The Scottish Rugby Union’s AGM at the weekend was surprising in that the result of every vote was not entirely predictable. Sure, it turned out that the votes were in line with expectations, but at least there were debates and though I could not be there, I am assured that some passionate points were made and there was at least a number of forensic arguments rather than the ‘nod throughs’ of bygone years.
So now we know the Super6 is here for a good while yet, and chief executive Mark Dodson wants that level to increase to eight or 10 teams. Having the league in place and working made it difficult to argue for an immediate return to an inter-district championship as the proposers wanted, but at least the subject was aired and discussed.
I am sorry there won’t be an immediate return for an inter-district competition, but at least the possibility will be considered and consulted on at length, even if I surmise that the outcome will be that there is insufficient money for both Super6/8/10 and district levels. Bridging the gap between the amateur game and the professional level is a problem which will take years to solve, but Super6 has made a start and if a way could be found to also have a district championship then it would help to resolve a puzzle which has long baffled much bigger brains than mine.
We will also soon know exactly how the SRU is spending the total £20million Covid-19 bailout cash from the Scottish Government. The Council and Board agreed on transparency – they could do little else, given it is taxpayers’ money – but tried to throw out the bit of the motion about not spending cash on the recruiting of non-Scottish qualified players. The Board and Council argued such a ban might be illegal discrimination under the Equality Act – a dubious contention in my view – but the AGM’s participants voted it through anyway, and good for them. We have had some tremendous imports in recent years, but it really is time the money was spent on developing Scottish-based, Scottish-qualified players from school level up.
The third contentious motion caused a lot of feeling, to put it mildly. As far as I know, no one ever said the legal team at Murrayfield were duff at their job, but conflicts of interest were alleged and now at least these concerns will be addressed by the Standing Committee on Governance.
Of course the AGM of the SRU will never discuss the big issues such as why the governing body owns and effectively operates the two professional outfits, but at least last Sunday’s meeting dealt openly with several matters that in previous years might have been kiboshed before anyone got to speak.
To my mind, what was said afterwards by John Jeffrey and Mark Dodson in particular was the best bit of the weekend. As reported by my estimable colleague David Barnes yesterday, Jeffrey pledged resources to the Scotland women’s team to try to make the World Cup finals, while Dodson’s remarks were more wide-ranging and indicated serious intent: “Our ambition is to direct investment and support to our best players to retain parity with the best nations in the world, while also outlining a plan to rebuild our player and club base from the bottom up.
“But we can’t do this alone. We’ll need every club [in Scotland] to be open to the idea of women’s and girls’ teams and that begins with a sincere welcome and is demonstrated by women being treated equally from day one.
“Appropriate facilities need to be developed and places found for women in the governance structure and at grassroots level. We plan to incentivise clubs that make the most progress and eventually look at professional teams under the umbrella of our pro teams in Glasgow and Edinburgh.”
That is a pretty impressive statement and long overdue. Back in the day, my old club Lismore on the south side of Edinburgh was the first in Scotland to have women as full members by constitutional right. It was the right thing to do back then and it is still the right thing to do.
The SRU’s pledges to boost women’s rugby at all levels is a promise they must keep and as Dodson suggests, that will mean every club in Scotland playing its part.
There will be a few dinosaurs on club committees wanting no changes and other misogynists
will want no women on board, but they are a dying breed and any sensible member of the rugby community knows that getting women and girls to play rugby is the correct way forward – not politically correct, just the right thing to do.
And if our national women’s team could make the World Cup finals for the first time since 2010, it would be a huge boost not just to women’s rugby, but Scottish rugby as a whole.