Amanda Blanc goes public on why she quit Welsh rugby in revealing interview

Aviva’s chief executive Amanda Blanc has spoken publicly for the first time about why she left her role as chair of Wales’ Professional Rugby Board — saying she was not listened to amid the need for governance reform.

Blanc, from Treherbert, stood down in November 2021 after less than two years as chair of the PRB, which includes members of the Welsh Rugby Union and each of Wales’ four regional sides plus two independently-appointed members. It is responsible for running the pro game in Wales on behalf of the WRU.

No explanation for her departure was given at the time – she has since been succeeded as PRB chair by Malcolm Wall – but the insurance powerhouse has now told BBC Wales Live that she felt she wasn’t being listened to.

“I have a very busy role, and I think you like to do things where you make an impact,” she said. “If you feel that that isn’t being listened to, you need to move on.”

Confirming it was “absolutely” her decision to leave the role, and the WRU board, the Rhondda native also spoke about the need to modernize the WRU and for rugby bosses to take the women’s game seriously.

Ms Blanc is the Welsh chief executive of FTSE 100 financial giant Aviva, who was recognized as one of Forbes World’s 100 Most Powerful Women in 2021 (in the top 30). She has twice been voted as the UK Insurer CEO’s CEO of the year, in 2013 and 2015.

When asked if her exit had anything to do with misogyny, Ms Blanc said: “I spent two years with the Welsh Rugby Union and chaired the Professional Rugby Board, which I loved, working with the chairs of the four regions in Wales, they are very professional individuals and we went through a tough time with Covid. Ultimately, what I would say about the Welsh Rugby Union is that the governance needs modernisation. I think that is clear.

”You have two very distinct parts of the game – the community game and the professional game – and the professional game needs to have the appropriate governance for that.

“I have a very busy role, and I think you like to do things where you make an impact. If you feel that that isn’t being listened to, you need to move on.”

When asked whether the WRU is beyond repair, she said: “I wish Malcolm well in his quest to do that but I do think change needs to happen: the way that it’s governed.

“But also you need to look at the other communities in Wales that want to play rugby. The women’s game, for example. Taking that seriously and making sure that gets the investment that’s required, I think those are all things that are perfectly within the gift of the WRU to fix.”

When asked whether the WRU board was outdated or dinosaurs, Ms Blanc said: “I am not going to say they are dinosaurs because if you look at the Welsh Rugby Union board there are two independent non-executives and I was the chair of the PRB .

“But there were also many, if you like, non-business background individuals on that and I think that when you’ve got a £100m revenue business then you need the appropriate governance for that. That would be good governance in any business world .

“Everybody needs to want to do that, one individual can’t just do that. Everybody needs to see the need for change and want to change.”

The WRU’s governance structure has been under scrutiny for some time, with many believing the community and professional game in Wales should be run completely separately. Currently, Wales’ 300-plus community clubs elect the chairman of the WRU, hold the majority of seats on the board, which elects the CEO and ultimately decides how much money should be spent and where.

A WRU spokesperson said: “We continue to respect Amanda and thank her for her contributions whilst on PRB and the WRU board. All aspects of the WRU’s investment in rugby are hugely important; in addition, in line with best practice, the WRU will always keep reviewing its governance.”

Her departure from the boardrooms of Welsh rugby was met with regret from Wales’ four professional sides, who issued a joint public statement saying Ms Blanc was an “outstanding appointment to the professional game in Wales” and the “exact caliber of businessperson required to drive the game forward in Wales”, while she championed “collaboration, cooperation, discussion and debate between the regions for the betterment of the entire professional game” during her tenure.

WRU chief executive Steve Phillips first addressed Ms Blanc’s resignation as PRB chair back in February, where he would not be drawn on any idea that she disagreed with the corporate governance at the Union or that there was a “smoking gun” in the form of a letter to the WRU explaining her reasons.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Phillips said at the time. “I think what we have to recognize is that Amanda has done a great job in very challenging circumstances. She came in straight into the pandemic. She’s been great, so I think Welsh rugby owes her a massive sense of gratitude.”

You can watch the full interview on Wales Live on BBC iPlayer.

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