Scottish Rugby Limited could face legal action over handling of sexism claims

Press release has "tarnishing people's professional reputations"

Scottish Rugby Chairman John Jeffrey and Chief Executive Mark Dodson. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Scottish Rugby Chairman John Jeffrey and Chief Executive Mark Dodson. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

THE BOARD of Scottish Rugby Limited [SRL] faces the possibility of litigation over its handling of a review commissioned into an accusation of institutional discrimination within the organisation.

A press release and club communication issued on behalf of SRL on Friday explained that allegations made by former Scottish Rugby Limited Board member Julia Bracewell in her resignation letter last September had prompted an “extensive external review and internal discussions”.

It stated that this review had uncovered evidence of a lack of female representation on both the old Scottish Rugby Council [which was elected by the game’s stakeholders with the purpose of overseeing Scottish rugby] and SCOG [the Scottish Rugby Council’s ‘Standing Committee on Governance’ which drew up the new governance structure which was adopted by the Scottish Rugby Union clubs with a landslide vote last September].


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It also highlighted concerns with the composition of the new Club Rugby Board [which oversees the domestic game] on the basis of “how this may continue to be non-inclusive towards women and not drive the Women and Girls game forward” and also that there was “evidence that suggested that at times the previous Council did not behave in an inclusive manner towards women at meetings”.

The release acknowledged that there was no breach of Equality and non-discrimination laws. The review was conducted by an human resources consultancy called Emerge, who previously conducted diversity training for Scottish Rugby and have the thistle logo displayed alongside other clients on their home page. It is not clear how many people were interviewed during the process of compiling the report, but the number is believed to be less than five.

The release also stressed that: “The allegations were not about Scottish Rugby Limited (SRL) or its activities.”

It later added that: “The review’s findings were focused on the allegations about the transition of the then Scottish Rugby Council to the new Club Rugby Board and the process for establishing the company limited by guarantee [SRU] that the SCOG carried out in place at that time.”

Under the new governance structure, the activities of Scottish Rugby Limited – which is in charge of the day to day running of Scottish Rugby – is overseen by and answerable to the new Custodian Board, which is chaired by Professor Lorne Crerar, an eminent Glasgow lawyer who was also the independent chair of SCOG.

Aberdeen Grammar chairman Gordon Thomson, who was a member of SCOG, has now told The Daily Mail that a legal case is a distinct “possibility” because members involved in SCOG and the old Council did not have sight of the release beforehand and were not offered the right to reply.

“I’ve never seen a press release coming out of Murrayfield like that in my life,” said Thomson.

“I’ve never known Scottish Rugby to selectively pick pieces out of external reviews that they instruct – never showing anybody the instructing letter or the reports and for them to go public at one minute to five on a Friday night, that smacks to me of something strange going on.”

Bracewell initially accepted an invite to sit on SCOG but resigned from the committee before its proposals were finalised. She made these accusations in her resignation letter from the Scottish Rugby Limited Board in October 2022. She is known to be a long-standing ally of Scottish Rugby Limited Board Chairman John Jeffrey.

Jeffrey continued to be a vociferous proponent of a previous governance proposal drawn-up by Sir Bill Gammell long after that vision was kicked deep into the long grass by member clubs in early 2020. It is understood that he was a rigid opponent of the governance structure which has since been adopted. The key issue appears to be oversight, with Jeffrey believing that a mirror or unitary Board is the best way to govern Scottish Rugby whereas the new structure has created the ‘Custodian Board’ which can hold the SRL Board to account.

“Having read it [Friday’s 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,” continued Thomson. “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?

“If you look back at the remit given to us on governance, it was to do with corporate structure and I don’t see how tis has turned into a sexism thing,

“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.”

“I think some people will be looking to speak to lawyers after the Easter break, because everyone who knows about Scottish Rugby knows who was on SCOG. It’s different for me because I am not answerable to a governing body, but otherwise I’d be looking to instruct lawyers. Litigation is now a possibility.”

Jeffrey was quoted at length in Friday’s release.

“Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the work Julia Bracewell contributed to Scottish Rugby during her tenure with us and thank her for bringing these important matters to our attention,” he said.

“We have, at all times, taken her complaint seriously and, as quickly as possible, have conducted an external review to examine her allegations. Whilst we are working hard to deliver on our commitment to inclusion and diversity at all levels of our sport and, in particular, with the women’s and girls’ game, we know we have work to do as we move away from a historically male-centric sport.

“Careful and appropriate consideration is now being given to the findings of the report. It is our intention that a working group will be established to consider the findings and agree actions and recommendations for the way forward. We have reached out to Julia to ask if she would like to contribute to the process going forward.”

It is now over eight months since the family of Siobhan Cattigan made public their concerns about Scottish Rugby’s handling of the former international flanker during the lead up to her death in November 2021. An internal ‘fact-finding’ mission is ongoing, but clearly not with the same urgency as this matter.

 

A working group needs to now be established to properly investigate the allegations which were published on Friday. David Grevemberg CBE and Cheryl Black, who were appointed as non-executive directors of the Custodian Board in December having had no previous experience of Scottish Rugby’s Machiavellian machinations, need to be at the forefront of this process with support from SportScotland.

Grevemberg was 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games CEO, having previously been Executive Director of Sport and International Federation Relations at the International Paralympic Committee for ten years. Following the Glasgow Games, he became the Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation.

Black has held a varied portfolio of non-exec roles across the private and public sectors in Scotland and the UK over the past 11 years, including with the NHS, EDF Nuclear, Telefonica and Scottish Widows.

Scottish Rugby was contacted for a statement on this matter but has chosen not to make any further comment.


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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.

20 Comments

  1. What a tangled web.

    The challenge for SRUL NEDs and Execs is that they are ultimately owned by SRU. The Union had to obtain legal opinion on this fact as SRUL acted as if it was a wholly independent body.

    That being the case, the owners (clubs) decided to change the operating structures and received overwhelming backing from said owners.

    what ever JJ or Ms Bracewells opinion of the new structures are is irrelevant. Personally I wouldn’t have even asked them but they were given many opportunities to contribute.

    SCOG took many months to conclude but claims of discrimination only emerged at the end of the process? A senior corporate lawyer was so intimidated by the other members that they were unable to raise these issues with the chair of SCOG? At the SRUL Board meetings they attended? To bring it to the HR Directors attention? To discuss with Chair of SRUL?

    The only available option was to resign and in their letter of resignation make these claims which resulted in the launching of a review.

    Scottish Rugby can also show it’s diligence and finger pointing to a whole range of issues with similar reviews and public statements on pro player mental health, corporate failures leading to one of the most damning employment tribunal judgements I’ve read and the untimely death of an international player….only I must have missed those statements.

  2. If you think this is actually about sexism and not that this serious issue has in fact been hijacked and politicised by nefarious individuals in order to pursue another agenda then you are naive in the extreme. This is clearly all about governance and how certain members of the SRL Board are not content with a new structure where they are answerable to someone other than themselves. Julia Bracewell clearly has an axe to grind, she didn’t mention sexism shen she resigned from SCOG, if I recall it was because she wasn’t happy with the outcomes of that review or it’s direction of travel. Her attempts to steer the group towards another outcome failed. Conversely another woman who was also on SCOG is giving a polar opinion. No report has been published, just a report of the report. Who was actually asked here and what were they asked? The whole thing is a pathetic attack on the reputations of people who dared to stand up to these bully’s.

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    • Yes, very much has the feel of someone who decided to torch the dance floor on their way out when they didn’t get the judge’s vote.

      The concessions by the SRU had to be made – for what they are worth – on a purely symmetrical analysis of women v men in post. A cheap point scored.

      The interesting bit will be whether or not reinstatement is the ultimate goal. Usually these things are done with an eye towards a particular end game.

  3. As I read it, someone alleges sexism, it’s investigated by third party, those connected to the accused are not happy and somehow this is a surprise. Feels like a distraction tactic.

    If the SRU hadn’t published the article headline would be “SRU cover up sexism…

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  4. I have to agree with Gordon Thomson. This is amateur hour.

    This is such a crucial report that it a press release was required at 4.59pm on Good Friday? It couldn’t wait until later?

    It’s normal practice to share a report findings with any party that is directly or indirectly mentioned. I’m shocked that this wasn’t done. See also point above.

    So Scottish Rugby can move at warp speed when it needs to but is slower than treacle with other much more profound issues such as pro player safety and head injury.

    Really strange set of priorities there.

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  5. No smoke without fire…. as the saying goes!

    What a shambles – casting substantial doubt upon the entire amateurish / inexperienced lawyer-driven SCOG process from start to finish, and its almost lunatic outcome, creating a scenario with two potentially adversarial boards, inevitably tearing at each others’ throats on serious matters of contention.

    A poke in the eye for the chairman of the new “Custodian” board right for marking his and the SCOG group’s own homework in such glowing self-satisfied terms upon the launch of their new excessively convoluted governance structure? Possibly not so unexpected, when a professor of banking law (yes, banking law) is brought in to bring matters to a conclusion – not least in the wake of his predecessor and several other leagle eagles (including the fragrant Julia) bailing out of SCOG along the way….

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    • What on earth are you wittering about Ron? No smoke? There’s been smoke emanating from the flawed governance procedures adopted by and at BTM for ages! Where on earth have you been? And the fact that they have been is seriously damaging – holding back even – Scottish rugby.
      Your continued vitriol toward the new SRU Chair is noted – everyone gets it Rono – you don’t like him. Why is that I (and many others) wonder? Did he send you off in your playing days (assuming you did actually play of course)? Or is it just because he’s been so massively more successful in his career – both in a professional and a sporting sense – than you’ve been?
      You appear to have a bit of an obsession about our new Chair of the SRU, with a desperate need to comment on all things emanating from the Custodian board. Isn’t that just a tad homo-erotic, Einstein?
      Maybe not. I’m sure you’re a regular, straight up “guy” with lots to positively contribute to ongoing debates within SCottish rugby. 🏳️‍🌈 😉
      Whatever. “No smoke”…indeed……

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      • Hahaha – nice try Craig…. (Dear boy – you must try harder, do better research, gain a proper understanding, find more grown-up custard pies to throw…)

        Never met the fellow in question, but you might detect that I’m pretty unimpressed by his work, actions and his utterances together with and on behalf of others in this context. Admittedly, all this is happening within a nest of vipers.

        Most of us had high hopes that the outcome of the lengthy SCOG process (that PP Ian Barr to his lasting credit kept going through thick and thin) would deliver a final solution to the SRU’s long-standing governance deficiencies, rather than the over-complicated contentious structure that emerged and was so positively endorsed by its principal author. Clearly, the legions of lawyers who came and went from the SCOG team during its extended period of deep deliberations were prescient, well ahead of the curve, certainly in sharing my serious reservations about its still far-from-finished production, highly likely to stimulate yet more in-fighting at EH12. We’d all like to have an opportunity to mark our own homework just like the SCOG chiefy, n’est ce pas?

        As a legally-qualified former professor of sports management (co-incidentally specialising latterly in the areas of governance and corporate / constitutional / charitable structures), sports professional and former SRU senior executive, etc, etc. I find your derisory infantile rant to be most disappointing. I hope the foregoing may be of some assistance in your struggles with the harsh reality of adult life.

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      • Dear me, Craigie… how to respond, what to do..?

        In all honesty, I’m only a legally-qualified former Sports Management Professor specialising latterly in areas of corporate governance and structures, etc. with lengthy coal-face experience at all levels of rugby including the National Unions in Scotland (SRU executive), Wales (consultancy to WRU & Dragons Rugby Trust), Ireland (IRFU strategy advisor) and England (RFU / RWC consultancy). Consequently, probably best for all concerned to take an altogether different approach in your deeply worrying, if not challenging case…..

        Indeed, my considered advice is that you contact NHS24 without delay. Hopefully the good though currently overworked staff there may be able quickly to identify the nature of your illness that prevents comprehension and processing of written words set out plainly in front of you, and prescribe a suitable antidote, or at the very least, a strong sedative.

        Good luck with the rest of your life.

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    • Having read about this and trying to understand what it is actually about maybe you can explain what is so shocking about this?

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      • Seriously? You can’t see what is shocking about the behaviour found in the report?

        It is attitudes like yours which has allowed behaviour like this to go unchallenged for years.

      • Those that have tolerated it Septic. It really isn’t difficult to understand assuming you don’t want to ignore it like some.

      • @ Joe Smith
        those who tolerated it? Who and evidence? At the moment we have report that says it happened, I assume it contains evidence. I haven’t read anything about it being tolerated but if that is the case then again we need evidence
        And who perpetrated it?
        I’m all for outing all of them.

      • Septic – the report says it was going on and so it was clearly being tolerated by management who either knew about it and did nothing or weren’t managing the offenders and therefore created an environment where it was tolerated. It really is that simple.

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