WRU chief denies ‘master-slave’ dealings with regions amid Welsh rugby issues
Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Steve Phillips has denied there is a “master-slave relationship” between the WRU and the four regions of Wales.
A disastrous weekend for Welsh rugby, with over 80 points between the men and the Under-20s in Ireland, has only highlighted the problems facing Welsh rugby.
Many of these refer to the Union’s governance of the game and its performance pathways in this country, with the regions having been hobbled in recent times by the £20m loan albatross from the loan scheme for the corporate shutdown of the coronavirus around their collective necks.
Now Phillips has revealed he is confident negotiations to refinance the loan will be concluded within the next three weeks.
The WRU negotiated the loan for Wales’ four professional teams at the start of the pandemic in 2020 to avoid financial disaster.
However, the initial unfavorable terms of the loan meant that regions initially had to repay it over a three-year period.
Once the loan is renegotiated, the four regions will have to repay the interest payments to the WRU.
“We’re pretty much in agreement in principle and I’m very optimistic,” Phillips said. “It’s agreed, and we’re now at the documentation stage.
“Let’s just say we were delayed two to three weeks due to crowds or no crowds [in Wales], etc Everything is in progress, and it is imminent that we will finish this. I hope to do so in the next two or three weeks.
“We had to do the CBILS at the time because it was the only thing available to us.
“CBILS will be refinanced with the Welsh Government hopefully over the next two weeks and then the deal will effectively become a refinance with the Welsh Government.”
The loan has drawn widespread criticism, with regions questioning the morality of having to repay it on such unfavorable terms, while former Harlequins chief executive Mark Evans called the decision “inexplicable”.
This sentiment is exacerbated by the fact that the regions have received significantly less from the Union in terms of payment for the services of Welsh internationals since the start of the pandemic.
However, Phillips insists that without the loan, the regions probably wouldn’t be around right now.
“I’m pretty confident that would have been the answer,” Phillips said when asked if any of the pro teams would have gone bankrupt.
On the question of whether the loan was immoral in the way it was fashioned, Phillips denied any kind of “master and slave relationship” with the four regions.
“I don’t recognize that. I don’t think there is a master-slave relationship, and there is no such conversation at the PRB level covering this point.
“There are a few points there. As far as the structure currently in place is concerned, everything has been agreed at PRB level.
“There is documentation that reflects that. As for what we are doing now, that is all that we have discussed and agreed at the PRB level.
“To your question, who I think is what you’re asking me, ‘should you have paid them more?’ We were in a pandemic, there was no revenue around, etc. etc. To your point about our business partnerships, no they didn’t.
“A lot of them resisted, but don’t underestimate the amount of lost revenue.”
Phillips also touched on the impending departure of PRB President Amanda Blanc. Aviva’s chief executive will step down in February, just months after she was named one of Forbes’ top 30 most powerful women of 2021. It’s noteworthy how all four regions congratulated her on her resignation was announced, however, the reasons for his departure have remained secret until now.
Phillips, however, would not be convinced that she disagreed with corporate governance in the union or that there was an “irrefutable gun” in the form of a letter to the WRU explaining her reasons.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Phillips said.
“I think what we have to recognize is that Amanda has done a great job in very difficult circumstances. She walked straight into the pandemic.
“She’s been great, so I think Welsh rugby owes her a huge sense of gratitude. A headhunter has been appointed to find her successor, and we want this resolved as quickly as possible.”
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