SRU Council keep mum as Keith Russell affair rumbles on

sportscotland and Scottish Government are 'monitoring the situation'

Rob Flockhart
SRU president Rob Flockhart chaired an emergency meeting of the SRU Council on Friday night ***Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson***

THE outcome of the emergency meeting of the SRU Council which took place on Friday night – called in response to a damning employment tribunal judgement against the organisation for the way they handled the sacking of former Director of Domestic Rugby Keith Russell, and Russell’s subsequent criticism of the way the Murrayfield machine is run – has not yet been revealed.

The Council is elected by Scotland’s clubs to monitor and oversee the operation of the Scottish Rugby Board. A number of Council representatives either did not answer the phone yesterday [Saturday] or politely declined to comment because they have agreed to be bound by ‘collective confidentiality’.

Silence of the lambs

A list of questions about the affair was sent to the SRU’s head of media to pass on to President Rob Flockhart and Chairman of the Board Colin Grassie on Thursday and again yesterday [Saturday] morning but have not yet been answered, with the explanation that “we won’t be making any further comment ahead of tonight’s game”.

Keith Russell: ‘It is so disappointing to realise that the guys at the top are not good guys and do not represent the values and culture of rugby’

Keith Russell: ‘Understanding that the clubs are the key stakeholders in the sport in Scotland is a distraction that they would prefer to avoid’

Keith Russell: ‘The main thing Mark Dodson talked about for an hour was wanting to keep the Council quiet’

The rugby press following Scotland’s summer tour will hopefully have more joy when they are given an opportunity to interview SRU chief executive Mark Dodson and Flockhart on Sunday.

Meanwhile, sportscotland and the Scottish Government – who are directly and indirectly significant investors in Scottish Rugby – are both aware of the current turmoil at Murrayfield.

In an explosive interview with The Offside Line and The Sunday Times last weekend, Russell spoke about the challenges he faced persuading Dodson to work with sportscotland in the allocation of money.

“One of my very first meetings after I started was talking about our application for sportscotland funding. We got maybe about £600-700k for domestic rugby, and Mark [Dodson] was just saying: Nah, if they’re telling us what to do, tell them to go and stuff it. We don’t need their money,” he explained.

“But they weren’t telling us what to do. None of their priorities were things we wouldn’t want to do in terms of increasing participation, developing strong clubs, improving coaches, therefore all we needed to do was put a coherent plan in where they can identify that we’ll achieve our agreed targets and we’d get £600,000. It’s a very simple process but it’s that control, that power of: You’re not going to tell me what I’m going to do. It’s an ego thing.”

Big questions

Russell also gave an alarming account of the SRU senior executives’ response to a budget squeeze caused by a reduction in funding from the Scottish Government’s Cashback for Communities scheme.

“[That] meant that we needed to review the overall funding and delivery model for school and youth rugby. The team responsible for that did a lot of good work to review the models and came back with a cleaner and more focused programme to support the clubs and schools that were achieving more of our identified outcomes,” he said.

“As a result, it was possible to achieve the Cashback funding objectives and work in areas of Scotland that we wanted to work in to genuinely make a difference, and where typically there were very few opportunities to play rugby. This was particularly effective in Glasgow and East Ayrshire where there were strong partnerships with the local authorities.

“Unfortunately, the senior executives simply wanted us to go back to the Scottish Government and tell them that we wanted their funding for our previous delivery model and that the Scottish Government should not be telling the SRU how to develop rugby. They did not seem to understand that the Cashback funding was very clearly focused on reducing inequality in areas of multiple deprivation and not actually for the development of rugby, albeit these two objectives were not mutually exclusive.

“Their lack of understanding of how public funding works was both surprising and disappointing. Later claims that instead of just delivering rugby in some Glasgow schools, we should take over the delivery of PE in Glasgow because in the senior execs’ view, essentially, the schools were not capable of delivering PE properly, showed again a complete lack of understanding of how things work in the development of sport and the different roles organisations have. It was also a disappointing and prejudiced view about schools in the peripheral estates of Glasgow.”

A spokesman for sportscotland said: “We are committed to working with Scottish Rugby to strengthen our relationship across a number of areas including the development of the sport at a club level. In line with our standard procedures all areas of our partnership with Scottish Rugby will be considered as part of our ongoing review process.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government does not directly invest in the development or governance of Scottish Rugby. This is the role of sportscotland as the national agency for sport. We are monitoring this situation.”

SRU Council and Board offer full support for the Chief Executive… with a caveat

About David Barnes 3906 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he 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.