AGM part three: Dodson remains bullish and calls for unity

"The assertion that a prime cause of the rancour and distrust has been a lack of clear strategy is not accepted"

Scottish Rugby Chief Executive Mark Dodson. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Scottish Rugby Chief Executive Mark Dodson. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

MARK DODSON remains hopeful that some crowds might be permitted into Murrayfield during next year’s home Six Nations matches, but he recognises that the half-full stadiums previously targeted is highly unlikely given the recently announced tightening of Covid restrictions, which will come into place on Boxing Day for at least the next three weeks.

A 50 percent full stadium for Scotland’s three home Six Nations games and 100 percent (67k capacity) attendances during the Autumn Tests was given last month as part of Scottish Rugby’s “base-case cash-flow forecast” for the next year.

That has been blown out the window and the “severe but plausible downside scenario” of no crowds in the Six Nations and 25 percent attendances for the Autumn Tests now seems far more likely.


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“It is a moving feast and we can only work towards the best information we have at any one time, but I think what has happened with this second wave – you might call it a third wave – has put the prospect back of having meaningful crowds at the Six Nations this year,” acknowledged Dodson, after the third and final instalment of this year’s elongated AGM for the governing body.

“We are still hopeful that we can get crowds in for the Six Nations,” he added. “Two of our three home games are at the end of the Six Nations period, at the end of March, so we’ve got more chance than we have at, say, the beginning of February – but it is something we have to keep talking to the government about and keep lockstep with them as we work through this whole pandemic as it pans out.

“The important thing is that our financial position, regardless of what happens in the Six Nations, is secure, because of the refinancing we’ve achieved through to 2022.”

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The purpose of last night’s meeting was to approve the audited accounts of Scottish Rugby.

During the video conference, Dodson gave a presentation in which he discussed the funds Scottish Rugby has received from the deal to sell a 28 percent stake in the Guinness PRO14 to CVC Partners private equity house.

“Essentially, the PRO14 monies remains ring-fenced,” he said. “Any decision on the use of these proceeds will be considered early in the New Year as part of an examination of our longer-term objectives and prospects.

“The bank facility we’ve negotiated will act as a safeguard against any future long-term Covid-related disruption.”

Smoke and mirrors

It was later explained by President Ian Barr that, in fact, not all the money has been ring-fenced, because some has already been spent.

“We have now received two payments arising for the investment by CVC into the PRO14,” said Barr, in the question and answer session that followed Dodson’s presentation. “Use of these funds is subject to specific Board approval. Some has been used as part of the refinancing arrangements made in the Autumn and to repay the long-standing term loan …  [and] cover the distributions we will receive in the short term from PR014 due to CVC now sharing PRO14 revenues, and the rest has been ring-fenced [sic].

“Early in the New Year, the Board will be discussing longer term objectives, a strategy for achieving those objectives, and how best to use the various sources available to us.”

The video connection was unstable for everyone during this part of the video call, and Dodson was asked during the post AGM press briefing to give some more clarity on the amount which has been ring-fenced.

“The first tranche hasn’t been spent, it’s a proportion of the first [which has been spent],” he said. “It’s all in that text we’ve been through three times, it’s all in there. You should be able to pick it up from there.”

It was put to him that, withstanding the connection problems, a figure for the ringfenced money was not given during the AGM.

“I think it was actually detailed in the presentation, in the detail to some of the answers,” Dodson replied.

CVC

Dodson was just as irritable when asked about the fact Scottish Rugby has now drawn £17.8m from the deal.

It was announced on 22nd May, and WRU took £4.9m before its year end on 30th June, while the IRFU booked £5.0m by its 31st July year end. Both may have withdrawn more since then, although IRFU CEO Philip Browne indicated back in May that he expected the £30m windfall to be spread over three years.

“It is entirely up to each Union,” said Dodson, when asked about his business’ early cash-in. “We made that decision because we felt that we would have that money into our business earlier, and we would be able to do more with it from a rugby union point or view for Scotland. Other rugby unions will have another point of view because they have a different financial position and different financial strategies. It is just entirely what we decided to do as a Board.”

Sharing the wealth

Dodson was equally evasive on the distribution of the recent £15m grant and £5m low interest loan received from the Scottish Government, although reading between the lines it is clear that he plans to see the money stay at head office, rather than be distributed around the parishes.

“We have not yet been presented with the detailed terms of the government support package or a date for distribution,” he said.

“But it is clear that this funding is to be used to repair the damage to our revenues created by the pandemic. In short, there is an expectation that this emergency funding is intended to allow the Union to resume its core functions with its workforce intact. It is not there to support new or expanded projects, specific programmes, or particular sectors of the organisation.

“I am pleased that we have been able to secure the Union and it has taken some time to do that, but these efforts should put us on to a path to bring some sense of normality back to the planning and delivery of rugby in 2021.”

Dodson was pushed on why the Scottish FA has been able to give a breakdown of the amount of money being directed towards each domestic league while Scottish Rugby is still, apparently, in the dark, so unable to say where the money will be spent.

“We haven’t been given any details, that’s why,” he retorted. “I don’t know what their details are. I don’t talk to the government about other people’s details.”



Barr was then put on the spot with regard to how he thinks the bail-out should be shared around.

“Putting my Board hat on, I’m absolutely delighted that Scottish Rugby was able to secure that level of funding from the Scottish Government,” he said. “Why is there a disparity between us and football? I’m not sure, and as Mark says we are still waiting for details.”

“Putting my President’s hat on, of course I would like to see a large percentage of that money given to the grassroots game, and I think there will be that expectation there,” he added.

“Mark alluded to it earlier [during the meeting], that we’ve got to look after every aspect of the Scottish Rugby Union and that means from grassroots right up to international level.”

Always look on the bright side of life

Dodson stressed that the financial outlook is not as scary as has been portrayed by this website [among others].

He pointed out that the revolving credit facility of £8.5m which was put in place in December hasn’t – as of 22nd December [maximum three weeks later] – been drawn on yet.

“The audited financial statements provide comfort to our stakeholders until May 2021 but ensuring that Scottish Rugby continues to operate through and beyond this pandemic has been a key focus for our Board and executive in recent months,” he said.

“We’ve taken significant steps to ensure that we have a stable and robust footing, notwithstanding the impact of coronavirus, as we look forwards,” he added.

“So far, we’ve managed to trade through the current period as planned. We’ve continued to mitigate that through tight cost control and creating methods of driving new revenue.”

Making friends and influencing people

Both Dodson and Chairman John Jeffrey urged the congregation to stop “the infighting, the bitterness and the mistrust which exists between some clubs, forums, leagues, the Board, Council and the Executive” in Scottish Rugby “because it is divisive, corrosive and reflects poorly on us all”.

Then a question from Keith Wallace of Haddington was read out:

“Given that the prime cause of any rancour and mistrust has been the lack of clear strategy, can the Chairman confirm that a new clear strategy will be a key output of the reset phase [of Scottish Rugby’s response to Covid], and that to help ensure that there is full understanding and buy-in, the clubs – the members of the Union – will have the opportunity to input into the development of that strategy?”

Barr – the only Board member put forward to front the Q&A section – looking like a fighter pilot shot down behind enemy lines and forced onto TV to tell everyone how great his captors are – faced it down alone.  [Note: Both Jeffrey as Chairman of the Board and Dodson as CEO had given pre-recorded presentations earlier in the meeting but didn’t take any part in the Q&A session, although both were available at the post AGM media conference.]

“Having spoken to the Chairman, I am happy to respond,” replied Barr, with all the enthusiasm of Finn Russell sticking to a 10pm curfew.

“The assertion that a prime cause of the rancour and distrust has been a lack of clear strategy is not accepted.

“That may well be the questioners opinion, and one which that club is perfectly entitled to hold, but it should not be put forward as a statement of fact.

“As explained in one of the earlier answers, the Board will be looking at future strategic objectives and at how these can be achieved early in the New Year.

“And I and other members of Council elected to the Board will be engaging fully in the process.

“Once that has been developed, the Board will in turn discuss that with the Council – that being the most appropriate forum.”

In other words: Unity on our terms – like it or lump it.


AGM part three preview: counting the cost of Covid

About David Barnes 2993 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he 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.

24 Comments

    • Everyone is entitled to their opinion. And if people want to believe in fairytales then this thread on the Glasgow Warriors fans’ forum is as good a place as any for them to visit.

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      • I think that’s very unfair. Clearly though the numbers can be made to add up however you like. Whether it’s via a forum post or a rather overblown series of articles.

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      • The hypocrisy of some on the Warriors forum is really funny. Amazing but probably not surprising that one or two here don’t have the intellect to see that.

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  1. To be fair to Mr Dodson he is uniting Scottish rugby. So many are now united in wanting to see the back of him.

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  2. Excellent piece David. Your subtitles sum up the tone, and alas I took much the same definition of Unity from it.

    I also felt for Ian Barr, since despite us being told in the introduction that the Chairman and CEO were available on the call, and then again I thought in the answer to a question from Marr, there was no attempt from either of them to support their “teammate” Ian. Cynics might say this was deliberate. So much for the “Unity and following rugby’s values” the CEO asked for.

    Imagine a Parallel Universe/Sliding Doors Moment/New Pantomime Script:

    “Ian”, said the CEO “let me explain on CVC. We had planned to ringfence, but the rapidly changing circumstances meant that we have spent £Xm of the £Ym to cover losses, which I am sure clubs would understand and support. We will look to see how we best deploy the remaining ringfenced £Zm as part of our review of strategy in the reset phase.”

    “Ian” said the CEO “Let me clarify the status of the SG £20m. As you would expect a detailed submission and discussion was required to get such significant and welcome support. The award comes with conditions and we are in dialogue with SG over this, with more to come. Once this is clear, in line with the openness and transparency the clubs showed they wanted at AGM2, we will share this. As with CVC, how it is deployed within the relevant conditions will be considered in the review of strategy.”

    “Ian” said the Chairman “It’s only fair that I field this. We would rather put the past behind us so I don’t wish to dwell on it. Going forwards under my watch, of course we will be involving the clubs and other stakeholders in developing a new clear strategy with a common purpose. As a governing body we need to bring members with us, and this will help everyone unite for the benefit of all of Scottish Rugby”

    I know which version of events I prefer.

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  3. GIVE. THE. MONEY. TO. THE. CLUBS. NOT. IN. THE. TROUGH. FOR. SNOUTS. TO. GOBBLE. UP.

    SCRAP. THE. PRO. TEAMS.
    SCRAP. EXECUTIVES.
    FUND. THE. CLUBS.

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  4. It is clear Dodson cannot be trusted. The clubs need to flex their muscle and clear out the top team. They have done some things well but have been selfish, arrogant and lost the dressing room. Covid has been tough but the club game is disengaged and I suspect support for the product at pro and international level will fall away. We have to build from the bottom up.

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  5. Early doors I was taught that one of the basics when it comes to interrogation is a simple, but pertinent truth, if you are not getting a clear answer to a clear question ask yourself why?
    That is as true whether you are dealing with a suspect or an individual attempting to sell you something, or anything in-between.
    I have no doubt that the connectivity on the call could have dropped out, what isn’t apparent is if the information that was asked for had been previously offered up, why could it not be repeated?
    The answer to that is reasonably simple:
    1. It wasn’t mentioned in the first instance and there is obfuscation either of malpractice or incompetence, or quite possibly both, hence the obvious reluctance to answer a straightforward question.
    2. It was mentioned but the person subsequently being asked doesn’t know the answer [but should].
    3. It was mentioned but the person subsequently being asked is too arrogant to give the answer, or see point 1.
    You pay’s your money, you take’s your choice.

    I sometimes get the feeling that Dudson gave himself a non-disclosure form to fill in and he considers he would be in breach if he gives anything more than Name Dodson: Rank CEO: Number 933,000.00.

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  6. Ian Barr seems to be a decent man so he should resign his position immediately to avoid his reputation being forever contaminated by his association with Disgraceful Dodson and his acolytes.

    Disgraceful Dodson clearly will not resign as long as he is being paid an outrageously high salary in return for his total incompetence so the question is not will Scottish Rugby survive Covid it is will Scottish Rugby survive Dodson. I fear it won’t.

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  7. If the terms of the ScotGov bailout are still tbc, I suggest concerned parties write to their MSPs asking for these to be fixed quite strictly – to include a major reduction in executive pay, support for the grassroots game, and an end to investments in foreign-based clubs (excluding London Scottish).

    I’ll be writing to mine, so any further suggestions welcome.

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  8. Depressingly illuminating deliberate obfuscation and slippery avoidance of key questions. Should we be surprised? Stage-managed and patronising, disgracefully indicative that the self-serving cabal currently running the SRU have little respect and even less interest in those comprising the membership of the organisation that employs them.

    Why would the (paid) Chairman and CEO fail to present themselves at the AGM to respond to Member Clubs’ questions on the Union’s accounts and financial position, when these are the clear responsibility of the Board and executive? Even in Dodson’s barely credible prepared answers, the imprecise and pejorative nature of his trademark dumbed-down unprofessional, un-business-like language gives an insight into the type of pond life now infesting the SRU.

    As mentioned in an earlier comment – what we’ve witnessed is a tragi-comic denouement in a revealing play, confirming once and for all that blustering self-serving marketing lightweight Johnnies-come-lately are no substitute(s) for competent managers. And they don’t have the bottle to face their questioners!

    A ghastly gang of good-time mutual back-scratchers incapable of appearing in public for proper scrutiny unless there is good news to trumpet! And hey, if there is nothing positive, in the way of good news – they’ll just make it up as they go along. They’ve been doing just that for years! Dodson & Jeffrey proved that once again at AGM3 – conclusively.

    They call for harmony and unity, but only on their terms, with everyone else falling in step to the tunes they prefer to call. Most people, honest people with the good of Scottish Rugby at heart would prefer an entirely different type of unity – a form of unity lacking any involvement of the current Board and executive. The only way out of this mess is on the back of a call for a successful vote of no confidence in the Board and executive.

    Yet, we see in clubs and places everywhere silly people, gullible people, “good rugby people”, wearing their SRU branded clothing, proud to be associated with a bunch of festering incompetence failing to impress even in comparison with your average farmyard midden! We must pity the poor deluded souls….

    Yet again, the SRU Junta have been clearly exposed for the pocket-lining imposters that some of us have known them to be for quite some time, and indeed have being saying so…. “They” and their establishment cronies. What a crew of desperate, greedy incompetents who came within a whisker of running the gravy train into the buffers of bankruptcy!

    A Board chaired by a man lacking in relevant experience for that role, already heavily burdened by other responsibilities and numerous conflicts of interest. A Board stuffed with apparently useless executives and non-executives under whose expensively-remunerated watch, the gravy train has all but been de-railed for good. A Board with various sub-committees such as “Audit and Risk” (WTF – are they kidding??) and “Remuneration” (yep – the very group of eager-to-please buddies that agreed the CEO’s goldmine bonus arrangements), not forgetting “Appointments” (of course, the same bunch of blundering tossers that shoe-horned their close associate into the chair, without so much as a by-your-leave or a definable recruitment process).

    No confidence! Not a time for fence-sitting…..

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    • Well done, there’s a book waiting to be written in 5 years after Murrayfield has been sold and rented back at a large cost. £80 for a seat? No thanks and same price for a shirt? I’ll wear my TOFFS good old days colours instead.

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  9. Nothing but corruption from the Top of the SRU. Barr in a horrible position of being the scapegoat. Dodson and Jeffrey want to wipe everything under the carpet.

    The model is all wrong. Scottish Rugby development is currently based on the hope 3rd rate players realise they will never play for their own nation so.have a “Scottish Granny” . No longer pride in the jersey whatsoever. We have a coach who isn’t progressing the level in which Scotland could play at. Knocked out of group stages at last world cup yet gets a contract extension through the next one. utter Farce.

    Grassroots rugby completely forgotten about even before Covid. Unless it affects Murrayfield no chance of help Anything north of Fife and not interested to support or improve quality of players or even player numbers. It’s not like Edinburgh /Glasgow clubs travelling 10-30 mins for away game. Clubs in the north travelling up to 2-3 hours just to play a conference game and that’s not including the island. Luba like Stornoway Orkney and Shetland

    Can’t answer a straight question and how does he even defend having the largest salary?

    Dodson Out

    Gregor Out

    Clubs and Youth In!!!!!

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    • SRU isn’t interested in clubs beyond the Forth. And even in the capital they would prefer mergers for fewer but stronger. Glad I’m moving to Cornwall where rugby is the national sport. The RFU might be pretty useless but not corrupt like the SRU board!

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  10. “In short, there is an expectation that this emergency funding is intended to allow the Union to resume its core functions with its workforce intact.”

    A fascinating quote from Mr Dodson. Just to be clear the Scottish Rugby Union is an unincorporated organisation, it has no legal personality and cannot enter into contracts such as employing staff. Those are the functions of Scottish Rugby Union Limited.

    It’s really not that difficult. One would expect a CEO of a company to understand the distinction.

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  11. It’s so sad, it’s funny.

    You need to trust us and stop moaning about what we’re doing, ok, can we have some input into shaping the future – no don’t be silly, we don’t trust you.

    So by the sounds of things, the new strategy will be the same as the last, keep pouring money into the pro money pit, maintain fewer but stronger for the community game, and see how many more staff we can add to the Murrayfield roster.

    Thank goodness for the auditors, cause it was they who supposedly forced them to consider the “severe but plausible downside scenario”.

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  12. I think Dodson is misunderstood by the local mob on this forum. Like Americans yous all just look for someone to blame without anything to back it up.

    Let the professionals do their job.

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    • Yes completely. All those club officials and members who fill professional roles in their working lives obviously couldn’t possibly understand the complexities of running a business. They should just sit quietly while the “professionals” get on with it.

      That would be the same “professionals” who were severely criticised by an employment tribunal judge. Presided over a disastrous World Cup campaign. Spent like there was no tomorrow and assumed the cash would keep flowing. And seem rather shocked that clubs have the temerity to ask questions.

      Yes all very professional

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    • I sincerely hope that is tongue in cheek?

      If not, you are very mistaken about the abilities of these people. This, to them, is a balance sheet exercise in leveraging the union to its hilt, and beyond. We are in a desperate situation because of these people, not in spite of them.

      Our frail financial situation, their over-inflated remuneration, and their poor planning and strategy have only be laid bare because of the pandemic. Otherwise this would have gone on much longer.

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      • Sarcasm doesn’t work well in print Grant. IF in any doubt, our professionals at Murrayfield are doing a terrible job

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