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Nigel Walker

Walker publishes details of 2021 Women’s Performance Mid-term review

Welsh Rugby Union interim CEO Nigel Walker has published details from a letter he wrote to the Senedd’s Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport and International Relations to follow up on commitments made after appearing before it, alongside WRU chair Ieuan Evans, in February.

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Walker’s letter describes the full list of recommendations from the WRU’s Women’s Performance mid-term review commissioned in May 2021, in response to a request made during the Senedd hearing.

It stops short of detailing the full contents of the review which led to the formation of its recommendations, because of the terms under which it was originally conducted.

A panel, comprised of Helen Phillips, Chair of Commonwealth Games Wales, Amanda Bennett, former Wales Women vice-captain and Sport Wales Board Member and former Wales coach Kevin Bowring, wrote the review and sought testimony from a wide range of sources, with all parties agreeing that anonymous contributions would yield the best results during the process.

Although the review will remain a private document, its full list of recommendations are now freely available and Walker has already made the commitment that a new Independent Review (Taskforce) set up to examine culture and behaviour at the WRU will be privy to its full contents, as well as any other documents it may wish to or need to see.

“Whilst this period has been extremely challenging for us, I hope you can appreciate that our intention is to accept and learn from the challenges we face, and to change the way that we work day to day, as well as renewing our governance, community and operational structures,” writes Walker, in the letter addressed to Delyth Jewell MS, Chair Senedd Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport, and International Relations Committee.

“In tackling some of the issues raised, we have received a great deal of challenge and advice from the Welsh Government and Sport Wales and you will know that progress has been made in appointing an independent Chair (NB this process now concluded) and outlining the terms of references of the external Taskforce.”

Of the 40 recommendations made by the review, Walker confirms that the vast majority have been implemented already.

“The review made very challenging reading for us and described a committed squad of high-performance athletes frustrated by the support they were receiving, with failures in strategic and operational management, and not enough care, resource and encouragement for our international players to perform at their best,” Walker continues.

“The review report also made clear that we had not ensured that our female players felt fully welcomed, valued and an equal part of our game.

“The recognition of these serious failures as an organisation led to rapid changes, and of the 40 recommendations that were made as part of the review, most have been implemented in full, with further action required in other areas.

“We have been heartened by the immediate positive outcomes…

 

“…but whilst changes to management, investment in resources and new professional contracts have led to positive change, we recognise that considerably more needs to be done to ensure that women players at all levels receive the support they need to flourish and that we need to continue to change the way our organisation works day to day to be more inclusive.

“I can only apologise again for the challenging environment and the personal impact it has had on the women involved.”

Elsewhere in the letter Walker references the WRU’s commitment to openness and transparency made at the Committee and specifically responds to questions about settlements and grievances the Group has been involved in over the last five years.

He confirms the WRU employs some 224 staff directly, whilst there are 430 in the wider WRU Group which includes Principality Stadium staff, and that six grievances have been heard which relate to poor culture or behaviour in the previous five years.

He says the WRU Group has entered into a settlement agreement on four occasions in the last five years in relation to a grievance that had been raised and that three members of staff have been subject to disciplinary action over that time period.

“The Committee are right to highlight that we should not wait until the Taskforce completes its work before we make changes, specifically to ensure that our staff feel safe, supported and valued, and that we tackle incidents and behaviours in a robust and consistent matter,” he adds.

“…we have invested in new procedures and enhanced and restructured our human resources team, with a particular focus on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.

“The HR Team has sought external expertise to provide advice and support in reviewing all of our people policies in 2022, which includes our EDI, whistleblowing and grievance policies, to ensure these are as robust as possible.

“This period of challenge has made us doubly committed to develop an everyday working culture that is professional, inclusive and welcoming.

“Changing culture takes time, but we are determined to do it, and in addition to the work of the Taskforce, we are looking again at immediate things that we can do and have done to support our staff.”

FURTHER INFORMATION

Women’s Performance Mid-Term Review recommendations:

1. Implement player contracts

2. Board to set long-term strategic commitment to Women’s Performance Rugby

3. Establish a Women’s Performance Working Group

4. Executive team to review and plan how to maximise business opportunities offered by the women’s game

5. Produce an annual operational plan

6. Establish a clearn management and reporting structure

7. Appoint a Head of Women’s Performance Rugby and a Head of Women’s Community Rugby

8. Appoint a Women’s Rugby Steering Group

9. Implement a performance structure

10. Start to explore, negotiate and plan the involvement of Welsh super clubs in a GB league from 2023 onwards

11. Plan a structured season that caters for growing the game and developing the talent within the game

12. Establish a robust and visible performance pathway that is player centred, development driven and competition supported

13. Invest in quality human resources to support the performance pathway programme

14. Appoint an executive director of people

15. Elevate the need for change in the women’s game to the risk register

16. Head Coach to report directly to the new Performance Director

17. Contract the management team through to the end of the 2025 RWC

18. Appoint a physician and full medical team

19. Appoint a sports psychologist

20. Provide adequate medical cover for the talent development pathway

21. Appoint a full time S&C coach with a qualified assistant and intern

22. Appoint a full-time second analyst and a qualified intern to support a Head of Analysis for the Women’s game

23. Create, maintain and monitor a plyer depth chart and succession plan

24. Integrate the women’s game into business planning and set departmental objectives

25. Develop and deliver an education programme within the WRU and externally to the wider game to highlight the importance of equality and inclusion of women in rugby in Wales

26. Improve communication internally and externally with regard to women’s rugby

27. Set a disaggregated budget for women’s performance that ensures there is sufficient human an financial resource

28. Women’s performance reports into PRB through Performance Director

29. Performance Director must be accountable for women’s performance and Head of Women’s Performance should report directly into PD

30. Board to receive training on women’s game and women’s performance, including international landscape and benchmarks and issues specific to women in rugby

31. Team management to identify team values and role models to instil celebrate and challenge team values regularly and consistently in addition to reviewing behaviours and emphasising core values

32. Performance Director to lead the development of winning behaviours

33. Renew emphasis on WRU Values

34. Engage the support of the newly appointed World Rugby Head of Women’s Performance

35. Align performance and community strategies with regard to the girls and women’s rugby

36. Appoint a dedicated Sevens Head Coach to work with Sevens players and to direct the regional age grade Sevens programme

37. Re-instate Wales representative teams at u18, u20 and A Level

38. Appoint a Head Coach for the 15 a-side programme

39. Implement an annual health check/pulse survey as part of Performance Director, Head of Women’s Performance and Head Coaches’ appraisals

40. Continue with team performance debriefs with input from players about their experiences

Walker also points out the following in the letter:
“You may also know that we have recently implemented changes in the community game following a review across all levels of the women’s game and a widespread consultation process involving more than 1700 players, coaches, parents, stakeholders and collaborated with experts in varying fields including medical, physiological sport development, and other sectors.

The review looked at a range of areas to further support the growth of the female game in Wales and ensure that there is equitable and sustainable rugby provision for women and girls.

The review covered broad aspects of the game, including season and competition structure, formats of the game and measures that could be put in place to help Welsh rugby structures to adapt to improve the female player pathway and support player development. It also covered issues such as training schedules, facilities and changing rooms, representation, attitudes and support from within the wider rugby community.

Key recommendations of the review were that the playing pathways girls and women were adapted and progressed, with changes to competition structures and further development of the community-based Female Hubs and further changes to the senior domestic competition.

We are delighted that the women’s game in Wales has recently grown significantly, with an increase of more than 50% in regular female players since community rugby restarted in 2020. There are now 37 Female Hubs all over Wales, with 5000 women and girls registered, and with teams from under 7s to under 18s and senior women.

We have invested in the women and girls’ game at all levels and have reviewed our playing opportunities and competitive pathways to adapt to the needs of our young people as we develop, grow, and protect the game in Wales. We have grown the number of Female Hubs, reviewed the playing framework for girls and our Hub Officers provided a diverse range of competitions, events and festivals for girls across Wales.

Our objective is to engage 10,000 women and girls in regular rugby activities by 2026, while enhancing the opportunities for girls within the pathway across all ages. I look forward to outlining in more detail our plans for growing the number of women and girls across rugby and building a union that we can all be proud of.”

NB the WRU has also recently launched three new player development centres for Wales women’s stars of tomorrow.

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