Welsh Rugby Union: Steve Phillips resigns as WRU chief executive amid claims of ‘toxic culture’

Steve Phillips has resigned as chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union

Steve Phillips has resigned as chief executive officer of the Welsh Rugby Union amid allegations of a “toxic culture” at the organisation.

Phillips had previously resisted calls for his resignation, which came after a documentary aired allegations of misogyny, sexism, racism and homophobia at the game’s governing body in Wales. It was announced by the WRU on Sunday (29 January) that he had resigned from his position.

Former Olympic hurdler and Wales wing Nigel Walker moves up from the union’s performance director to take the acting CEO position with immediate effect.

A number of former Welsh Rugby Union employees took part in an investigation by BBC Wales – which was screened on Monday (23 January) night – with accusations about their time at the organisation, detailing claims of a “toxic culture” there. Charlotte Wathan, general manager of women’s rugby until her resignation last February, spoke of how a male colleague said in front of others in an office that he wanted to “rape” her, while another unnamed contributor says she was left contemplating suicide by her experiences of bullying and sexism at work.

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What has WRU said?

WRU chair Ieuan Evans had vowed that an external taskforce will be established to help tackle the allegations that have been made. Phillips attended the meeting about the new taskforce, but had since decided it was “time for someone else to lead the way”. “It is with a huge amount of regret that I have decided to hand in my resignation,” said Phillips in WRU’s statement.

Steve Phillips has resigned as the WRU chief executive. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)Steve Phillips has resigned as the WRU chief executive. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Steve Phillips has resigned as the WRU chief executive. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

“I have always had the best interests of Welsh rugby at the heart of my every action and thought, but have come to the conclusion that it is now time for someone else to lead the way. This is a sport I love and is so admired around the world and I wish everyone involved in the game every success and my heartfelt best wishes.

“I am absolutely aligned with Ieuan’s commitment to re-examine and further improve the cultures and behaviours at the WRU and fully support the formation of a new independent Taskforce. I am pleased I have been able to start this process for the WRU. On a personal note, I wish Nigel Walker well and thank all of the dedicated staff at the WRU who can be extremely proud of the efforts and hard work they put in on a daily basis to the betterment of our game.

“I am on record already saying how much I hugely regret the feelings and emotions expressed recently by former members of staff.”

Welsh players demand ‘strongest possible action’ on WRU allegations

The Welsh Rugby Players Association (WRPA), which represents players at Welsh rugby’s four leading teams, Dragons, Scarlets, Ospreys and Cardiff, has now called for “the strongest possible action being taken as soon as possible”. A letter signed by players’ body chair Ashton Hewitt and chief executive Gareth Lewis said: “We are writing on behalf of the Welsh Rugby Players Association (WRPA) to say we are appalled by the recent allegations of misogyny and discrimination in Welsh rugby… we strongly condemn discrimination of any kind.

“As stakeholders in Welsh rugby, we all have a responsibility to actively combat any form of intolerance and discrimination – including misogyny, sexism, racism and homophobia – setting an example for the wider community to which our organisations contribute. This is something that begins internally. These unacceptable incidents, arising from a culture that enables such behaviour, have a profound impact on individuals and communities throughout society, and within the game we love.

“It is time that the WRU and its leadership truly takes responsibility for living up to the inclusive values that rugby claims to pride itself on. Otherwise, discriminatory behaviours, with a lack of condemnation and consequences, create an environment that discourages people from being part of our game, including but not limited to women and those from marginalised groups.

“Specifically, we urge the WRU to investigate the process that was carried out when the allegations were originally raised and review the outcomes. We also call for transparency with all stakeholders and the public regarding the outcome of the review we understand will now be conducted into the WRU’s culture, along with what solutions will be put in place as a result, to ensure that such occurrences are prevented in the future.

“Ultimately, we support the strongest possible action being taken as soon as possible, to address the wide-ranging concerns that have been voiced from across the game and our nation. Without the appropriate action being taken, it sends a clear message to victims of sexism, misogyny, racism and any other form of discrimination that they are not protected and supported by those in leadership positions.”