make sure the business is in good enough shape, that’s the only time we’ll consider allowing Dom to move across to Celtic.

“And that depends on how quickly we can replace him.

“We are going through a restructuring process here anyway, so Dom moving to Celtic has probably just given us a chance to look once more at what we’re going to do. The role will be replaced and we will make sure we take our time and get some outstanding candidates.”

8.2. What if Celtic offer a big compensation package?

“It’s not about the money. That’s a short-term fix, if you get into those kind of compensation deals. The most important thing is making sure this place can run and function properly. That’s my job as CEO, to make sure selfishly that we look after this business.

“If there is a point in time when we can let Dom go earlier than that then I’m sure we’d try to work around that, but as it stands at the moment, we are some way away from that.”

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9. How big a priority is it to find a suitable replacement for Sheila Begbie is Director of Rugby Development?

“We’ve advertised internally and externally and will have a deadline of early March to start the interviewing process. This is something we want to get done very quickly. The person we get may have a notice period but the fact is that we’ll take the best person so that we get someone worthy of replacing Sheila because this is an important role.

“That’ll be a one-for-one replacement. It’s such a big part of our business that we need a director of community rugby, there’s no doubt about that, especially when we’re returning to rugby. Clubs across the country are facing challenges so we want to make sure we’re putting an experienced and talented executive into that sport.

“I’m very sorry to lose Sheila, she’s been an outstanding colleague and a terrific manager. She just is ready to retire and I’ve asked her to stay on for a year already so I wasn’t holding much hope of getting her to stay on again. She was always going to retire at this stage but I’m sorry because she’s been a real breath of fresh air for the business. She’s popular and she’s made some fundamental changes so I’ll be sorry to see her go because she’s an excellent executive.”

10. Does Scottish Rugby need to up its game in terms of player development?

“We’ve just signed Oliie Smith today and we’ve had Rufus McLean, Jack Blain and a large number of young players coming through. These guys have been training up at Oriam with the national squad, and Jamie Dobie’s there on merit now, not just going in to find out what the atmosphere is like. We’ve got a really strong cohort of young players coming through who are putting pressure on the previous group – the Bradburys, and Crosbies and Tom Gordons, those type of players.

“The lack of a grounding in Super Six, Premiership and National One this season has not been great for them or for us, but it’s the same elsewhere in the UK.

“The academies are now producing real talent and will continue to do so. These youngsters have been getting their chances with Edinburgh and Glasgow this season and will continue to do so.”

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About David Barnes 4026 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. Thanks for this article, its good to hear positive things from Mr.Dodson, 2021 has been a good year for Scottish rugby so far.


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