To all members of the Welsh rugby family. We have so much to be proud of over the past year, but I am writing to you at a time of further challenges, not just for our national game but for our nation.
Firstly, and most importantly, I want to thank you for your efforts over the last year. It is extraordinary to think that a calendar year which began with no rugby and empty stadia ended with the community game adapting and thriving and 275,000 spectators visiting the Principality Stadium; albeit with the challenges that brings as we look to return to our rhythm of delivering such events. None of this would have been possible without you. Secondly, I am conscious that I am writing to you at a time when further changes are in process. We need to understand properly the new measures that have been put in place and we need to watch carefully for what may come next. I wish there was more certainty, more structure, more clarity about the way ahead, but the new Omicron variant of the Coronavirus that, for a time, threatened our very existence, has broadsided us once again. Both Westminster and the Welsh Government have already put new measures in place to mitigate the spread of Omicron. There may be more to come and, as and when the way ahead becomes clearer, we will, as we have done over the last two years, continue to be agile and adapt. WRU Chief Executive Steve Phillips We can take some comfort in the knowledge that we have been here before. That we can chart a course through this next wave of the pandemic and that we can count the same number of clubs out the other side of the current crisis as we boasted at its onset. There is a precedent set. As always, we will stick close to Welsh Government advice and guidance. We will take all the necessary steps to ensure the safety of our volunteers, our professional and amateur staff – from referees to coaches, to the administrators up and down the country who run our rugby clubs and our players at all levels. Safety and survival is our ultimate aim and, once we have completed that process, then we can rebuild. We are hopeful that swift action now will see the 2021/22 season return to its former glories in a few weeks’ time, but our immediate concern is, of course, the safety of the nation. It may seem at the moment that we are forced to take a step back with each one forward but the Welsh Rugby Union, as the governing body for the game in Wales, is here to ensure that the momentum generated by the hard work of everyone in the game in recent times is not lost. To our professional sides, who have suffered fixture cancellations, postponements and significant challenges to selection when they have played matches, we are proud of you. There has been no better and more visible exemplification of how to adapt to changing and challenging environments, than that displayed by Cardiff Rugby. The nation looked on with pride at the team fielded to face first Toulouse and then Harlequins in the recent European Rugby Champions Cup fixtures. Out of adversity – the enforced isolation of a highly significant number of their squad – came two incredible performances on the pitch and an inspiring story of support, with Welsh rugby uniting for a common cause. Each of our four professional sides have been affected in different ways. We are working hard behind the scenes to mitigate the negative effects of the new measures and will continue to do so. Given the popularity of the derby matches and upcoming European matches, we estimate that each lost match will be a net reduction in profit of well over £100,000. There will be a further loss of revenue to suppliers, pay for staff, value for sponsors and pleasure for fans, in addition to the longer term consequences of fans getting out of the habit of going to games. Whilst we entirely respect and acknowledge Welsh Government’s stance to protect the nation, it is very disappointing for fans to not be able to attend the planned Christmas derbies between our teams; we must also recognise and thank Welsh Government for the Spectator Sport Survival Fund and other measures which they have announced to mitigate the financial concerns. Of course, it does go wider than that because fans want to be at the grounds and add to their “I was there” Welsh rugby history and remain in the habit of supporting their teams in stadia . We will work with our regional colleagues to understand further some of the recent Champions Cup decisions; on the face of it, they seems to lack consistency and, arguably, fairness to some of our teams. We have been working with Welsh Government in the background to resolve the refinance of the CLBILS debt; we have made considerable progress in recent months and we are optimistic of concluding that issue by the end of January 2022; we can say more on that at the appropriate time. Indigo Group Premiership teams collectively decided to postpone this week’s fixtures We have liaised with our Indigo Group Premiership teams and collectively decided that it is everyone’s interests to postpone this weekend’s matches and I would also like to thank our broadcast partners S4C for their understanding in this matter. Some of the Indigo Group Premiership is expected to be back in action under current regulations next week. In the rest of the community game we know teams have and are considering postponing matches which now cannot be played in front of full crowds. Matches which would have brought in much needed funds. Each club will make its own decision and we will fully support and help. We will advise all to follow Welsh Government guidelines and be here for all of our clubs to provide support if needed. If you do need to postpone fixtures at this time, please let the referees’ department know at the earliest opportunity. We commit to keeping our member clubs continually informed of changes and how changes will affect them. Currently, at Alert Level 2, we have some good news in that community rugby matches can take place and up to 50 spectators may safely attend. We are also pleased to note there are exceptions where parents or responsible adults may be present for safeguarding reasons. These are difficult times, but they will once again unite us. We will get through this together. Stay safe this Christmas and enjoy the New Year, we will continue to be here for you when you need us. Yours in rugby, Steve Phillips.