A CURIOUS new etiquette has developed during these locked-down days. Whereas in the past we used to brush past people in the street without making eye contact, we now step off the curb to a safe two-metre distance whilst offering a supportive smile and a nod of the head. When we visit a supermarket, we may be separated from the cashier by a Perspex sheet, but we thank them warmly and wish them good luck as we complete the transaction. In so many ways, keeping us apart has brought us closer together.

But not in the world of Scottish sport, where longstanding and deep-rooted habits die hard.

While football tears itself apart over the tortured conundrum of how to settle the leagues this season, rugby is giving the round-ball game a good run for its money in the dysfunctionality stakes, with the latest stunt being a media blackout on all journalists and publications apart from those few outliers who have previously demonstrated unquestioning loyalty to the organisation’s chief executive, Mark Dodson.

HeraldScotland:

It is now five weeks since Scotland’s final Six Nations match against Wales was called off due to the virus. Since then, the SRU – who control access to the country’s professional players with an iron fist – have managed to make George Taylor (a breakthrough success for Edinburgh this season) available for a conference call on April 1. Apart from that, the silence has been deafening.

While professional sports organisations across the globe have been falling over themselves to provide media with access in order to maintain as much profile as possible, the PR departments at Murrayfield and Scotstoun have knocked back or ignored request after request – whilst beavering away themselves to churn out as much content as possible on their own social media channels. To add insult to injury, on a number of occasions they have shamelessly magpied these requests for their own output.

It would be laughable if it wasn’t so deeply sinister. This is not just about journalists grumbling because they are not getting everything laid out for them on a plate, it is the thin end of an important wedge; the most overt demonstration yet of the SRU’s hostility to scrutiny from those outside the big tent. A state-run media monopoly does not make for good governance.

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes in Scottish Rugby at the moment, and deep concern amongst the grassroots about the direction of travel.

The recommendations from a six-month review of the SRU’s governance and management structures by Dodson’s long-time associate Sir Bill Gammell were kicked into touch by clubs in January as it was seen as a power-grab by the Scottish Rugby Board and their close allies. However, Murrayfield are yet to officially lay the proposals to rest, and there is growing unease that the ‘task force’ which was subsequently set up by SRU president Dee Bradbury is a ruse to get a slightly watered-down version over the line.

HeraldScotland:

A letter to Bradbury a week past Friday, which was signed by 38 member clubs, urged her to stand the “task force” down on the basis that the timing and timescale of the initiative is all wrong, and it can’t possibly come up with something acceptable before this summer’s AGM [if it goes ahead] when Bradbury’s time in office comes to an end. It fell on deaf ears, with the president issuing a club communication on Wednesday to say that it is business as usual as far as she is concerned.

Trust in the high command at Murrayfield has been depleted by a series of scandals during the last two years, from the coruscating judgement of the Keith Russell employment tribunal case, to the subsequent review the board conducted on itself which amounted to a whitewash, to the heavy-handed implementation of Dodson’s Super6 initiative, to the use of Doddie Weir to sell tickets for their Autumn Test against Wales in 2018 without contributing any of the income to his charity until being shamed into it, to the executive pay scandal which revealed that Dodson took £933,000 out the business in 2019; the list goes on – and there has been very little evidence of lessons being learned and behaviours changed.

Instead, the tactic appears to be to marginalise any potential dissent. The need for independent scrutiny has never been greater.