SRU chief Mark Dodson silent at AGM over Keith Russell fall-out

Dee Bradbury was confirmed as the Scottish Rugby's President, the first female to be appointed to the role. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS/SRU
Dee Bradbury was confirmed as the Scottish Rugby's President, the first female to be appointed to the role. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS/SRU

In recent years it has been standard for SRU chief executive Mark Dodson to speak to the press at the conclusion of the AGM but there was none of that yesterday after what turned into a three-and-a-quarter hour meeting in the Presidents Suite of BT Murrayfield.

The bulk of that was taken up by a lively debate about issues surrounding the Agenda 3 revamp of the domestic game and the launch in 2019-20 of the new part-time professional Super 6 league. However, before that there were robust statements made on the fallout from the union’s loss in June at an employment tribunal of the unfair dismissal case launched by former director of domestic rugby Keith Russell, although there was no comment on the matter from Dodson, who was heavily criticised by the tribunal judge.

Outgoing president Rob Flockhart used the platform to apologise to member clubs for the situation the union had found itself in before board chairman Colin Grassie gave a detailed update of the SRU’s position.

“We are not proud of this episode,” he said. “This is a matter that we have and are taking extremely seriously and we fully understand the concerns raised. We owe you, our stakeholders, clarity on a number of points.

“On 7 June, I opened the email to the board confirming the decision of the tribunal and it was a very tough read to say the least. The board and I recognised immediately that this was a low moment for Scottish Rugby.

“On behalf of the board, I immediately turned to [former solicitor-general] Lesley Thomson, a senior independent director, to undertake a review. The board moved quickly to define her remit. This was documented and shared with council on 15 June… The remit was fully confirmed by the board on 15 June with the focus on better understanding the decisions made by all parties, the processes followed, with clarification on [the question of] how did we get to that tribunal decision.”

When the in-house review was announced earlier in the summer the reasoning was that it would expedite the process with a hope of having public conclusions in time for the AGM. After bringing in external assistance, that has now been pushed back to next month.

Grassie continued: “The board is now reviewing this comprehensive report in detail and are discussing matters that arise from it. The board is externally advised while carrying out this work. It is our intention to conclude these matters in early September, when we will share these with the council and make a public statement thereafter.”

Grassie also revealed a further external review is being held into the union’s use of non-disclosure agreements, a settlement which was rejected by Russell but has been used in the cases of 14 non-playing and coaching members of staff. The chairman described NDAs as “an accepted and legitimate tool used within any business environment, particularly when the leaving individual possesses commercially sensitive information”.

Grassie also revealed a further review is being made into the governance structure of the SRU with a view to modernising the one that came in following the Dunlop Report in 2005. Dodson used his report to announce increased funding for clubs.

The main motion of the meeting, proposed by Aberdeen Grammar, was passed to allow a debate on matters relating to the Agenda 3 revamp of the domestic game and the knock-on effects of Super 6.

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend expressed his support for the new part-time professional league, while a range of views were expressed on issues surrounding where the club XVs of the winning franchises will play and whether or not the domestic game below Super 6 should be strictly amateur.

The issue will now be subject to further consultation with the clubs.

A motion to give clubs control over how league and cup competitions are structured was also passed.

Ian Barr of Lasswade was resounding victor in the election for a new vice-president, while history was made as Dee Bradbury took her place as the SRU’s first ever female president and the first woman to hold such a post amongst the top rugby nations.

Bradbury said: “We speak about the strength of our sport being the absence of barriers. We celebrate inclusion and diversity. Today is a ringing endorsement of the welcome Scottish rugby provides to anybody.”