MSPs question government bail-out allocation for rugby

A letter from Holyrood's Health and Sport Committee has asked new Sports Minister Mairi Gougeon to explain disparity compared to football

The recent government bail-out will help support both Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors, Scotland's two professional rugby clubs. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
The recent government bail-out will help support both Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors, Scotland's two professional rugby clubs. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT is facing questions from MSPs over the decision to direct £15million of grant funding from its coronavirus sport-support programme towards rugby and only £10m towards football.

Rugby is set to receive £20m in total, with £5m more being made available as a low-interest loan, while football’s total will reach £30m through a £20m loan. Basketball (£330k in grants), netball (£100k in grants), motor sport (£400k in grants), horse racing (£2m in grants) and ice hockey/ice rinks (£2.2m total in grants) will also receive support.

Lewis Macdonald, chair of Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee, has told the Daily Mail newspaper that he expects newly-appointed Sports Minister Mairi Gougeon to explain to his cross-party panel the logic behind this distribution of funds.


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“What was striking was that half the grant funding was for rugby – and only a third went to football. That was quite surprising,” said Macdonald, as he outlined the line of questioning his committee had adopted with previous Sports Minister Joe FitzPatrick and his team.

“The Minister’s officials confirmed that the football clubs eligible would not include the top 12 in the Premiership. But they confirmed that around 200 professional and semi-professional clubs below the Premiership would be eligible.

“When asked the same question about rugby, the official talked about the two professional teams in Edinburgh and Glasgow. He didn’t suggest there was any other infrastructure of people relying on money.”

Both Edinburgh and Glasgow are fully owned subsidiaries of the Scottish Rugby Union. The overall headcount of the organisation in the recently published audited accounts was 445, which is up from 401 last year. That includes 115 professional players and 39 professional team coaching and operations staff. In total, there are 329 rugby-facing staff at all levels, including the nationwide Rugby Development department, and 116 other staff (47 stadium operations and 69 commercial, marketing and other corporate functions).

“The intervention package was understood to be helping clubs who have lost paying customers at the gate,” Macdonald added. “Quite a few committee members were struck by the fact that rugby was taking up half of this grant funding, more than was being made available to 200 football clubs.”

According to the Mail, FitzPatrick had said that rugby’s need was greater, with examination of accounts and borrowing showing the game was in more immediate danger of collapse.

“He may be right. That’s what we’re hoping to find out. I think many football clubs would be surprised to hear that,” said Macdonald.

“Peterhead, in my own region, made quite a few people redundant a few weeks ago. And I know that pattern is repeated across the country, to a greater or lesser extent. So many football clubs would say they are in grave danger at this time.”

There was a long delay in getting Scottish Rugby’s accounts for the year to 31st May 2020 audited, with PWC apparently requiring more comfort before signing the business off as a ‘going concern’ for the next 12 months. The accounts were eventually made available a few days after the government bail-out was announced on 10th December.

However, Dodson has been bullish throughout the pandemic about Scottish Rugby’s ability to weather the storm. “The business is stable and in the process of securing its medium-term future,” he said during AGM part two at the end of November. “We face ongoing challenges which may obstruct our progress and alter our time-frames, but, ultimately, Scottish Rugby was a strong business going into this pandemic and we’ll be a strong business when we come out of this crisis.”

In a letter to Gougeon on Wednesday, Macdonald wrote: “The Committee was struck by your provision of £15m in resource funding to rugby, compared with £10m to football and £5m to all other sports combined.

“Your officials confirmed that far more professional and semi-professional clubs and players are affected by the loss of income in lower-league football than in rugby.

“Can you explain why half of all resource funding in this package has gone to rugby, with so much less on a per-capita basis made available to the 200 or so football clubs outwith the Premier League?”

Macdonald expects to have a response in time to be considered at the next Committee meeting on 12th January.

Dodson was tight-lipped about how the Scottish Government funding will be allocated during Tuesday’s night’s AGM part three. “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.”


AGM part three: Dodson remains bullish and calls for unity

About David Barnes 2991 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.

30 Comments

  1. Scottish Rugby is in dire straights financially. The loss of revenue is enormous. Dodson has done a great job in securing funds (more than rugby deserves!). Yes the Clubs are important but lets get real! If Glasgow, Edinburgh and Scotland perform well more Kids will want to play. So the grass roots effort is vital but if Scotland won the six nations and one of the Clubs won the Champions Cup that would bring more players into the game than any amount of local effort. We need the pro teams and the national team performing well for the good of rugby as a whole. That doesn’t mean ignoring local effort it’s about striking the right balance.
    And as long as the SRU marketing and sales teams generate way more funds than they cost they are a good investment. It’s business basics… I thought Rugby was a team sport with everyone pulling together – from reading the comments here it looks like many posters just revel in creating conflict and want to pull the game apart which is really sad. Particularly at this very difficult time.

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    • And where Rodb will Glasgow, Edinburgh and Scotland get their players if grass roots rugby isn’t supported?

      And why do you think Scottish Rugby is in dire straights(sic)? Have you noticed who has been running it for the last few years?

      And you suggesting that people objecting to the way Dodson and his acolytes are running the game want to “pull the game apart” then it simply highlights your lack of understanding of the whole situation.

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    • So many things you seem not to understand.

      Yes Scottish Rugby is in dire straights(sic). Have you noticed who has been running it for the past few years to help put it in this position?

      Have you noticed how much more Dodson is taking out of rugby than his equivalents at the other home nations?

      Where do you think Glasgow, Edinburgh and Scotland will get their players from if grass roots rugby funding is cut even further?

      Have you seen the standard of Glasgow and Edinburgh at the moment?

      But if you think those who disagree with the way Dodson is running Scottish Rugby just want to pull the game apart then it probably explains why your understanding of the situation is so poor.

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    • So many things you seem not to understand.

      Yes Scottish Rugby is in dire straights(sic). Have you noticed who has been running it for the past few years to help put it in this position?

      Have you noticed how much more Dodson is taking out of rugby than his equivalents at the other home nations?

      Where do you think Glasgow, Edinburgh and Scotland will get their players from if grass roots rugby funding is cut even further?

      Have you seen the standard of Glasgow and Edinburgh at the moment?

      But if you think those who disagree with the way Dodson is running Scottish Rugby just want to pull the game apart then it probably explains why your understanding of the situation is so poor.

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    • So many things you seem not to understand.

      Yes Scottish Rugby is in dire straights(sic). Have you noticed who has been running it for the past few years to help put it in this position?

      Have you noticed how much more Dodson is taking out of rugby than his equivalents at the other home nations?

      Where do you think Glasgow, Edinburgh and Scotland will get their players from if grass roots rugby funding is cut even further?

      Have you seen the standard of Glasgow and Edinburgh at the moment?

      But if you think those who disagree with the way Dodson is running Scottish Rugby just want to pull the game apart then it probably explains why your understanding of the situation is so poor.

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  2. I intended to respond to another excellent report from David about the AGMs (version 3), and the petinent comments especially that from Keith Wallace as ever (The Haddington One). However I do realise that all we can do is moan and throw stones over the wall at the entrenched high heid yins barricaded within BT Murrayfield well able to repel allcomers holding all the strings and all the money.

    Dodson continues to employ the well known tactic of overpaying his key people, ensuring they continue to toe the line or else they will be jettisoned over the metal fence where lower pay, loss of ‘fringe benefits’, “keys to the Mitsubishi beast please!”, and insigificance awaits. Dodson must have Immersion Arse Syndrome from all those licks and kisses. No pictures are available, sorry to say.

    The SRU will continue to run things, publically for the benefit of the game, but in reality primarily for the personal benefit of those chosen people within the BT Murrayfield fortress. And no amount of those outside the gilded circle asking them to change will achieve much of significance. Any changes that have beeen made to date were made grudgingly, while more names get added to Dodson’s troublemaker list.

    And worst of all the cancer within Scottish rugby and the SRU thrives and grows.

    What to do?
    Let the club game remain as it is, moan, throw stones and attempt to influence the SRU to do the right things. Accept the handouts, the coaching, the referees etc. Just work with Dodson and his overpaid acolytes. In fact do what you are doing.

    At the same time form a membership owned Scottish Rugby Clubs (SRC) organisation, £1 a year, one member one vote etc. Join if you want, ok if you don’t. Not for profit, clear aims to improve Scottish Rugby from the bottom up, no blazers on offer, no overseas jaunts. The key things this group must do is engage with the Scottish Governmemt including the civil servants, SportScotland, local Councils, Sports Committee at Holyrood, Sports Minister and his/her team. And funders including the Lottery etc. The message is about building rugby, participation and engagement from the bottom up. This is the story they want to hear and they will support it. And if the SRU wants to make their claim on this approach they will need to produce the evidence. I am sure Keith Russell could assist with that.

    Essential to have the right legal entity and the right people to offer certainty that all grants or donations will be used correctly. Openess and transparency, with integrity throughout. And will be not competing directly with what the SRU is delivering.

    All public money put into sporting bodies, from the Scottish Government downwards must be accounted for correctly. Some sporting bodies are better than others. Some are downright bad. Football is definitely not a favourite of the Scottish Government for various(!) reasons. The SRU is viewed with nearly similar cynacism. A lot of funding goes to bodies who ‘make sure that’ it is spent correctly. Usually this grabs at lease 20% (sometimes much more) of the funds for that administration. SRC can do this job at minimal cost leaving most (like 95% plus) for the delivery.

    If the SRU receives funding for the ‘grassrootrs’ SRC can tender to deliver this programme on thir behalf more cost effectively and better targeted delivering through the local clubs. And if need be buying in time from SRU employees such as development officers. An approach of cooperation, not confrontation.

    And this SRC group would NOT accept any sponsorship or funding from alcohol producers, betting companies, an approach supported by the Scottsih Gov, SportScotland etc.

    When I think of this model I can see the people who might be involved, I can put names to them, know their faces, their experiences and their priciples. You will have your own personal list.

    I started this with the intention of a good moan, while thinking why bother. This is only a summary, which can be turned easily into a business plan of 4 or 5 pages, in particular covering funding sources, accountability, governance, working will all stakeholders including sponsors, with a message and delivery which is to their mutual benefit.

    Any fellow scribes out there?

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  3. What happens next autumn after the CVC money is gone, no more Government bailout and no crowds at the 6 Nations? Will the SRU have to go to the cliff edge before everyone wakes up and smells the coffee? Other Unions cut their cloth accordingly, the SRU carry on spending with a head in the sand attitude.
    It’s heading for the rocks, who is brave enough to steer it away?

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  4. Interesting comments Neil and John.

    I wonder who owns Scottish Rugby Union Limited?

    Here’s a clue – it’s not Mark Dodson or the Board

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  5. Increasingly coming round to the notion that Dodson is doing a very good indeed.

    The clubs just see the SRU doing better and better and themselves get more and more bitter that they’re not getting the money in their own pockets.

    Agree with Neil, let the professionals carry on. I’ve seen enough of the bullying words used by some on here to change my mind on Dodson.

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    • John and Neil must be the modern day equivalent of Morecambe and Wise. Here to make us laugh over Christmas!

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      • Sadly James TOL comment section has become an echo chamber in which everyone outside is laughing at the contributors.

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      • Sadly for you John most TOL most are quite able to think for themselves and don’t have to make up nonsense to support their views.

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  6. Sounds to me like Dodson has played a blinder to secure us that £20 mil, you lot should be grateful we have such a savvy businessman.

    Lets the professionals do their job.

    And stop expecting Scottish rugby to pay for the amateur clubs. Earn your own money, the union owes you nothing, be thankful for what you do get.

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    • I’ve read some misinformed not to say ignorant comments in my time, where do you think the infrastructure came from? It was the amateur game it’s players and supporters that produced Murrayfield and all that went with it.
      As for the professional side, if the game hadn’t gone ‘Open’ we wouldn’t be in the mess we are, we wouldn’t have had a Dodson or the other bits of deadwood, 69 individuals in Sales, Marketing and Admin!
      I know there was ‘Boot Money’ or Jobs for the Boys in the old days but I don’t recall anyone asking for a pair of boots big enough for 933,000 Notes.

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    • You clearly have little to no understanding of the Scottish Rugby set up. The clubs are the foundation of the SRU and ultimately have the power to control the direction of the game. The board, council, whatever are there to ensure the game grows.

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    • Thanks Neil, you brought a smile to my face.

      Perhaps you are one who relies for a living on the £12m excess of expenditure over income across the Pro game, which is funded by the union of Member Clubs.

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    • Dont agree with all you say but do agree with the central premise that we need to get behind Dodson. United we stand and all that.

      Merry Christmas to all here on TOL heres hoping for a better 2021

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    • Utter nonsense, baseless drivel! Don’t speak to the proprietors like that…

      The SRU is in fact a Union (aka the embodiment) of those self-same amateur clubs that you would seek to disparage. The clubs are the Union – they own it…. All the rest of it (including “professional” rugby and the 2 wholly-owned, misfiring, cash-guzzling ProTeams) is simply down to corporate evolution, something that the mere employees e.g. Dodson on the executive and e.g. Jeffrey, etc. on the Board would seek to harness (or rather hijack) for their own ends.

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      • And Ron takes 1st prize on the ownership question.

        Mysteriously, John and Neil seem to have disappeared

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      • Still here Dom, quite frankly i don’t really care to respond the half the nonsense on here – Particularly over the christmas period.

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      • “Still here Dom, quite frankly i don’t really care to respond the half the nonsense on here – Particularly over the christmas period.”

        and yet you have Neil!

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  7. ScotGov’s £3.8m bailout of the National Trust for Scotland reportedly “comes with the condition that NTS works with the Scottish Government to consider the long-term sustainability of its operations and review its business model for future challenges.”

    The bailout for the SRU must do the same.

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  8. Govt funding is to repair the damage to our revenues?

    I wonder how other business sectors feel about the damage to their revenues and not being supported with £15m grants?

    All very odd.

    Either Dodson is accurate with his statement that everything is fine or there are actually serious issues with Scottish Rugby financing?

    What data was shared with the Scottish Government? If that resulted in a £20m funding package why wasn’t that data shared with member clubs?

    The SFA announced the allocation of their funding days after they got confirmation of the amount. Dodson says that’s still to be worked out for rugby. It takes some effort to make the SFA look good but well done Scottish Rugby for achieving that.

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    • No doubt it was only the SG £20 million package that saved the SRU Board and executive hides. That and that alone rescued the now sorry-looking group known widely as “The Junta”.

      Only that timely offer of SG rescue finance enabled PwC to take a deep breath and sign off the 2020 accounts on a going concern basis…. Significantly, after our governing body’s weel-kent bunch of floundering management incompetents and blustering poseurs had ALREADY drawn down, with panic bells ringing, the union’s maximum entitlement of their share of CVC investment in Pro14 orginally intended to be disbursed over several years (as to WRU & IRFU), and desperately scrambled to arrange an emergency extended 2-tier corporate borrowing facility (from what I understand to have been a very reluctant bank lender).

      The truth is that the SRU at Murrayfield, under the woefully inadequate stewardship of the present crew, came within a whisker of running out of money (aka sufficient credit) to enable it to pay its bills, and consequently to continue trading. None of this was due to the effects of Covid-19’s chill winds, although the pandemic did highlight and accelerate the Union’s financial problems, represented by substantial increases in net liabilities (of which worryingly high levels of corporate debt were a major feature) and the almost total absence of prudent tangible financial reserves that would have cushioned the impact of a downturn in trading and / revenue generation.

      Talk of maxing-out your credit card! Listening to the rotund Mancunian salesman’s low-grade spin and spittle might convince the gullible to believe it wasn’t at all like that – everything hunky-dory and under control all along! This, friends, is the calibre, the professional and moral rigour of the type of mutual back-scratchers and cronies now running Scottish Rugby. Little wonder the Game in Scotland is in trouble, both on and off the field of play!

      One is given to wonder if the since-departed SG Public Health, Sport & Wellbeing Minister, Joe FitzPatrick, MSP (who lost his job just days after approving the SRU’s £20 million bung) actually realised that the financially-distressed Governing Body’s CEO was paid around twelve (12) times his own Ministerial salary in the previous year.

      If this weren’t true, you couldn’t….. Could you?

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