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].
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.