David Johnston column: A dark cloud continues to overshadow Murrayfield

Greater transparency required from SRU if trust is to be regained

Mark Dodson Murrayfield
Mark Dodson - Scottish Rugby CEO - at Murrayfield Stadium ***Image: Fotosport/David Gibson***

IT is now 19 days since that joint statement was issued by the SRU Board and Council which told us so little about the findings of the 14-week internal review into the management culture of senior staff and the apparent failure in effective governance at Murrayfield, and that dark cloud lingering over EH12 is showing no signs of shifting.

The SRU, presumably on the advice of the crisis communications specialist brought in to manage the whole sorry affair, have gone to ground, which is a big problem because there is a lot that just does not stack up. In fact, there’s not much that does.

That the statement is a sham can be the only explanation for the contrast between the contrition shown at the AGM and its banality. On the face of it, it looks like a brazen attempt at self-preservation and reputation management by the old Board – and a power play by the Executive and non-Council non-Execs, which has worryingly been rubber stamped by the Council. But the real picture is surely being hidden from us.


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Keith Russell has been airbrushed whilst the 14 NDA recipients and a few more have been inconsistently examined and desperately swept under the carpet, leaving them and dozens more seething at the whitewash.

Russell’s allegation that there is a toxic culture at Murrayfield, dismissed out of hand at various times by CEO Mark Dodson, past-President Rob Flockhart, Chairman of the Board Colin Grassie and current-President Dee Bradbury does not appear to have been examined at all. Neither has the minutiae of Dodson’s substantially enhanced contract extension. Rather, in a display of what Tom English of the BBC called ‘corporate bullying’, we have been told by exclusion that there is nothing to see here and that we should shut up and move on.

We certainly have that option but that would betray the interests of those former employees, not to mention the good name of our sport.

For an organisation that has nothing to hide, the statement is a joke, but it is certainly not funny for the NDAs. The hope, however, is that it is such a work of fiction, there must surely be good stuff happening in the background.

Trumpeting increased HR capability, as the statement does, when Dodson and his General Counsel Robert Howat seem to like to bypass it – Howat is head of HR – is hardly reassuring.

A bit of detail about the Remuneration Committee suggests that Grassie, Ian McLauchlan, and Flockhart were primarily responsible for Dodson’s contract extension granted after the Russell tribunal hearing but before the judgement was issued. What they knew about the hearing and how that information tallied with the written judgement, we are not told. But we are not being told very much at all.

Grassie’s AGM scriptwriters acknowledged 14 NDAs out of over 600 departures since 2011, including players and coaches. That has now morphed into acknowledgement that there are more than 14, and we are told that some of these extra ones have been looked at by the Board, but not the external advisors. Why not? We are not told.

What we in and close to the rugby press do know is that there are plenty more that have not been examined by anyone. As noted in a previous article, the only way to check that the culture is not toxic is to speak to all departees, those with and without NDAs. Added possibly to a privacy protected survey of current staff. There is no sign of either, however, so what we have is Russell’s claim being rubbished by those who say they know better and that’s the end of it.

I can’t say that I had high hopes for the review. On the face of it my worst fears from prior to the AGM have been realised. But the joke statement might conceal some serious action. For Grassie and Flockhart to be so contrite at the AGM and for the statement to finger no one for any failures does not stack up. Protecting employee privacy and data suggests that disciplinary action has been taken and that any affected employees do not want this known. Whatever, damaged goods could inhabit Murrayfield.

The Russell judgment was a wake-up call. The way the review of his case has been handled should have alarm bells ringing in clubhouses around the country and especially between the ears of the SRU Council members.


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David Johnston
About David Johnston 4 Articles
David Johnston played 27 times in the centre for Scotland out of Watsonians RFC, including all four matches during the 1984 Grand Slam season. He also coached the Myreside club, progressing through the ranks to Scotland A and ultimately the full national team between 1995 and 1998. He is a (now retired) lawyer and was an independent panellist on the Dunlop panel, which drew up the current SRU constitution after the previous governance structure imploded in 2005.

1 Comment

  1. Firstly the following comments are my thoughts and I trust they will be seen as that.

    For my money Non Disclosure Arrangements are for individuals in Commercially sensitive areas of employment and in my estimation that is not the SRU.
    It is wrong, I know, to judge a Book by its cover, or an individual by their photograph, but I look at Dodson and all I see is an individual that is, and sorry to his family and friends if I am wrong, a bit of a bully boy.
    It’s the old truism if you have nothing to hide then conduct an inquiry in the open enquiries.
    14 weeks of getting no genuine co-operation from Dodson reeks of obfuscation and intimidation, why else would you need NDA’s unless you have a tyrant as a CEO?

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