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WRU chief breaks silence on BBC allegations

By PA
The CEO of the WRU has decided not to step down.

Welsh Rugby Union chief Steve Phillips says he is “shocked and appalled” by allegations of racist, homophobic and sexist bullying within the governing body and called for “immediate” change.

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A number of former WRU employees took part in an investigation by BBC Wales – which was screened on Monday night – with accusations about their time at the organisation.

Charlotte Wathan, general manager of women’s rugby until her resignation last February, claims offensive comments by a colleague left her in tears and feeling sick, while another unnamed contributor says she was left contemplating suicide by her experiences of bullying and sexism at work.

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Incidents of racism and homophobia are also alleged.

In a lengthy statement released on Tuesday night, 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.

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“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.”

Phillips, whose position is under intense scrutiny, 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.

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“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.”

Earlier, fans group JSG Cymru wrote to WRU chair Ieuan Evans calling for Phillips to be sacked.

The organisation, which represents official supporters’ groups of the four Welsh professional teams, 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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