THE long-running saga of Scottish Rugby governance took another twist over the weekend with a hastily convened Board meeting agreeing to Colin Grassie stepping down with immediate effect and 1990 Grand Slam hero John Jeffrey taking over the role on an interim basis until a full-time appointment is made, which is not likely to be before this time next year.
Grassie had previously announced that he would be leaving the post at this year’s AGM – which is currently scheduled to take place 15th August although that is under review as a result of the social distancing measures which have been enforced due to the Covid-19 pandemic – however, with the PRO14’s deal with CVC being wrapped up at the end of last week it has been decided that a change of face should happen sooner than that.
Jeffrey is an experienced operator in rugby’s political circles. He has been a co-opted member of the Scottish Rugby Council since 2010, a member of the Six Nations Council since 2012, and its chairman since last July. He has also represented Scottish Rugby at World Rugby since 2010 where he sits on the Executive Committee (since 2016) and chairs the Rugby Committee (since 2013).
His business background – at a time of significant upheaval – is not quite so clear. His day job is running the family farm at Kerseknowe, near Kelso.
Critics of Scottish Rugby’s recent governance performance will have been hoping for an appointment from outside the organisation, but that is not a straightforward task in the current economic and social climate.
The Nominations Committee for Jeffrey’s appointment consisted of SRU President Dee Bradbury, Independent Non-Executive Directors Lesley Thomson QC and Julia Bracewell, and SRU Council Nominated Non-Executive Director Graeme Scott. Grassie previously chaired this group but it is not clear whether Jeffrey will now assume that role in the search for his long-term replacement.
Jeffrey had a glittering career as a player. He earned 40 caps for Scotland between 1984 and 1991 playing out of Kelso, and was also selected for the British & Irish Lions in 1986 for their match against the Rest of the World and for the 1989 Tour to Australia.
“I was very pleased to accept the role of Chairman at Scottish Rugby,” said the 61-year-old. “Our sport faces significant challenges just now and I hope I can put my experience to good use for the benefit of Scottish Rugby and the whole rugby community in Scotland. Under Colin’s Chairmanship the Board and Scottish Rugby made progress in important areas and I look forward to continuing that work.”
Grassie joined the Board of Scottish Rugby as an Independent Non-Executive Director in 2012 and became its Chairman in January 2017. It was announced last July that he was to stay on into a third term [against the recommendations of the governance framework laid out by Sheriff Bill Dunlop in 2005] until next summer, so it came as a shock when he announced in April that he was going to step down at the AGM.
“I previously indicated my intention to step down in August this year however with the swift and successful completion of the CVC investment into PRO14 and by extension into Scottish Rugby, now is a perfect time to hand over the reins,” he said.
“I have been privileged to be an Independent Non-Executive Director and Chairman of the Board at Scottish Rugby in a sport I love at a crucial period of its development.
“We have achieved many great things over the years as a Board and as a sport. Whilst noting we have, like all sports, challenges all around.
“I leave with great pride and gratitude to my fellow Board members past and present and acknowledge the hard work of all our staff and volunteers, who do so much to support our great game.
“I am also very pleased to be able to hand the Chairman role over to John Jeffrey, an outstanding player, leader and sports administrator.
“With JJ’s knowledge of the game, and wealth of experience at Six Nations and World Rugby, the Scottish Rugby Board will be very well served.
“We face, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, significant challenges as a sport but I know the Board at Scottish Rugby will remain focused on guiding the whole sport from the grassroots to the national teams through this crisis in the most sustainable way it can.
“May I finally pass on my thanks to colleagues in other Unions with whom I have always appreciated working closely over the years.”
Scottish Rugby President Dee Bradbury said: “I’d like to firstly thank Colin Grassie for his contribution to Scottish Rugby over the past eight years, especially during his time as Chairman. I know he cared deeply about the sport and has led the Board as Scottish Rugby made real progress in recent years.
“We are fortunate to welcome as our new Chairman John Jeffrey, who will bring his own significant experience and knowledge to the role. He joins at a challenging time for our sport but I know he will be an asset to the Board and Scottish rugby in the months ahead.”
Vice-President Ian Barr, who is set to take over as President at the next AGM [whenever that might be], said: “I’d like to welcome JJ into his new role as Chairman of Scottish Rugby. I know he will bring his knowledge and passion to the role and is respected across the game in Scotland. I look forward to working with him in the months ahead. I’d also like to thank Colin for his contribution to the game over the past eight years.”