Welsh Rugby Union: Chairman shocked by Amanda Blanc resignation letter

Welsh Rugby Union chairman Richard Collier-Keywood says he was shocked to read the resignation speech of former board member Amanda Blanc.

Blanc's 2021 speech and resignation letter were included in the independent investigation that found aspects of the WRU culture sexist, misogynistic, racist and homophobic.

Blanc warned the WRU were "sitting on a ticking time bomb".

"She predicted the future that came about and it was true," he said.

"It was a Nostradamus moment."

Former Professional Rugby Board (PRB) chair Blanc stood down from the WRU board and PRB role she had held for less than two years in November 2021. The Aviva Group CEO says she was not listened to at the WRU.

"My biggest regret is Amanda is not still on the board," said Collier-Keywood, who was appointed as the first independent WRU chair in June 2023.

"She is a high-quality individual and wanted to give a lot to Welsh rugby and we have lost out because she is no longer with us.

"I don't want that to ever be the case again. I want to attract the best talent and it can't be acceptable they don't feel safe or feel they can't contribute to this important organisation."

Richard Collier-Keywood replaced Ieuan Evans as WRU chair
Richard Collier-Keywood replaced Ieuan Evans as WRU chair

'Missed opportunities'

A BBC Wales Investigates programme aired in January 2023 and uncovered allegations of sexism and misogyny at the WRU.

It resulted in the WRU commissioning the report which was published this week which stated there had been opportunities missed to enact culture change.

Questions remain for the WRU that, following Blanc's resignation speech and letter published in 2021, her concerns were not acted on as she warned the WRU they were "sitting on a ticking time bomb."

The BBC programme questioned why a critical report into the women's performance game in 2021 had not been published, with the WRU saying it did not have the permission of the authors or participants to publish the review.

In her letter, Blanc said she was deeply saddened at the approach taken towards the women's game review and conversations regarding women she had experienced.

Three weeks later, Blanc pulled no punches in her leaving speech where she described the women's review as "beyond disappointing and verging on insulting towards women".

"We should remember the review was started because of very specific bullying allegations," said Blanc.

"I know that because I sat in a car park for a one-hour-20-minute board meeting deciding what to do, where the first one hour and six minutes was listening to a discussion about how to defend the man at the centre of the allegations.

"It wasn't until I raised this fact there was an acceptance culture and behaviour should be reviewed.

"Only 27% of council members and 45% of this board found the time to contribute to a review about women that there was a serious and deep-rooted problem.

"Only three out of the eight executives felt that it was important enough to contribute to.

"Women who have already played the game for Wales and moved on care more about this issue than the current board, the district council members and the executive.

"That's the public perception - and there's the reality to back it up."

Blanc also stated in her speech she was questioned by the board whether she had sufficient business experience to be the chairwoman of the WRU's professional board.

At the time Blanc was in charge of a FTSE 100 company and on the 2021 Forbes most influential women in the world list.

She also recounted an example where the board were discussing reducing the sanctions for a WRU district council member who had made a misogynist comment along the lines of "women should know their place in the kitchen and stick to the ironing, men are the master race".

Blanc said that listening to members of the board saying it would be unfair to take away too many Six Nations tickets from the individual "was insulting and simply staggering".

"I still can't quite believe what I heard," said Blanc.

"Women should know their place in the kitchen and stick to the ironing. Men are the master race.

"I would say that some of you need to sit down, pause and reflect on what answer you would give to a select committee if this evidence was put in front of you.

"What would you say to the nation when an MP asks - does the WRU respect women?

"You have two women with employment tribunals after what looks like years of neglect. You are left with one woman on the board and by the way, absolutely no ethnic diversity at all.

"I am the UK government's women in finance champion - if I don't call out problems whenever I see them then that is a hollow appointment.

"My integrity won't allow me to sit silently and I am telling you loud and clear with your best interests at heart, you have a problem."

Blanc also raised concerns about the appointment of then chief executive Steve Phillips and the lack of a WRU overall strategy.

"It is frightening this organisation does not have a strategy and we have never discussed a strategy during my time at the WRU," said Blanc.

"In two years of board meetings [we have had] no strategic discussions, we have discussed museums but never a strategy.

"And finally the appointment of the CEO - this was another example of a really poor governance process that would never have been approved in any other organisation I have experienced around the world. It just wouldn't stand up to external public scrutiny."

Changes start to happen

Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Abi Tierney (left) and chair Richard Collier-Keywood (right) will form a new-look management team in 2024
Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Abi Tierney (left) and chair Richard Collier-Keywood (right) will form a new-look management team in 2024

Blanc's speech also raised concern about the WRU governance and the governing body has started to address some of those issues with the organisation saying the 36 recommendations of the independent report will be implemented in full.

Phillips resigned in January 2023 and the WRU has a new look-board in personnel and structure.

Interim WRU CEO Nigel Walker will move to an executive director of rugby position in January 2024, with Abi Tierney becoming the first female WRU chief executive.

An extraordinary general meeting (EGM) was called in March 2023, with the clubs voting for major governance change to the WRU board to provide greater diversity and expertise within the organisation.

The WRU was aiming to redress the gender imbalance, with an ambition that at least five of the 12 board members are women, including one of the top two jobs - the chief executive or chair. The report has suggested the board be reduced to 10 members.

The clubs voted for an appointed independent chair rather than somebody elected by the clubs. This resulted in former Wales captain Ieuan Evans stepping aside after only officially being appointed in October 2022, with Collier-Keywood then appointed in June 2023.

The number of independent members was doubled from three to six, while elected national or district members was halved from eight to four.