WRU unveils five-year strategy to save the nation’s wildlife

Image source, Huw Evans Agency

Image caption, WRU chief executive Abi Tierney took up his post in January

  • Author, Matt Lloyd
  • Role, BBC SportWales

The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) has outlined its five-year plan for the future of the game in Wales.

In keeping with the general election, the governing body has unveiled what is essentially its manifesto for rebuilding the nation’s sport.

New CEO Abi Tierney said the WRU aims to improve the men’s and women’s national teams, as well as the regions, increase participation in the community and women’s game and improve the game’s finances.

However, the exact details of how they will achieve their ‘ambitious mission’ are not expected until October.

During a briefing at the Principality Stadium on the 25th anniversary of the first match at the venue, Tierney and chairman Richard Collier-Keywood explained the WRU’s financial problems.

They said the union has been operating well beyond its capabilities with an annual deficit of £15 million, while struggling to pay off £20 million of debt, largely blamed on Covid.

There was a sense of regret that the WRU had sold some of its share of the United Rugby Championship (URC) and Six Nations media rights.

They also confirmed that there is a £35 million funding gap for the regions over the next five years, putting the future of all four regions in doubt.

The objectives of WRU

  • The men’s and women’s national teams are consistently ranked in the top five in the world
  • Club teams compete in the URC and Celtic Challenge play-offs
  • Retain and grow active participants
  • Financial sustainability at all levels of the game
  • Increase the percentage of the Welsh public who are positive about Welsh rugby

“When I came in, it struck me that we don’t run rugby like a business,” said Tierney, who took over her role in January.

‘We spend too much money and we cannot survive the way we are doing now

“So we will have to make some difficult decisions to get on a sound financial footing.”

Cardiff, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets each saw their funding fall by £2m last season and will see this fall further to £4.5m for 2024-2025.

But the WRU expects each team to need a further £2m every year to be competitive.

“The level of investment needed to make four regions significant, and we have a significant gap to close,” Tierney said.

“There are ways to address that, by increasing revenues and restructuring debt, because interest rates are expensive. But if we can’t do that, maybe we should look at the regional structure.

“That could mean looking at different funding models, where two have more money than the other two, or three and one, but the priority is closing the gap.”

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, Wales were defeated 41-13 in the international match against South Africa last weekend

Tierney’s appointment was prompted by the scandal surrounding a BBC Wales investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct.

An independent investigation later found that aspects of WRU culture were sexist, misogynistic, racist and homophobic.

On the field, Welsh rugby has also suffered its worst season in decades, with both the men’s and women’s national teams bottom of their respective Six Nations and the regions struggling to compete in the URC, with only Ospreys making the play get -offs.

Saturday’s defeat to South Africa was the seventh consecutive defeat for Warren Gatland’s side, his worst run as Wales head coach.

“At the heart of this strategy is success on the field,” Tierney said.

“That drives ticket sales, provides sponsorship and that money finances the rest of the game, which is the basis for the professional game.

“Every element of this strategy must contribute to success on the field.”