SRU accused of becoming dictatorship

THE bold men of the general committee have admitted that they had forced this week’s revolution in at the Scottish Rugby Union to reclaim power, but insist this was merely because David Mackay and his executive board were running "a dictatorship" which ignored the views of the country’s clubs.

Norman Douglas and Bob Hogarth, the Borders representatives on the SRU’s general committee, yesterday strongly reaffirmed their controversial stance and explained in more detail why a vote of no confidence was taken over Mackay, the former chairman of the SRU’s executive board.

The vote forced Mackay to resign, and he was followed by his fellow non-executives Andrew Flanagan, Eric Hagman and Fraser Livingston and then Phil Anderton, the chief executive, sparking turmoil in the game with sponsors, players and politicians criticising the decision and vilifying the general committee.

Douglas stated: "People might not accept it right now, but I am confident Scottish rugby will look back on this and be thankful this action was taken now because something had to be done to change the direction we were going in.

"A struggling national team, professional teams with no money nor proper support; financial losses still being made on things that simply should never have been undertaken; clubs struggling to stay in business; players disappearing at all levels - that simply couldn’t go on.

"And when you study the decisions taken over the past year, and the lack of accountability to anyone, by the executive, you have to accept that it was this executive that was taking us further down that route. This isn’t about committee men wanting power - we just want accountability.

"This had become a dictatorship where we simply weren’t being listened to and we couldn’t accept that any more."

In urging people to be positive about the future, Douglas revealed that he had "a very high-level businessman" among those with business and rugby backgrounds lined up to replace the non-executives who resigned, and that others had come forward in the past week expressing an interest. He insisted the committee members do want businessmen running the day-to-day affairs of Scottish rugby, but "the key is they must have a feel for rugby, which these ones didn’t".

Douglas and Hogarth listed decisions made by the executive with which they claimed the general committee either disagreed or knew nothing about, and explained how the committee found it difficult to justify these actions on a regular basis to angry clubs they were supposed to be representing.

Douglas said: "The appointment of Ian McGeechan as director of rugby without any advertisement was done without any word to us; the decision to divert more money to the international team while cutting severely the money to pro teams was one we argued as hard against as we possibly could. How can a pro team survive on a budget of 0.9 million as one was given last summer?

"The decision to play at Hampden Park in the autumn was one we said should not happen because it cost us financially, but we were told to keep out because we’d make a significant profit from the Test series but we actually made a 460,000 loss from the games. Worse still, they spent some money from that ‘profit’ on players none of the pro teams had targeted. Rugby people, with the kind of business background many of us have - I’m not the simple wee sheep farmer by the way, I actually deal with millions of pounds in a very large, long-running and successful livestock operation - could see that coming.

"The trip to Stobo Health Spa for the national squad, many of whom didn’t want to be there, sent out a bad signal to the game when finances were being cut from clubs. We heard about in the press, which wasn’t unusual.

"The point is these non-executive directors are supposed to look at the business independently, and ask the hard questions about things like that, and are not supposed to just go along with everything they’re told by the executives against all else. They failed to do that job over the past five years."

Hogarth admitted the year-long strategic review, and the publication of its proposals in December, had proved the final straw for the committee.

He said: "The Genesis review was an expensive exercise and came out with a lot of proposals clubs just would never agree with.

"I’ll tell you how that happened. We had working groups set up to discuss the review’s plans.; I was on groups covering ‘league reconstruction’ and ‘development of the game’.

"The groups met three times before committee members were involved and although I thought we were close to something on reconstruction neither had reached a conclusion before Ian McGeechan and Phil Anderton presented the final proposals.

"And then the proposals are miles away from what we discussed, particularly on league plans.

"Naturally, the clubs were asking us ‘where did you get that from?’ and ‘why did you sanction it?’ We had no idea, and we didn’t sanction the plans, because we’d never seen some of them. They were determined purely by Phil Anderton, David Mackay, Ian McGeechan and Alistair Gray of Genesis."

CLEARLY, the general committee has had to develop a thick skin to cope with the welter of criticism which has come the way of its members this week, but they have been stung, particularly by comments from players, past and present. "We have done a lot of this for the players," Douglas stormed, "so to be accused of trying to hurt them is unbelievable.

"The funding of the professional teams is a prime example of how our power has been useless in trying to avert disasters. It was the executive who said ‘we can’t afford the professional teams, we need to move to two’ and then, after we said they couldn’t, they responded by saying ‘okay, we’ll stick with your three but we’re cutting the funding’.

"We said ‘don’t do that’ and argued as hard as we could that the whole game would suffer if they went down that route, including the Scotland team. It was obvious that these three teams needed their spines strengthened.

"The pro teams needed the players they had signed up - we have been arguing for their contracts to be signed month after month after month - and they needed experienced new signings to give the youngsters a chance, and it was possible with the finances we had. I believe the structure we have is right, but you to fund it properly.

"I travel to games with the professional players and I watch these young lads being bashed week in week out - a promising part-time club lad facing [Springbok full-back] Percy Montgomery and trying his hardest but being beaten one-on-one; no wonder, Montgomery’s world-class. The lad felt he’d let everyone down.

"Do you think that gives me pleasure as a supporter? I have gone into meetings with executives who don’t go to these games. I told them this isn’t right; these players need more protection, more support, because they are at the centre of and vital to the future of Scottish rugby; and then I’m told I know nothing about it."

Calm may now descend on the sport for the fortnight before the sgm. The agenda for that meeting has now been completed, with the amendments down to around 40, however, contrary to a report yesterday, the amendment from the Premier One Forum does not call for the reinstatement of Mackay, which suggests that even the clubs feel it is time to move on with fresh faces.

Governance will dominate the sgm, but one week later Scotland are in France to start the RBS Six Nations Championship and that is where Scottish rugby is really judged. There is a lot of pulling together needed in the coming weeks if this current crisis is to alleviate. Today, that seems unlikely.

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