Abi Tierney promises ‘North Star’ Ieadership as new chief of Welsh Rugby Union

By Sports Desk August 17, 2023

Abi Tierney has promised to deliver “North Star” leadership to guide the Welsh Rugby Union away from what has been described as a “toxic culture” at the organisation.

Tierney will join the WRU next January at the latest after serving notice at the Home Office, where she is the director general for customer services and ethics advisor and chair of its people committee.

Her appointment comes nearly seven months after Steve Phillips resigned as WRU chief executive following a BBC documentary which aired allegations of racism, misogyny, sexism and homophobia and the existence of a “toxic culture” at the game’s governing body.

“People realise mistakes have been made, people are disappointed in what’s happened but there’s an absolute passion, desire and commitment to turn it around and make a difference,” Tierney said at a press conference in Cardiff.

“My job is to harness that and give people them that North Star that they can go towards. I wouldn’t have taken the job if I hadn’t seen that potential.

“I’ve done due diligence on this job. I’ve left a job I love and it had to be the right move.

“Since I’ve been here I’ve been getting to know my colleagues and stakeholders. All I see is potential. I can feel it, it’s almost visceral.”

WRU chiefs admitted being in “denial” after the damaging allegations were broadcast in January and said warning signs were missed.

An external taskforce was set up to carry out an independent review and the report will be published soon. The WRU has said it will accept all the recommendations in the taskforce report.

Tierney said: “I’m holding my thoughts just a little until we get that report and what we need to do on the back of that.

“But someone used the word ‘unity’ when we met with the Welsh Rugby Council and I’ve got the chance to create that.

“What’s the alternative? We can’t not have rugby and we can’t have it described as that. When I heard about this job I thought ‘if not me, then who?

“I would be disappointed if someone else got it? I knew I could do the job, so I didn’t want that regret.”

The WRU has pledged that 40 per cent of its 12-person board should be women and the organisation insists it is on schedule to fulfil that ambition.

Tierney, whose father comes from Barry and admits to having “goose bumps” when she was appointed, says she understands the “additional responsibility” that comes with being first female to be WRU chief executive.

She said: “I’ve used the word responsibility but I’ve been appointed not because I’m female, but because of my leadership skills and capabilities.

“I know people will look up to me and we can all see the world of women in sport opening up with the Lionesses, the Ashes and netball this summer.

“I’m part of that but 10 years ago it would have been a lonely place sat here, but actually I feel I’m part of a movement in some ways.

“It’s a movement that’s going to go from strength to strength and (Welsh Rugby Union) has put me at the forefront of that by having faith in me as a female to lead the organisation. The dream is that young girls see this and think they can do it as well.”

WRU chair Richard Collier-Keywood described Tierney’s appointment as a “hugely significant moment for Welsh rugby”.

He added: “I want to be really clear that we did not appoint Abi because of her gender.

“She was the best candidate and were the best candidate a man we would have appointed him. I think it’s helpful the two outstanding roles are gender-balanced, but I want to be clear she was the best candidate.”

Nigel Walker, who has acted as interim CEO since Phillips’ departure, will become the WRU’s first executive director of rugby when Tierney takes up her role.

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