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Crisis can be a Catalyst for the future

06/05/2020

In the latest WRU Status Update CEO Martyn Phillips has described how the current crisis has increased the pace of change and become a catalyst for innovation accross a variety of departments at Welsh rugby’s HQ and chairman Gareth Davies appeals for the evolution to continue at World Rugby level.

Chairman comment:

The best organisations play to the strengths of the individuals contained therein. For example, at the Welsh Rugby Union our Board is ultimately responsible for the governance of our game, but we largely rely on our executive staff and our CEO to manage and implement strategy, which we agree on collectively.

This is a modern and professional approach and it is one that is reflected at a community level with clubs around Wales doing what they do best enabled and supported by the Union. Just as no-one would pick fifteen fly-halves to make up a rugby team, we all have a job to do and the trick is to match the right individuals to specific roles. This point has relevance to recent elections to the game’s top table.

Firstly, that the contest for the next chairman and vice-chairman of World Rugby, won by Bill Beaumont and Bernard Laporte respectively this week, was no sliding doors moment for the game. There was no fork in the road to take us this way or that, no black and white choice between Bill and his competitor, Agustin Pichot, just two capable and accomplished candidates with similar ambition and the enthusiasm to safeguard the future of rugby and, importantly, an established team of professionals around them.

Both candidates talked in earnest about a governance review for the game in their manifestos and this is where progress will be made. This is where the team around the chairman can be empowered and utilised in the collective interests of the game. A degree of modernisation has already been achieved and a lot of good work has been done in this area, but there is more to come and it is this issue that will define rugby in the years ahead. Secondly, or perhaps the same point in different terms, the chairman is a figurehead but good governance is a team effort.

World Rugby’s Executive Committee should feel the same weight of responsibility as its chairman, and be equally accountable, and now is also the time for the entire in-house team to step-up.

As has already been said, we have a golden opportunity ahead of us – presented by the current crisis - to set a new global calendar, which mitigates against clashes between the international game and the professional club season. We can cut the year into blocks and find a fixture list that is right for all.

If any decision is to set in motion a chain of events that will change the face of the game forever, for the better, it’s this one.

Yours in rugby, Gareth Davies WRU chairman

COVID-19 – the prospect of returning to play

Clubs may have read World Rugby's guidelines for the safe return to rugby activities via its player welfare website, full details here: playerwelfare.worldrugby.org/covid-19.

The guidelines are intended to be read alongside laws and policies implemented by local public health and government authorities in relation to COVID-19, including public gathering restrictions, social distancing and restrictions, and will be utilised by the WRU to help define policy at the appropriate time.

The detailed document outlines a phased approach to returning to training and playing. The guidance was developed in full collaboration with multiple Union Chief Medical Officers, including the WRU’s Prav Mathema, the International Rugby Players Association and infectious diseases experts. The document is also World Health Organisation compliant.

The guidelines provide information to everyone involved in the game including players, coaches, support and administrative staff. For the avoidance of doubt, the guidelines do not state that matches will have to be played behind closed doors until a vaccine is available – this strategy will be determined by respective national legislation.

The guidelines are hugely dependent on the Government's guidelines and their effect on both the sport and the running of our rugby clubs.

  • Government guidelines will continue shape the time frames of our return to training and play
  • The WRU’s COVID-19 working group is already planning what this may include for clubs
  • Guidelines for community clubs will be published soon after the Government’s guidance is delivered

Club finances:

WELSH GOVERNMENT ECONOMIC RESILIANCE FUND

A number of clubs who applied at an early stage to the Economic Resilience Fund are now receiving payments from Welsh Government. Due to the scale of demand, the Fund has been paused to give Welsh Government the opportunity to consider what further support businesses, charities and social enterprises need. It is recommended that you continue to monitor the Business Wales website for further updates.

CLUB GUIDES

Over the next few weeks we will be providing a set of easy to follow guides directly to clubs on a range of business continuity topics. Last week, our focus was on assisting clubs to access all Welsh Government financial support that may be available and identifying those who were ‘falling through the cracks’ for funding.

In Club Guide 1, we asked clubs to follow the flowchart provided to determine eligibility for either the Welsh Government Business Support Scheme administered by Local Authorities or the Economic Resilience Fund. To date, we have received 15 responses from clubs indicating that they are unable to access financial support, if you have determined that you are not eligible for funding please let us know as soon as possible.

This week, Club Guide 2 was issued directly to club Secretaries, it focusses on the financial planning your club should now be implementing for the forthcoming months and covers the following key areas: Financial Forecasting; Managing external payments; Opportunities to switch or renegotiate contracts and tariffs. Please get in touch if you need further help on this subject.

Gilbert ball donations

Children and young people in Wales can keep active at home during the coronavirus lockdown thanks to a donation of Gilbert rugby balls. The WRU has donated 130 junior Gilbert training balls (size3/4) no longer needed for planned summer festivals, to be distributed to families across Wales by the Street Games charity in a bid to help keep people fit and active at home. The donation has been provided as part of the ongoing response to the Coronavirus crisis adding to a variety of community outreach initiatives to keep families, children and young people happy and active during this difficult lockdown period including a series of fun garden activity guides. Rugby fans looking for ways to stay active at home can find out more by visiting https://www.wrugamelocker.wales/en/resources-and-videos/resources/wru-activity-stayhomestaysafe/ The donation supports StreetGames’ #SportHelps campaign – a national effort to provide alternative ways for young people from disadvantaged communities to stay active at home in the absence of regular sports sessions. The charity is overseeing distribution of the donated rugby balls in coordination with local community sports clubs across Wales and they will go out alongside food parcels and other essentials. The #SportHelps campaign - through partnerships with sporting organisations, community groups and businesses - is helping young people and their communities by providing resources, supplies, and advice to improve mental and physical wellbeing during the current pandemic. WRU Community Director Geraint John said, "We are glad to be able to help out in this way. It is vital to keep our minds and bodies fit and active during this period. These smaller sized Gilbert balls were destined to be used at inclusion events throughout this spring including some joint programmes with Street Games. We look forward to working together on exciting projects again in the future." Rugby News

CEO comment:

A couple of weeks ago I outlined in the weekly update what pieces of work we would need to address in the coming months.

Ways of working and communication were high up the list, as we know we will need to adjust to a "new normal" as restrictions are gradually lifted in the weeks and months ahead. We also know that a crisis very often speeds up the pace of change and is a catalyst for innovation. We fully intend not to miss this opportunity to bring rapid change.

Communication and how we work are potentially a big opportunity for Welsh rugby. We have realised that we have a golden opportunity to develop some new and better habits. You will hopefully have noticed that we have dialled up our communication considerably both in terms of providing more information and importantly consulting quickly on critical issues – the club survey being a good case in point.

We have also pushed to be as open and transparent as we possibly can be, to remove uncertainty wherever possible. Our messaging has been the same internally and externally so largely everyone is getting the same message at the same time. Now is not a time for mixed messages or a communication vacuum. We feel this is working well and plan to maintain this level of transparency and accessibility going forward.

With reference to the change I mentioned earlier, technology has played a critical role in our ability to run the business remotely. In a matter of weeks we are all now au fait with Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams and Google Hang-outs. They were all there before we just didn’t use them to any great degree. Our individual departments have found new ways to operate, Dan Clements, one of our performance managers is a great example. Dan has been hosting a series of guest speakers in online forums designed to help coaches with their Continued Professional Development. Because these meetings are entirely online they are more accessible to more coaches around the country and his attendance numbers have doubled.

There are examples all over our organisation which can be rolled out, once clubs are back up and running from Principality Building Society’s excellent virtual ‘Clubhouse Quiz’ initiative hosted by Nigel Owens, to the bespoke fitness and activity plans that our high performance department have shared for children, young adults, aspiring players and our professionals.

Going forward we fully intend to maintain our higher levels of usage of these technologies to make our organisation more productive and efficient. We now know that we don’t need individuals to be driving all over Wales for monthly meetings. Much of that can be catered for by shorter sharper weekly meetings online.

When it comes to ticketing, safeguarding and regulatory briefings as examples, we no longer need to inefficiently trek to nine District meetings. We can get to the important people who matter quickly and easily through virtual meetings in a very targeted approach. The expense of trains to London and flights to Dublin is significant for our various Pro14, Six Nations and World Rugby meetings. We know we can manage this very differently going forward, with a balance of face-to-face and virtual meetings. The list goes on and we are excited about the future. Less travel, less cost, less inconvenience and our time used much more productively.

How good will this be for our vital club volunteers who can access WRU staff quickly and easily online rather than travel at potentially inconvenient times? A future where coach and referee development can be delivered in a timely, focused and personalised manner online. Watch this space.

To finish my theme, we clearly have some decisions to make in terms of what a ‘gradual return to work’ means – is this in fact not a return to work but rather a return to the office? In honesty we have been so successful at being able to work remotely, we do not have an urgent need to return to the office. We understand that travel practices will take time to adjust and why would we unnecessarily expose our staff, when we have mastered working remotely. So we intend to continue to innovate and see how we can get more and more adept at using technology to help run the organisation.

On that happy day when we can get back on the pitch, I very much hope that the time and money we used to spend travelling can be re-invested into grass roots rugby for the greater good for our people, our clubs and our environment.

Stay safe, Martyn Phillips WRU CEO

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