SRU considers Court of Arbitration for Sport after misconduct verdict

The Japan-Scotland game went ahead in Yokohama after concerns about Typhoon Hagibis. Picture: Stu Forster/Getty Images
The Japan-Scotland game went ahead in Yokohama after concerns about Typhoon Hagibis. Picture: Stu Forster/Getty Images
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The Scottish Rugby Union is considering going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport after it was found guilty of misconduct for “inappropriate and ill-judged” comments by chief executive Mark Dodson before the Rugby World Cup match with Japan and the arrival of Typhoon Hagibis.

An independent disputes committee convened by World Rugby gave a formal reprimand to the SRU, told the union to write a “meaningful” apology to the governing body and tournament organisers, and fined the union £70,000.

The Japan-Scotland game in Yokohama on 13 October was to determine who progressed from Pool A to the quarter-finals, but World Rugby announced that the match was at risk of being cancelled, like three others in the area, because the typhoon was the strongest in 60 years to approach Japan.

Dodson made clear 
during a press conference in Yokohama that public safety was paramount but railed against the cancellation threat and took legal advice on the matter.

He criticised tournament organisers and World Rugby for not having contingency plans and for rigidly sticking to the regulation that a game be cancelled if it can’t be played on the scheduled day. The typhoon killed more than 80 people but the match went ahead as scheduled, with Japan beating Scotland 28-21 to reach the quarter-finals.

In announcing the decision of its Independent Disputes Committee, World Rugby said Dodson’s comments “amounted to misconduct and brought the game into disrepute”.

World Rugby added it “strongly believed the comments, which suggested an unfair and disorganised treatment of all teams, to be inappropriate and ill-judged at a time when Japan was preparing for the largest and most destructive typhoon in decades.

“Such comments brought the game into disrepute, not only in relation to World Rugby’s handling of an extraordinary situation, but also in the message that it sent to the Japanese people.”

The £70,000 fine is to go to the Childfund Pass it Back programme, a charity assisting with the ongoing relief effort in areas affected by Typhoon Hagibis.

The statement added: “Prior to its decision, the committee gave the parties ample time to resolve the dispute. World Rugby made an open offer to the SRU which required the SRU to apologise for its conduct and make a donation to the Typhoon disaster relief fund in Japan. The SRU suggested alternative wording which included a mutual expression of regret from both parties, and no apology.”

With no avenue of appealing the judgment made by a committee comprising chair Christopher Quinlan QC (England), Adam Casselden SC (Australia) and Nigel Hampton QC (New Zealand), the SRU is now exploring avenues of arbitration over what one senior union source described as a “bizarre” decision. Murrayfield chiefs are unlikely to wish to offer a “grovelling apology” for simply wanting the match to be played. Sponsors and fellow unions are said to have expressed support.

The SRU tweeted: “We will now reflect on this outcome and further consider all our options, which may include arbitration.”

Two misconduct charges were brought against the SRU by World Rugby, the first referring to comments made by Dodson to a UK newspaper, the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, and at the Scotland team announcement on 11 October. The second was over comments attributed to “an SRU spokesperson” in a UK newspaper on 10 October and the SRU’s legal adviser Nick De Marco QC in other UK newspapers on the following two days.

Last week, The Scotsman learned the union was bracing itself for a six-figure penalty but, after being cleared of the second charge, it has fallen short of that severity.

The £70,000 sanction remains a punitive one, though, and seems likely to be challenged vigorously.