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Clubs seek answers from Scottish Rugby over use of £15m government grant

Scottish Rugby's Chief Executive Mark Dodson. Image: © Craig Watson -

Scottish Rugby's Chief Executive Mark Dodson. Image: © Craig Watson -

MARK DODSON is coming under mounting pressure from clubs to explain why they have not yet received any money from the £15 million Covid support grant awarded to Scottish Rugby from public funds.

The governing body’s chief executive said earlier this year that the grant from the Scottish Government – plus another £5m loan – was meant to “repair the damage to our revenues created by the pandemic [and] allow the Union to resume its core functions with its workforce intact.”  However, a letter from the government which has now been made public following a Freedom of Information request said the money is designed “to assist rugby clubs and organisations across Scotland”.

The letter was accompanied by an application form designed to be completed by clubs seeking a grant. There is no record to date of any club being offered an opportunity to apply for a grant, far less actually receiving any money.

Dodson will address a meeting of the SRU Council (which represents the member clubs) on Wednesday night, when he expects to allay fears that the club game is being bypassed.

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The letter which has triggered this situation was sent by an unnamed (redacted) Scottish Government official to former Scottish Rugby Chief Operating Officer Dominic McKay on 20th January. It states:

“I am pleased to be able to confirm funding to support rugby clubs across Scotland that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The funding approved by Scottish Ministers is intended to ensure rugby clubs at all levels of the game across Scotland are better able to cope with the financial challenges that COVID-19 has brought until such a time as spectators are able to return safely to sports events in larger numbers.

“Scottish Ministers in exercise of their powers under Section 23 of the National Heritage (Scotland) Act 1985 hereby offer to give to Scottish Rugby Union (“the Grantee”) a grant of up to £15,000,0000 (fifteen million) STERLING, payable over the financial year 2020/2021 to support rugby clubs across Scotland that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is more particularly described in Part 1 of SCHEDULE 1 (“the Project”) and subject to the following terms and conditions.

“I hope this funding demonstrates the Scottish Government’s commitment to both men and women’s rugby across Scotland across all levels of the game.”

SCHEDULE 1 (“the Project”) is attached. It states:

“The purpose of this funding £15,000,000 (fifteen million) is to assist rugby clubs and organisations across Scotland in dealing with the financial impact of the COVID – 19 pandemic.

“This funding should be used to support rugby activity in order to protect jobs and infrastructure across all funding recipients.

“Rugby Clubs receiving funding hereby provide an undertaking to the Scottish Rugby Union that the full grant amount will only be used to support ongoing Club rugby related operations, will not be used to fund any player transfer fees prior to the end of the 2020/21 season, and will not be withdrawn from clubs by Owners or Directors.

“A grant approval form for completion by Rugby Clubs (on the onward disbursal of funding) is included overleaf.”

Having been made aware of the letter by concerned club members, SRU President Ian Barr requested clarity on the situation from Dodson, and a remote meeting of the Council was arranged for last Tuesday [13th April] so that the Chief Executive could give a presentation on the matter.

Barr requested that the Council should have sight of any other relevant paperwork related to the grant before the meeting. However, it appears that this information was not forthcoming, as the meetingwas cancelled at late notice. Barr subsequently told the Midlands clubs’ Forum meeting last Thursday [15th April] that the paperwork has now been fully released to the Council and a new meeting date of Wednesday [21st April] has been set.

Meanwhile, a further Freedom of Information request has been made by a club official to uncover all relevant information pertaining to the grant, and it will become a major bone of contention if it emerges that Murrayfield did manage to retroactively negotiate out the clear intent to provide direct support to member clubs.

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The concern is that rather than being used to support all areas of the sport, the money has been absorbed into Murrayfield’s cashflow, perhaps helping secure the £20.3 million in bank borrowing facilities required to finally get the 2019-20 accounts signed off by auditors PWC, and maybe even providing the basis for an aggressive recruitment drive which has seen Scotland’s two pro teams responsible for just under 50 percent of all new [non-Academy] signings so far by European-based PRO14 teams ahead of next season. Edinburgh have announced six new signings, Glasgow Warriors have announced 10, from the current total of 34 for the league.

It is worth noting that the letter in question is dated 20th January, which is 41 days after the Scottish Government’s emergency funding for sport package was announced, and 29 days after Dodson told the third and final instalment of the last year’s SRU AGM that:

“We have not yet been presented with the detailed terms of the government support package or a date for distribution. 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.”

By the 24th February, Dodson was telling journalists that the grant money had been received in full, and that:

“We have had a material grant from government that has allowed us to repair our balance sheet to a certain extent and that has been enormously helpful.”

The Scottish Government’s emergency funding package for sport raised more than a few eyebrows after it was announced on 10th December that Scottish Football was getting £20 million loan funding for the Scottish Premiership and £10 million in grants for all other levels out with the Premiership, while rugby was getting £5 million in loans and £15 million in grants.

“What was striking was that half the grant funding was for rugby – and only a third went to football,” said Lewis Macdonald, chair of Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee.

Scottish Rugby’s Club Hardship Fund, which was launched just a few weeks after lockdown and paid out almost £400k last June, pre-dates the Scottish Government grant.

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