John Jeffrey departs role as Chair of Scottish Rugby Ltd with immediate effect

Former Scotland international flanker says he plans to focus on his new role as Vice-Chair of World Rugby

John Jeffrey. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
John Jeffrey. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

JOHN JEFFREY has resigned from his position as director and Chair of Scottish Rugby Ltd (SRL) with immediate effect. The former Scotland international flanker says he plans to focus on his new role as Vice-Chair of World Rugby.

The 64-year-old, who was capped 40 times between 1984 and 1991 and was a key figure in the 1990 Grand Slam team, has been Chair of Scottish Rugby Ltd (the operational arm of the organisation) since May 2020. While he was due to step down from that job at the end of next month, it was announced in December that the SRL Board had unanimously agreed that he should stay on as a senior non-executive director for another three years following the end of his Chairmanship, meaning he would have been in place until May 2026.

However, Jeffrey last night agreed with the ‘Custodian’ Board of the Scottish Rugby Union – the body which represents Scottish rugby clubs as the owners of the game in Scotland, and which overseas the work of SRL – that he will leave immediately and will not now seek re-appointment as a non-executive director.


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Jeffrey’s new role as Vice Chair of World Rugby was announced last week and will be ratified by the World Rugby Council at its annual meeting on May 11th. He is taking over from the disgraced Bernard Laporte (who has been found guilty of corruption charges by a French court) and will serve until November 2024, the end of the current term.

“It made sense, given the enormous demands of the World Rugby Vice-Chair role, especially at such an exciting time for the game, with the World Cup later this year in France, to give the SRU clarity on my intentions and to focus 100 percent on my new role,” said Jeffrey.

“It’s been an enormous privilege to have helped grow the game in Scotland over the past three years and I am looking forward to what will, I am sure, be a hugely demanding and satisfying term as Vice-Chair.”

Professor Lorne Crerar, Chair of the SRU ‘Custodian’ Board, wished Jeffrey well.

“John has been one of the truly iconic figures in the Scottish game over the past four decades and we wish him every success in his new, global role,” he said. “It will be hugely prestigious for Scottish Rugby to have one of our own at the sport’s top table.”

Colin Rigby, President of Scottish Rugby, who sits on the SRU Board, added: “On behalf of the SRU, I’d like to thank John for his efforts at many levels of the sport and wish him well in his important new role.

“As part of our new governance structures, adopted last November, we had already begun a recruitment exercise to appoint a new chair of Scottish Rugby Limited.

“I am pleased to say we have an outstanding roster of highly respected, experienced and successful candidates, each with the necessary knowledge, skills and experience to ensure that Scottish rugby is best placed to thrive and succeed in the coming years. We expect to be able to announce this pivotal appointment in the coming weeks.”

 

Jeffrey was a long-standing and influential co-opted member of the old Scottish Rugby Council (which was widely criticised for failures in overseeing the work of SRL under the organisation’s previous governance structure) from 2010 until becoming Chair of the SRL Board after the sudden resignation of Colin Grassie in May 2020.

He was initially appointed on an interim basis but six months later it was announced that the SRL Board had decided that he should serve a full-three year term.

A new governance structure for Scottish Rugby was adopted late last year with the support of 98 percent of clubs. It involved the creation of a company limited by guarantee consisting of eight unpaid ‘Custodian’ Directors (only six appointed so far with Crerar as Chair) to oversee the work of SRL.

While Jeffrey’s departure is being presented as an amicable one, it has become apparent recently that he and the new ‘Custodian’ Board do not see eye to eye.  Tension between SRL and that Board was evident earlier this month when a press release from Murrayfield outlined some details of a review commissioned into an accusation of institutional discrimination within the organisation.

The communication stressed that “the allegations were not about Scottish Rugby Limited (SRL) or its activities”, and stated that evidence of a lack of female representation on both the old Scottish Rugby Council and SCOG (the Scottish Rugby Council’s ‘Standing Committee on Governance’ which drew up the new governance structure) had been identified. No breach of the Equality Act had been identified.

This prompted a backlash from some of those who appeared to have been implicated, including Aberdeen Grammar Chairman Gordon Thomson.

“Having read it [the press release] several times and discussed it with several SCOG members, everyone is appalled that such a broad attack on a group of volunteers who spent many years working on the new governance structure has been made,” he said. “It’s nothing short of disgraceful. I find it incredible – if you’re going to make allegations, surely someone would come and speak to us?

“It is tarnishing people’s professional reputations. There was no quote from either the SRU Board nor the Club Rugby Board in the release and that’s because nobody knew anything about it. To put it out in such a manner is peculiar.”

 

Meanwhile, Hazel Swankie – who was also a member of SCOG and is now a non-executive Board member of SRL – distanced herself from the report in a leaked email to clubs she previously represented on the old Scottish Rugby Council.

“Since joining the SRU Council in 2018 as your Midlands Representative and then in 2020 being elected onto the Standing Committee on Governance SCOG, I can honestly say that I have never felt discriminated against or indeed never witnessed any discrimination, entirely the opposite, I have been treated by all, Council, SCOG and yourselves with the upmost respect, for the person I am and the position I am fulfilling as your representative,” she wrote.

“I do not recognise the comments in the press articles and as your representative I wanted to let you all know,” she added.

Jeffrey was quoted extensively in that media release, and stated that a working group needed to be established in response to the review “to consider the findings and agree actions and recommendations for the way forward”. This is still expected to happen, but he will not now personally be involved in that process.

Jeffrey has been a member of the Six Nations Council since 2012, and its Chair since last July. He has also represented Scottish Rugby at World Rugby since 2010, sitting on the Executive Committee (since 2016), chairing the Rugby Committee (since 2013) and then being appointed Vice Chair of the whole organisation last week (having been proposed and nominated by the Scottish Rugby Union’s representatives on World Rugby’s Council).


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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.

21 Comments

  1. If the SRU’s Non-Executive Board Members had managed to do even a moderately competent job over recent years in fulfilling their legal oversight responsibilities of custody, including constraint of the excesses, behaviour, actions and deficiencies of their Union Board and executive colleagues – then we wouldn’t have found ourselves in the curious position of (still) retaining a bunch of (highly remunerated) NED’s on SRUL plus a growing cohort of post-SCOG “Custodians”…

    Just how many oversee’ers or custodians does one Governing Body of Sport require? Do the NED’s themselves have to be monitored and kept in line? Right now, SR appears to have Custodians bulging farcically out of every orifice!

    All of this (duplication being the least of it) appears reflective of further excesses in approach, via an extremely cumbersome, inefficient new set-up based upon 2 potentially adversarial Boards designed for competition and conflict in an unbalanced, wretched post-SCOG corporate structure. More jobs for the boys (and girls)?

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  2. JJ hero on the field when it was his day… not so much off in the workings of the SRU. Frankly him and the Dodson cabal ( and I include the current men’s head coach), need to go. Negative? Yes but can you say it’s not true?

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  3. Perhaps that’s one less obstacle to an external enquiry into the tragic death of Siobhan Cattigan.

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  4. Mea Culpa, Joe. I apologise for my clumsy fingered keyboard orthography.

    CORRIGENDUM – “speech”.

    Happy ?

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  5. Thank goodness. Now get rid of Dodson and Scottish rugby (all of it) might actually have a chance.

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  6. JJ was one of my heroes as a player. Tough, unyielding and difficult to play against.

    As an administrator he was sadly lacking. I cannot think of one thing that he did in his tenure that stands out for me. Its a shame that this is the case…but it is.

    Great players do not always make great business people.

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  7. I never thought I would see the day when the people with the real power managed to control the hired help.

    JJ is a great of Scottish Rugby as a player. He should have been nowhere near chairing a £60+M business.

    For all those who doubted the wisdom of the SCOG structure – this is how it works in action. Decisive and no hanging about.

    The future is looking interesting.

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    • Dom, you are wrong to attribute to the post-SCOG governance structure the chairman’s welcome early exit from his post and indeed from a subsequent NED position on SRUL board.

      In reality, several influential voices around the SRUL boardroom table and others at WR had determined, along with the SCOG “custodians” that Mr Jeffrey’s new V-P position at WR was incompatible with any level SRUL directorship. That concerted pressure pushed him out.

      No-one wanted massive (further) conflict of interest for the Kersknowe farmer, more weighty & meaningful than any of those awkward little earners here & there that we’ve seen him juggle with nary a backward glance…. What really worried those wise corporate heads was the uncertainty concerning which organisation’s best interests the former flanker would actually support. Clearly, an untenable situation, especially in the case of an individual known to have a close eye on the main chance!

      So far as the SCOG-spawned new governance structure is concerned – despite what may (incorrectly) be viewed by some on the periphery as a victory for SCOG, it was in reality a triumph for common sense and corporate law. There remain deep concerns as to its effectiveness, in light of a cumbersome, “clunky”, over-weighted bureaucractic profile, with lengthy, inefficient lines of communication, representation, command and ultimate control beneath an ultimately fragmented, divisive framework destined to create friction and disharmony between two potentially adversarial boards. The jury remains out!

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      • Blimey! For once I think I almost agree with you Ron!! Almost!! Nobody wants conflict at the top end of our game. And the conflict of interest issue arising that you reference between the 2 roles so blatantly sought by JJ – SRL Chair and/or NED and that of World Rugby VC – would be obvious to even the most myopic of club touch-judge’s officiating a Nat 2 local derby. But not so oor Borders tenant farmer it would seem, who is apparently still going around telling everyone and anyone who’ll listen that he is “Scottish Rugby”. I wonder just who’s listening to him now – his “flock” perhaps?

        Hell hath no fury like an ex-internationalist scorned, it would seem.

        As for your thought though that his departure was the outcome of the collected wisdom and / or actions of World Rugby, SRL Board members and the Custodians, I think you’ve once again been reading tea leaves in the wrong cup Ron. Haven’t you read the SRL Board Minute of 16 March?

        For there, you’ll see that amongst other things, Kersknowe Man was appointed to their Investment Committee and to their Remuneration Committee. You think TCD is going to let that happen when all the time he’s working in the background with WR and the Custodians to remove him because he’s (ahem!) “conflicted”? After all the years he’s been shielding him from criticism? It’s an interesting thought: but Cesare Borgia TCD ain’t me thinks, at least not when he’s still got bonuses to collect under his current contract. With a board significantly depleted of allies / sycophants, our CEO needs pals right now doesn’t he, not enemies?

        As for World Rugby promoting his departure, that pre-supposes a level of interest from them in individual governance structures / shenanigans that I simply don’t believe exists within its hallowed portals. Besides, it’s own Council is littered with various Union Presidents already, some CEO’s and some Member Union Board members so “conflict of interest” obviously isn’t an issue very high on their agenda . And even if some countries – including curiously Ireland, NZ and England – are enlightened enough to appoint individuals with an exclusive remit to represent their Union at that level without other responsibilities (therefore and at least theoretically removing the potential for conflict), Scotland isn’t one of them. And WR allowing it to go on for all these years – remember, TCD’s been in place on WR Council for 12 years and JJ for 13 – suggests they really have absolutely no idea of what you reference. So why on earth would they be involved in the former SRL’s Chair’s removal – because of a possible “conflict”? Nah, can’t see it Ron.

        Given that SCOG appears now – post 1 November at any rate – to be something akin to that of the “Governance Polis” and so could hardly be involved in these particular machinations, I can’t quite understand why you reference them in all this. But could the SRU Custodian Board – headed by your own personal bête noire, Prof Crerar given the tenor of your previous posts – be responsible for the SRL Chair’s departure? Possibly, IMO. But why, what’s in it for them / him? Kersknowe Man was leaving his position as SRL Chair next month anyway per public announcements already made by BTM, so where was the advantage to them of him going 3 or 4 weeks earlier than he would have done anyway?

        I’m sure all will become clear soon however. For JJ remains (apparently) on the 6N Board. Did you know that? Of course you did. And so you’ll recall he was Chair of that before CVC inserted a shedload of £££, then realised that they needed a new man / woman at the helm who actually knew what they were doing and thankfully, in the interests of all nations, bumped JJ in favour of Ronan Dunne. If “conflict of interest” is at the bottom of all this as you suggest Ron, I’m sure JJ will do the decent thing and also remove himself from 6N as well, just as he did at SRL because his departure “….made sense, given the enormous demands of the World Rugby Vice-Chair role….”. What a top, selfless bloke!! Hahaha. We’ll see.

        And with that said and though all this verbal jousting and pontification is quite amusing on a Sunday evening, one thing’s for sure – I wasn’t “in the room” when / whenever Madame Guillotine fell on our ageing shark and I’m pretty certain you weren’t either. So this is all just supposition, from us both. But here’s a FACT that might just interest you: if JJ’s off to pursue his personal ambitions at World Rugby, presumably it’s to succeed Bill Beaumont as Chair: agreed? Isn’t it interesting then that Augustin Pinochet who so narrowly lost to BB in 2020 – and is widely recognised as being both (a) extremely capable and (b) a decent human being – has just been re-appointed to the WR Council by Argentina. With Bernie the Bolt now on WR’s naughty step, you think AP’s resurrection has happened by accident or without reason?

        So, the 2024 WR Chair election, never mind the process leading up to it – which IMO has effectively now started – is actually looking like it might be quite fun this time around, no? JJ v AP? C’mon Ron, keep up – you actually think all this really has anything to do with BTM, the Custodians or the good of the Scottish game?

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  8. “………helped to grow the game in Scotland over the past three years……..”

    In what sense? Most observers reckoned the focus was on something else!

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  9. The SRU’s loss is WRs gain, good luck to JJ, his advice and experience will be sorely missed

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