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.
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).