IT was a game of two halves for the Scottish Rugby Union hierarchy at their Annual General Meeting this [Saturday] morning. The top table started strongly with some creative thinking, polished presentation and forceful rhetoric appearing to win over the room, but things started to unravel when it got around to the part when club delegates could question the people who are running the game in this country on their behalf.
There was over 20 questions, either submitted in advance of the meeting or raised from the floor, on subjects ranging from player numbers, income streams, strategic aims, governance, response to the Keith Russell affair, inward investment from private equity firms, executive salaries, funding sources for club facility development projects and an honours board for past Presidents.
It would be wrong to say that each and every question was stonewalled, but there was plenty deliberate vagueness and obfuscation, while anything which threatened to give a real insight into how the SRU currently operates was swatted away with undisguised disdain. A number of delegates were dismissed like naughty schoolboys.
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Chief Executive Mark Dodson gave an indication of his contempt for this sort of snooping when he spoke to the press for the first time in 14 months after the meeting. He was asked why the top table had refused to divulge Executive Director salary details despite the fact that this information will be publicly available when the SRU finally get around to lodging their official accounts at Companies House.
Refusing to comply was a classic example of kicking the proverbial can further down the road, but that is now a well established tactic at Murrayfield.
“We have statutory reporting requirements that we adhere to,” Dodson countered. “Today you saw 25 questions that can be asked in any other forum, and they were chosen to be asked today for, I assume, a certain amount of theatre.
“We gave answers as appropriate as we could, we answered every question. We choose not to answer that question.”
Last year, the salary of the highest paid executive in the organisation dropped from £563k per annum in the 2017 accounts to £455k, which is believed to relate to the furore caused by the loss of an unfair dismissal case brought by former Director of Rugby Keith Russell. The total renumeration for the SRU’s four executive directors – Dodson, Chief Operating Officer Dominic McKay, General Counsel Robert Howat and Finance Director Andrew Healey – was £990k, as opposed to £1,137k in the 2017 accounts.
Dodson was also pressed on the Board and Council’s refusal to submit that the report from Sir Bill Gammell’s on-going review of the SRU’s governance and management structures will be published in full to all member clubs and other interested parties, when it is eventually completed [there is still no time-frame].
As it stands, the report will go to the Council’s Standing Committee on Governance, headed by Gavin MacColl QC, at which point it will be decided what to do next.
“You’re making the assumption it won’t be published,” said Dodson. “I can’t guarantee it because it’s not in our gift. Bill’s going to do the review with Norman Murray, they’ll present it to the governance working party and then they’ll take a view together on where it goes next.
“We live in a completely different age to 2005 [when the current constitution was drafted]. Bill will have as long as he possibly needs to do the review. It’s his timescale. It’s his review and it is up to him as the owner of that report to decide whether he puts it out.
“Bill Gammell is a guy who owns his own mind. He’s seen 50 or 60 people as I understand it – some who are close to the Union and others who are, let’s say, further from the Union – and I don’t think Bill is the kind of man who is going to allow a report of his go through a number of filters.”
Independent state of mind
This inevitably led into a discussion about whether Gammell – who chaired the SRU dominated selection panel which picked the clubs to compete in Super 6 – can truly be called ‘independent’ given that he has a long-established history with both Dodson and Board Chairman Colin Grassie.
“Of course it is independent,” insisted Dodson. “The number of ex-internationals that I speak to on an annual basis is colossal. It doesn’t make me personal friends with them.
“This guy is incredibly well qualified for the job. He’s an ex-international, he has the Winning Scotland Foundation, he’s been on Sportscotland, and he went on to the Super 6 selection panel, along with Stuart Harris who is the Chief Executive of Sportscotland. He was just a person that I asked to go on there because I thought it would give us some seniority, some independence and some experience which would be valuable for that issue. But you can’t conflate those with the fact that I know Sir Bill Gammell. The fact is that I know Andy Nicol, I know John Jeffrey, I know a whole raft of internationalists.
“Bill and I have never been social friends, we’ve never had drink, we’ve never had dinner – it is a completely professional relationship and it is clear to everybody that he is a man of substance.”
Earlier in the day, Phil Thomas of Currie Chieftains had urged the Board and Council to recognise the benefit of involving the clubs fully when the Gammell report is published.
“We’re all very supportive, I would say, of Sir Bill Gammell’s activity – whatever he recommends – but we’d all like to understand what drivers there are and where they are coming from in regard to any change,” he explained.
The AGM also saw club representatives vote unanimously in favour of Banff Rugby Club becoming a full member of the Scottish Rugby Union.
Gordon Thomson from Aberdeen Grammar was confirmed as the new Premiership Representative on the Scottish Rugby Council and Jonathan Anderson of Merchiston Castle School became the new Schools Representative.
Willie Gardner, Kenneth Knott and Rosy Hume were re-elected to the positions of Glasgow North Regional League Representative, Referees’ Representative and Scottish Women’s Forum Representative respectively.
Good summary of the meeting. It felt like the top table was enduring the requirement to have an AGM and would be quite happy if these were consigned to the past. I wonder what Mr Gammell will recommend here?
A few observations
The stonewalling and evasion was pitiful. There were several questions that could have been answered and that would have generated a lot of kudos from the room
The preparing and coaching of the President, Chair and CEO is a sight to behold
– Dee is a much better speaker than last year – its obvious that she has been trained well
– Mark Dodson reads a mean telepromter
– The questions submitted in advance had been gamed by the SRU – the line was we have learned our lessons, we can’t tell you what those are and anyway its all commercially confidential.
– Any questions from the floor were similarly rebuffed
I was struck by the line from Dodson and Grassie – great things are coming down the road (ie loads of cash) just shut up and let us get on with managing this windfall.
There is a very good book by Jim Collins called How the Mighty Fall. It was published at the hight of the financial crash. It explains how really successful organisations get caught out by hubris and thinking they have the keys to the kingdom – nothing can go wrong. When all of a sudden it crashes around their ears. I was reminded about those lessons listening to them speak at the AGM