Wales: WRU chief Steve Phillips responds to damning allegations amid calls for change

Jared Wright
Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) CEO Steve Phillips has responded to allegations of racist, homophobic and sexist bullying within the governing body. BBC investigation

Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) CEO Steve Phillips has responded to allegations of racist, homophobic and sexist bullying within the governing body.

The WRU chief says he is “shocked and appalled” by the allegations and has called for “immediate” change.

Damning claims

Several former WRU employees took part in an investigation by BBC Wales with accusations about their time at the organisation, with the program screened on Monday evening.

Charlotte Wathan resigned from her role as general manager of women’s rugby and claimed offensive comments by a colleague left her in tears and feeling sick.

Another unnamed contributor said she contemplated suicide after her experiences of bullying and sexism at work, with incidents of racism and homophobia also alleged.

“Our culture was not where it needed to be”

In response, the WRU released a lengthy statement on Tuesday night where Phillips said: “I know you will have been shocked and appalled by the allegations in the BBC programme broadcast on Monday night, and I am sorry to see how individuals who have worked for us felt.

“Our culture was not where it needed to be, when we have employees not feeling confident enough to speak up between 2017 and 2019.

“Following this programme we will, again, review the process and procedures we have in place to make sure all staff feel safe and supported in speaking up about anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.

“The WRU knows it has fallen short in presenting Welsh rugby to the world in the best light. We have fallen short of the high standards I expect.

“I strongly condemn the use of racist, homophobic or sexist language of any kind and state in the strongest possible terms that racism, homophobic, sexist or bullying behaviour has no place in Welsh rugby.”

Promise of change

The release of the investigation has led to calls for Phillips’ resignation, with his position under intense scrutiny, but he promises to make immediate changes and wants to continue to lead the Union.

He continued: “We strive to maintain the very highest standards at all times and present a governing body which makes the whole of Wales proud.

“We have consulted with our staff and we will re-examine our structures and procedures to make sure our employees find a business that is caring and sensitive to their needs and welfare and creating a safe and secure environment for everyone that comes into contact with us.

“We will use the feedback we are currently experiencing to improve, we will listen and learn from what we are hearing and continue to work hard on ensuring Welsh rugby is a game for all with equality, diversity and inclusion at its heart.

“The advancement of the women’s and girl’s game is a central part of WRU strategy and will continue to be so at both professional and community levels.

“I cannot turn back the clock but I promise you we will start work on making necessary changes immediately.

“I will not lead an organisation which would walk past or excuse any of the behaviour described. I will not stand by and watch a culture which falls below the high standards we set.

“We will re-examine how we behave in all quarters of the WRU, we will never be complacent in this area, not on my watch.

“Much of the recent comment has been difficult to hear but I implore anyone, anywhere throughout the game who is affected by any of the issues raised to contact us immediately.

“I care deeply about this subject, the WRU cares deeply and we will act to change wherever we find fault, genuine complaint or grievance.”

Pressure mounts on Phillips

Earlier, JSG Cymru, a fans group which represents official supporters’ groups of the Dragons, Ospreys, Cardiff and Scarlets, wrote to WRU chair Ieuan Evans calling for Phillips to be sacked.

The organisation said: “The BBC programme was distressing to watch and brings about many questions about what is happening inside the WRU.

“With this in mind, we will be calling on the Welsh Senedd Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport and International Relations Committee to initiate an inquiry into the governance and leadership of the Welsh Rugby Union during Steve Phillips’ tenure.

“We are calling on you as chair of the WRU to relieve Steve Phillips of his position as chief executive immediately and instigate a full investigation into the culture in the organisation.”

Principality Building Society, sponsors of Wales’ national stadium in Cardiff and supporters of the Welsh grassroots game, also described the allegations as “extremely concerning”.

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