HAZEL SWANKIE of Dunfermline RFC (read CV here) and Keith Wallace of Haddington RFC (read CV here) are the two candidates to become the next Vice-President of the Scottish Rugby Union, with clubs set to vote for their favoured choice at next Saturday’s AGM. The Offside Line posed the pair 10 tricky questions and this is how they responded.
1. What inspired you to stand for this position?
HS: “My passion for the game – being involved with club rugby for 26 years as a volunteer, from fundraising to fixtures secretary to club secretary, then club president – I understand the challenges clubs face on a daily basis. Believe me, I’ve shared the pain of trying to remain sustainable and financially viable whilst at the same time making sure coaches and volunteers have what they need and players are thriving. I want to be part of club rugby flourishing in the coming years, there are some great programmes out there which will deliver long term results for our game and player numbers, particularly within the state school sector – we need to get these out there into clubland, develop and promote them, and ensure a pipeline of more to come. We mustn’t rest!”
KW: “Our great game stands at a crossroads: the overwhelming support for the SCOG Governance proposals gives us all a great opportunity to work together and build a better way forward.
“With over 50 years of playing and 40 years of administering in the club game, coupled with serving on 10 Boards, three as chair, I am inspired to combine two of my great passions, rugby and governance, to seize this opportunity to support Colin Rigby as the incoming President in delivering the change agenda initiated by Ian Barr.
“I commit to bring all my passion, knowledge, honesty, integrity, selflessness and experience to represent the Clubs for the good of the game, and I am happy to be judged on this.”
2. What do you hope will be your biggest achievement during your four year in office (as Vice-President then President) if elected?
HS: “Playing a part in the introduction of the new Governance structure and as Chair of the new Club Rugby Board, seeing it become established as the central, club-orientated vehicle for the development of the domestic game, would be a massive achievement and honour. I believe it – the CRB – can really be positioned to work effectively with our Rugby Development Department to address the issues of ‘Player Pathways’, to see a renewed focus on club-orientated 7s and to carry out a review about how we might better help clubs implement capital investment development projects.
KW: “I would hope to achieve three interlinked things:
Promote the mutual dependency between the professional game bringing in the revenue, and the club game which introduces players to the game: the essence of the Union.
Lead the set-up of the Club Rugby Board (CRB) establishing rigour in the key board areas of strategy, scrutiny and advocacy.
Grow the game from the bottom up.”
3. How strong is the Union right now?
HS: “I believe the Union is strong and has weathered the Covid crisis in better shape than some other Unions, through tight fiscal control, liaison and funding from the Scottish Government, and the army of exceptional volunteers that run our Clubs. I believe the Union will be even stronger post the SCOG proposal being implemented as we can look forward to Scottish Rugby working as one, with proper and effective oversight, scrutiny and transparency finally in place, all key values we – as member clubs and the ultimate owners of Scottish Rugby – have a right to expect.”
KW: “A friend and colleague, wise and knowledgeable in sports management, said “the role of a sports governing body is threefold: participation, performance and bringing the members with you.
I think that there is room for improvement in all three areas, and huge scope to do so if we all work together. As clubs I want to see us compete on the field and collaborate off it.”
4. What is the single most critical challenge currently facing Scottish Rugby?
HS: “If you’re asking me for just one, it would have to be the drop off in adult male players throughout the game – but Scottish Rugby is not alone with this challenge. There are many other sports/interests we have to compete against to retain and recruit players. We need to consider how we make it easier for people to remain in the game and commit to a season of rugby. There will be many reading this now who have ideas or solutions to this challenge and as your new Vice President I would welcome dialogue. Would it be evening games during the week? Or perhaps exploring all weather floodlit facilities located strategically to allow multiple teams access and fulfilment of fixtures? There is no ‘daft’ answer as this is a collective problem – one we need to and can only solve together.”
KW: “The need to avoid short term fixes and instead back ourselves to take a long term view in developing strategies on participation and performance, growing the number of players and officials from the bottom up by selling the fun and enjoyment of the game.”
5. Does the proposed new governance structure strike the right balance between protecting club interests and letting the business people do their job?
HS: “In a word, yes. I believe so. It’s designed on the one hand to provide clubs with greater influence and control of the club game, how it might develop and prosper. On the other hand, it empowers our executive to focus on developing revenue streams, the pro game and on managing our estate and all the hard working Union employees. Additionally, it re-establishes the importance of the clubs as the owners of the Scottish Rugby Union. And I believe that is a good thing, though it also brings with it a responsibility that must be exercised by us all.”
KW: “I think the proposed new governance structure is excellent. After many false starts it has been worth waiting for.
“The clubs interests will be looked after much more actively by the new Company Limited by Guarantee (CLG), and by CRB where the clubs will have far more say and transparency on how funding is spent on them. I expect to see clubs involved in forming CRB strategy and many club members directly involved in CRB working groups, finding a real appetite for this in my discussions with clubs.
The business people (executives) will have much more clarity of responsibility and accountability, once strategy and budget is agreed with CLG, allowing them to get on with their jobs.”
6. Developing the women’s game is a key objective for Scottish Rugby – how is it going?
HS: “This is an area of development, with the Women’s and Girl’s four year strategy recently announced and the increase in funding into the game. The new league structure for Season 22-23 will drive to enhance quality and playing opportunities for all participants. This is statistically the fastest growing part of our game. However, we must recognise that as popularity of the sport rises we have challenges to ensure the infrastructure and the people that make rugby happen have the capacities and capabilities to embrace the demand.”
KW: “I think we have been a bit slow, compared with say Ireland, where many clubs have been rescued by establishing women’s teams.
However, we are now on an upward trajectory. In particular it has been pleasing in my discussions with clubs how many smaller clubs have succeeded in getting women’s teams established, seeing real benefits.
Since games played is the only true indicator of the health of the game, there are obvious benefits in striving to grow the women’s game.”
7. What is your assessment of the development pathway in Scottish Rugby at the moment – and how can we improve it?
HS: “I know for many this is a contentious topic. The pathway does not seem to be working for everyone. The poor performance of the U20’s over the past two years has highlighted the problem. But I believe that progress will come with the high-calibre of folk finally now in post. But they can’t do that from a desk in Murrayfield and I’d wish to promote a series of meetings/engagements with key stakeholders from clubs on this matter. Clubs are very often at the coalface of elite, young player development but, if we’re being honest, there are too many stories of the input they have to offer being ignored. That’s got to change. I believe it can and if elected, will do everything I can to bring about a wholesale cultural change in this area.”
KW: “This has emerged as a hot topic in the hustings, coinciding with the U20s results. It is the key linkage between the club and professional games.
I think we can make many improvements, including:
Casting the net wider and more often, to help find the hidden gems/late developers.
Ensuring pathway players get more/enough game time.
Reducing the numbers of Non-Scottish Qualified players, other than a few marquee players at Edinburgh and Glasgow as role models (thus avoiding poor investment and blockage to many).
Having open and supportive discussions with player/parents, club/school and pathways management on each player, to agree the best options.
Ensuring that pathways are just as open and supportive on the way back down. Not all players will make it but as a governing body we have a duty of care to these players, and also a fiduciary duty to get the best ongoing return on our investment. We need to see how they are best retained in the game as players (at a lower level), coaches or referees etc. Too many are simply lost to the game.
8. Does World Rugby represent the best interests of the Scottish game?
HS: “I’ll be honest and say, at the moment, I don’t think I’m a person qualified to answer this question. I could give you a ‘fluffy’ politically correct answer if my arm Is twisted. But, if I have to answer, let’s just put it this way, I’m unaware of any disadvantage Scotland suffers through the actions of World Rugby.”
KW: “Generally yes, notwithstanding the recent disappointing loss of the Sevens. I would however like to see greater focus on three things:
- Player safety, particularly at the highest levels. The ability to replace six of your starting pack, for example, is not helping.
- Considering whether there is a need for different laws for the amateur and professional game: eg some of the changes to the scrum rules were entirely due to the sheer forces at the top level (partly caused by replacements noted above) and were not needed at club level.
- Promoting the game’s values.
9. What has been the most useful takeaway from the various hustings meetings you have attended?
HS: “I was always aware that there’s a huge amount of dedicated, enthusiastic volunteers in clubland and I can honestly say that meeting so many during the hustings has been my pleasure. Sure, I won’t appeal to everyone voting for Vice President but I hope that as a result of those meetings, phone calls and emails, no-one can doubt my sincerity. I do not have a portfolio of directorships as a distraction, I’m 100 percent focussed on my family and my love for Scottish Rugby, at all levels.”
KW: “Having spoken directly to over 100 clubs, I have been blown away by the sheer commitment and energy of the army of volunteers in our club game and the range of great things they are doing, bringing fun and enjoyment to many through the values of our game.
If under CRB we can give all these volunteers improved: recognition; clarity and transparency; effectiveness and efficiency through collaboration, sharing best practice and simplification of rules, regulations and paperwork; and funding – and then unite them in a common purpose of growing the game and improving performance, we will unleash an enormous power.
In doing so we can make the game accessible, affordable and, most of all, enjoyable. Players and volunteers at all levels will come back next Saturday or Sunday if they’ve enjoyed this week’s experience.”
10. John Rutherford, Gregor Townsend or Finn Russell?
HS: “John Rutherford – an elegant, classy player who exuded confidence on the park. BUT being a Midlands girl, I’ve got to give Finn a special mention: just sometimes, something out of leftfield pays huge dividends, does it not??
KW: “As a ‘piano shifter’ I have always enjoyed watching these three great ‘piano players’. Their ability to scan what is in front of them and have time on the ball is way beyond my ken. At their very best with great players around them to bring into play.
Sorry John and Gregor, for me Finn at his best sees and executes a range of kicks and passes to orchestrate his backline, probably unsurpassed in the game.”