SCOTTISH RUGBY Chief Executive Mark Dodson is coming under mounting pressure from clubs to explain why they have not yet received any money from the £15 million grant awarded to the sport by the Scottish Government at the tail-end of last year. 

Dodson has stated on the record that the grant from the Scottish Government – plus another £5m loan – was meant to “repair the damage to our revenues created by the pandemic [and] allow the Union to resume its core functions with its workforce intact.”  However, a letter which has now been made public following a Freedom of Information request said the money is designed “to assist rugby clubs and organisations across Scotland”. 

The letter was accompanied by an application form designed to be completed by clubs seeking a grant, however there is no record to date of any club being offered an opportunity to apply. 

Dodson will address a meeting of the Scottish Rugby Union Council tomorrow night when he intends to reassure club representatives that there is a plan in place to properly support the grassroots game. 

The letter which has triggered this situation was sent by an unnamed [redacted] Scottish Government official to former Scottish Rugby Chief Operating Officer Dominic McKay on 20th January.  

It said: “I am pleased to be able to confirm funding to support rugby clubs across Scotland that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“The funding approved by Scottish Ministers is intended to ensure rugby clubs at all levels of the game across Scotland are better able to cope with the financial challenges that COVID-19 has brought until such a time as spectators are able to return safely to sports events in larger numbers.  

“Scottish Ministers in exercise of their powers under Section 23 of the National Heritage (Scotland) Act 1985 hereby offer to give to Scottish Rugby Union (“the Grantee”) a grant of up to £15,000,0000 (fifteen million) STERLING, payable over the financial year 2020/2021 to support rugby clubs across Scotland that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is more particularly described in Part 1 of SCHEDULE 1 (“the Project”) and subject to the following terms and conditions. 

“I hope this funding demonstrates the Scottish Government’s commitment to both men and women’s rugby across Scotland across all levels of the game.” 

Meanwhile, the schedule for ‘the project’ explains that: “The purpose of this funding £15,000,000 (fifteen million) is to assist rugby clubs and organisations across Scotland in dealing with the financial impact of the COVID – 19 pandemic. 

“This funding should be used to support rugby activity in order to protect jobs and infrastructure across all funding recipients. 

“Rugby Clubs receiving funding hereby provide an undertaking to the Scottish Rugby Union that the full grant amount will only be used to support ongoing Club rugby related operations, will not be used to fund any player transfer fees prior to the end of the 2020/21 season, and will not be withdrawn from clubs by Owners or Directors.”   

After the letter came to light, SRU President Ian Barr requested clarity on the situation from Dodson, and a Council meeting was arranged for last Tuesday so that the Chief Executive could give a presentation on the matter. 

Barr requested that the Council should have sight of any other relevant paperwork in advance, however it appears that this information wasn’t forthcoming as the meeting was cancelled at late notice. Barr subsequently told a forum meeting of clubs in the Midlands district last Thursday that the paperwork has now been released in full to the Council and a new meeting has been set for tomorrow evening.  

Meanwhile, a further Freedom of Information request has been made by a club official to uncover all relevant information pertaining to the grant, and it will become a major bone of contention if it emerges that Murrayfield did manage to retroactively negotiate out the clear intent to provide direct support to member clubs.   

The concern is that rather than being used to support all areas of the sport, the money has been absorbed into Murrayfield’s cashflow, perhaps helping secure the £20.3 million in bank borrowing facilities required to finally get the 2019-20 accounts signed off by auditors PWC, and maybe even providing the basis for an aggressive recruitment drive by Scotland’s two pro teams. 

The Scottish Government’s emergency funding package for sport raised more than a few eyebrows after it was announced back on 10th December, revealing that Scottish Football was getting £20 million loan funding for the Scottish Premiership and £10 million in grants for all other levels of the game, while rugby was getting £5 million in loans and £15 million in grants. 

“What was striking was that half the grant funding was for rugby – and only a third went to football,” said Lewis Macdonald, chair of Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee.  

Scottish Rugby’s Club Hardship Fund, which was launched just a few weeks after lockdown and paid out almost £400k last June, pre-dates the Scottish Government grant.