Scottish Rugby Board must show that they have listened

Interim Chairman John Jeffrey should be judged on his record when the time is right

Scottish Rugby's Chief Executive Mark Dodson and Interim Chairman John Jeffery watch Edinburgh in action against Ulster on Monday night. Image: Craig Watson
Scottish Rugby's Chief Executive Mark Dodson and Interim Chairman John Jeffery watch Edinburgh in action against Ulster on Monday night. Image: Craig Watson

SCOTLAND’S clubs delivered an unequivocal message at last Thursday’s AGM [part 2.1] about their determination to see the governance of the game in this country opened up and made accountable, by voting through with landslide majorities two motions aimed at asserting the authority of the elected Council to oversee the Board’s management of the Union and to increase transparency in Scottish Rugby’s decision-making processes.

Glasgow Hawks Chairman Kenny Hamilton, when proposing the second motion, did not pull his punches.

“I don’t want to rake over all the unfortunate headlines generated by a Board and executive which has been largely unaccountable to its member organisations, but it is worth reminding people of the employment tribunal findings in the Keith Russell affair, the obscenity of disproportionate salary settlements for senior executives, the imposition of a playing structure which was badly thought through and has had consequences for playing opportunities for some guys, and the acrimonious atmosphere at AGMs and SGMs of recent times [which] in my opinion do not serve Scottish Rugby well,” he said.

“Add to that decisions to invest in overseas teams with no apparent immediate benefit explained to member organisations, while those same clubs are struggling to keep their heads above water and maintain playing numbers, seems to me to be the kind of issue which requires much clearer communication, debate and decision-making.”

The balance of the votes – 157 in favour and 16 against for both motions – provided compelling evidence that Hamilton is not just a disgruntled outlier, but a voice representing concerns widely held across the club landscape.

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The ball is now in Murrayfield’s court. It is up to the Board (individually and collectively) to demonstrate that they understand and accept the refreshed dynamic of their relationship with member clubs, and a vital first step towards showing that will be in how they go about appointing a permanent replacement to Colin Grassie as Independent Chair.

John Jeffrey, who took the role on an interim basis after Grassie’s abrupt departure back in May, indicated after Thursday’s meeting that he quite fancies making it a longer-term gig. “I’m interim Chairman until next May, there is a process going on and I probably would chuck my hat into the ring if I got offered the opportunity because I love the game and I genuinely think we can move forward,” he told the press.

This would be a sign that it is business as usual as far as the Board is concerned. Jeffrey has been part of the furniture at Murrayfield – in various roles but mainly under the radar – for the last 20 years. He is close to Chief Executive Mark Dodson, a committed champion of the Gammell/Murray governance review which was flatly rejected by clubs at the start of the year, and deeply conflicted by his other rugby roles as Chairman of the Six Nations Council and Executive Committee member for World Rugby.

We all want Scottish Rugby, the Six Nations and World Rugby to be aligned as much as possible, but when they are not it is absolutely vital that there is no confusion about who is in what corner.

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As promising as Dodson tried to make Scottish Rugby’s position sound last Thursday, there is no escaping the fact that the organisation is facing a major financial squeeze and the Board’s focus needs to be 100 percent on dealing with the immediate concern of keeping the lights on. There is also a governance review being carried out at the moment by the Council – with Board representation and an independent chair – which plans to make recommendations ahead of next August’s 2021 AGM. For these two reasons alone, there should be no rush to appoint a permanent Chairman, and certainly not at this Thursday’s Board meeting.

The time to formalise the Chairman’s role is once the governance review has been completed, and once the Covid crisis has peaked allowing the business to start on the long road to recovery. At that point, an open recruitment process can take place in a timely manner to find the right – not just the most convenient – person for the job.

The post should be advertised with candidates sought who meet the criteria set out by a clearly defined and published job profile. Individuals from other sports and with different business perspectives should be encouraged to apply. Jeffrey would, of course, be entitled to put his name forward, with his record as interim Chairman taken into account.

Something along the lines of the brochure recently produced by the RFU as part of their own recruitment process for a new Chair would be a good starting point. CLICK HERE

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As it stands, with Jeffrey recused due to being an active candidate in the on-going process, Lesley Thomson QC has taken over as Chair of the Nominations Committee “for the period of the search process for a new Independent Non-Executive Director and Chairman to succeed Colin Grassie”.

Thomson – a former Solicitor General for Scotland – was the author of the internal review which looked into the issues raised into the Keith Russell affair. Her findings were never fully released and a lack of detail in the statement which was issued by Scottish Rugby in September 2018 did little to assuage concerns about what had gone on.

She was re-appointed to the Board for a third term of three years the following summer, in contravention of the Dunlop Report, which states that  “a non-executive director should be eligible to be re-appointed for one further term of three years only”.

The UK Corporate Governance Code states that two terms should be the norm and a third, making nine years in all, should be “subject to particularly rigorous review” and take account of the need for “progressive refreshing of the board”.

It is all just too cosy. Given all that has happened during the last few years, it is more important than ever that the Board is seen to be welcoming new blood and encouraging fresh ideas.

First things first, it is time to deal with the immediate threats facing Scottish Rugby. The accounts are late, the bank and auditors need reassurance, the lack of depth in professional Scottish rugby is being brutally exposed, and the club/school game is in limbo with genuine anxiety about the future. Plenty to be getting on with. Time to see leadership in action.

‘This is not a problem that is going to go away’ – Richard Cockerill

About David Barnes 4028 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.


  1. Thanks for another great piece by The Offside Line. With Christmas coming up I hope David that lots will pop a £ or two in the kitty to allow you to carry on, as you have politely asked!

    It is a well proven business principle from the great Tom Peters that ‘Attitude comes from the top down, creativity from the bottom up’.
    We need a Chair who might agree with that and is qualified to fulfil the role. The RFU spec quoted by Ron Sutherland above admirably describes such a person and, while the Board may have chosen not set the bar so high, all will hope that we might see an appropriate appointment for Scotland.
    While truly not knowing whether JJ has or doesn’t have the necessary qualities, should he wish to indeed throw his hat in the ring, should he not accompany his wish by first resigning from those elected positions, overseen by the Board, which he currently chairs?
    Finally (phew!) in previously expressing disappointment in the Council’s strangely mild response to the redacted Thomson report on the Russell situation, I hope that the recent overwhelming support of Kenny Hamilton’s views, will ensure that now they will assert themselves as is required.

  2. Another good article David.
    Having watched the excellent “Oceans Apart” documentary by Daniel Leo I thought its title referred to the gap between the Chair and the Clubs.
    Two lots of championing the Gammell/Murray Review,(as you rightly note flatly rejected by the clubs) in his three formal communications to clubs to date is not a great start.

  3. So I can tick two of the chairs selection criteria for our current interim chair. And they relate to passion for the game and international game.

    If the Scottish Rugby Chaor person spec isn’t similar – why ever not?

  4. What a fascinating job spec for the RFU Chair

    Qualifications and experience
    * Commercial awareness – a substantial and proven success in senior role within a business, preferably including a listed company or large privately owned company subject to FRC requirements. Experience of customer facing business with responsibility for strategy and large P&L preferable.
    * The experience of chairing complex boards.
    * Proven ability to foster a corporate culture that extends from the Board room to all employees and that is well understood by stakeholders.
    * Passion for the game of rugby and grass roots sports development, including knowledge and experience of the key strategic issues facing the community and professional game.
    * Experience of delivering positive diversity and inclusion improvements.
    * An understanding of the international game and how it operates would be beneficial.
    * Understanding of, and interest in, the main challenges facing the RFU now and in the future.
    * Good chairing skills including planning of meetings, managing debate and widely varied opinions.
    * Previous exposure to and direct communication with media.

    Skills and personal attributes
    * Outstanding, proven leadership skills: someone who will enthuse and inspire employees and a wide range of external stakeholders (including volunteers).
    * A strong commitment to promoting and embedding diversity and inclusion at all levels.
    * Authoritative and articulate individual with strong political astuteness.
    * Committed, loyal, highly trustworthy and someone who demonstrates the values of the RFU.
    * Skill and sensitivity in dealing with different audiences, to allow for dealing with different parts of the game.
    * Integrity, good judgment and independence of mind.
    * Fairness and even-handedness in dealing with individuals with conflicting views and/or interests and skill in obtaining consensus.
    * Strong teamwork: able to effectively communicate, motivate and engage with widely differing individuals.
    * Absence of potential conflicts of interest.
    * The ability and willingness to commit the time to be an effective Chair.

  5. A little progress achieved, a marker put down. Much now rests upon the outcome (detail, content and quality) of the Independent Governance Review, membership of which committee appears slightly overweighted towards a professional legal, rather than a more general, practical or academic presence.

    We hope for the best from that review exercise, notwithstanding serious reservations about a certain lack of genuine independence plus the distinct absence of relevant, specific knowledge or experience of structures, governance and organisational dynamics in the unique milieu of a Governing Body of Sport.


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