It may have been the annual general meeting but SRU chief executive Mark Dodson used part of his state of the union address, or Scottish Rugby Update to follow correct agenda parlance, to defend his near eight years at the helm.
On the back of the headline of turnover being up £3.9 million to a record £61.1m, Dodson pointed to the fact that a national team who were 13th in the world rankings when he took over have since risen as high as fifth and, in his words, will take the best prepared squad ever to the Rugby World Cup in Japan. Improvements in the national women’s and sevens teams were also highlighted.
Yesterday’s AGM at BT Murrayfield contained no motions to vote on but still produced a few pointed questions from the floor, including a number of wide-ranging pre-submitted ones from 2015-16 union president Ed Crozier.
After current SRU president Dee Bradbury had closed the meeting, Dodson spoke to the written press for the first time in over a year.
The chief executive had not done so since last June in Houston during the summer Test tour of the Americas following the loss of an unfair dismissal tribunal brought by former director of domestic rugby Keith Russell, father of Scotland stand-off Finn, in which Dodson was heavily criticised by the judge.
An internal review by non-executive director of the Scottish Rugby Board and former Solicitor General of Scotland Lesley Thomson QC, was heavily redacted and an “independent” Governance Review has since been commissioned from Bill Gammell, the former Scotland internationalist and businessman.
Gammell’s links with Dodson – he was part of the panel which decided the winning Super 6 franchises – have raised eyebrows, as has the admission confirmed at yesterday’s meeting that, like the Thomson report, this Governance Review may not be made fully public either.
“Bill and I have never been social friends, we’ve never had a 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,” said Dodson.
Of course, the accusations were never that he and Gammell were bosom buddies, but that their past associations brought into question how independent such a review could be.
“The transparency is clearly a hot agenda issue for you guys and I understand that – sympathise with it – but you’ve got to understand that some of the things that we do are internal reviews for our own purposes, that are there to make our own management of what we are trying to do better, improve, more clarity,” said Dodson “They are not consultations or reviews for the outside world.”
Asked why there couldn’t be a promise to make the Gammell review as open and published in full as the report by Sheriff Bill Dunlop into SRU governance in 2005 was, Dodson replied: “That’s a matter for Bill Gammell.
“It’s his review and ultimately he is and will be speaking to numerous people in the rugby world 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 knows 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 further from the union – and I don’t think Bill is the kind of man who is going to allow a report of his to go through a number of filters.”
Dodson also addressed some questioning of the fanfare last week that the union’s financial accounts were “historic debt free”.
“Every year, for the last 20 years, we’ve looked at our net cash/cap position and that’s what we’ve always classed as where we are going to be debt free,” said Dodson. “And it was £23m at its highest peak – in 2003 I think – when I came it was £14.4m, and now it is at zero.”
There may be some nit-picking about what could be viewed as a bit of spin on that issue, but there can be no arguing with the national governing body’s strong financial performance in recent years. Dodson thus has every right to point to some huge strides taken since what were not so long ago some pretty dark and dispiriting times for the sport in this country.
And yet the chief executive remains a divisive figure among the rugby public, with Super 6, in particular, continuing to raise hackles. “In a business like ours, it’s going to be home to a thousand opinions,” is Dodson’s reasoning. “A home to people who are finding it more difficult to survive going forward in the new world. What we’re trying to provide is a framework that allows people to be sustainable, to improve performance and participation as we go through changing times.
“There will always be people who disagree with us. If you go and look at any other union, there are opponents. You’re never going to take the whole church with you. My job is to make sure I take most of the people with me most of the time.”
Dodson also revealed that he expects to appoint a new director of (high-performance) rugby “in a few weeks”, to replace Scott Johnson, who left the post to return to his native Australia earlier this year.
The SRU gained a new full member club when the application from Banff RFC was accepted.