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Dawn Bowden refers herself for investigation following WRU sexism scandal

12 Dec 2023 5 minute read
Dawn Bowden. Picture by Welsh Labour

Martin Shipton

Sport Minister Dawn Bowden has referred herself for investigation over her alleged failure to investigate allegations of sexism at the Welsh Rugby Union, it has been announced.

Gower Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi had urged Ms Bowden to “consider her position” following the Minister’s appearance on a BBC programme in which she offered an explanation as to why she had not contacted victims of the WRU scandal when alerted to its gravity by the MP.

Ms Antoniazzi has accused Ms Bowden of a “cynical attempt to rewrite history”.

The WRU apologised earlier this year after a report found sexism and racism was not properly challenged. The report followed a BBC Wales documentary in which a former boss at Welsh women’s rugby said she considered suicide because of the organisation’s culture.

Responding to a question from Welsh Conservative Senedd group leader Andrew RT Davies, First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The Minister has written to me asking that those allegations should be investigated under the Ministerial Code. I have agreed with that. There will be an independent investigation of the allegations and when that investigation has taken place, then the results of it will be made known.”

Mr Drakeford said the inquiry would be undertaken “in the first instance” by the Welsh Government’s director of ethics and propriety. No timescale has been set for the delivery of the inquiry report.

Ms Antoniazzi raised concerns about issues within the WRU in March 2022, both in the House of Commons and directly with Ms Bowden, whose full title is Deputy Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism.

Ms Bowden did not meet WRU executives to discuss the concerns until after a BBC Wales documentary highlighting a “toxic culture” of sexism and homophobia was broadcast in January 2023.

The Minister, who represents Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney at the Senedd, told the BBC’s Politics Wales programme that she could not intervene sooner because she needed “details of their complaints” to give her “assurances that what was being said was actually real”.

“Offensive”

Reacting to Ms Bowden’s comments, Ms Antoniazzi told BBC Radio Wales: “It’s distressing for me to hear that that was being said about me and that I never gave those details. I looked for ways to do it without blowing any doors off, without causing too much trouble, but looking for the most effective way to make change happen for the women that I spoke to.”

She added it was “extremely upsetting” and “offensive” to learn that Ms Bowden had denied she had received the details.

“These women have been let down and are reliving their trauma again,” said Ms Antoniazzi.

On her call for Ms Bowden to consider resigning, the Gower MP told the BBC: “How can you trust somebody who’s let you down? As a former international rugby player, as a woman still engaged in sport, I wanted to be able to support others, so that’s what I did.”

At the weekend Ms Bowden told BBC Wales that what Ms Antoniazzi had said in the House of Commons and the concerns she had raised with her in meetings and in official letters was not enough for her to act.

“What I had said and I made it very clear is that I needed something more than just a kind of sense that there was a problem that couldn’t be pinned down,” she said.

“What I did offer Tonia was for her to let me have the details of who it was, what the details of their complaints were, that they could provide that to me in confidence.

“I would not be divulging that to anybody but it would give me the assurance that what was being said was actually real.

“That didn’t materialise. I never got those. Those individuals subsequently went to the BBC but had they come to me a year earlier, and said to me ‘this is me, this is my story, this is what happened’, I would have been in a very different situation.”

In a statement Ms Antoniazzi said: “I first raised concerns regarding sexism and misogyny at the WRU with Dawn in early 2022 and she indicated that she was happy to speak with any of the women involved. I followed this up on multiple occasions, sharing the contact details of the women affected who were willing to meet with Dawn, as well as making her aware of the emotional impact this was having on these women. I am still unclear as to why Dawn chose not to contact these women.

“Given the seriousness of the allegations I shared I remain extremely frustrated that my representations to Dawn were met with what I can only describe as apathy, and that seemingly it was only media interest that led to action. Whilst I am pleased that action has now been taken, I am again disappointed at a rather cynical attempt to rewrite history in order to hide political inaction.”

“Too busy”

Commenting on the row erupting between the two Labour politicians over the handling of culture issues at the WRU, Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport, Tom Giffard MS said: “Labour’s Arts and Sports Minister has been asleep at the wheel; Tonia Antoniazzi is right to say that Dawn Bowden could have done more and sooner.

“She could have met with the WRU when cultural issues were first raised with her as opposed to after the BBC documentary. There is no evidence that the Labour Minister made any efforts publicly, or in private.

“The Labour Minister is far too busy jet-setting, ribbon cutting and looking for her next photo op to focus on the major issues facing the Welsh sports sector.”


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hdavies15
hdavies15
2 months ago

Surely the last thing Welsh Rugby or any other non State funded body needs is for the State to start sticking its nose in as soon as any kind of allegation materialises. Indeed to what extent has the State got a right to stick its nose in at that a stage ? So good job that Ms Bowden kept out of it. Now had the issues that later surfaced turned into a full scale legal/criminal matter it could well have become a matter of direct interest to the Minister or indeed the Police. As things stand has anyone been interviewed… Read more »

Steve George
Steve George
2 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

You’re missing the point though. It’s not that Ms Bowden refused to intervene on the principled point that it wasn’t for her to interfere in the running of Welsh Rugby. She said that she hadn’t intervened (earlier) because she hadn’t been supplied with sufficient detail to do so. It appears that this was not the truth, as Ms Antoniazzi had in fact supplied her with this information.

So the *allegation* against Ms Bowden is not that she didn’t intervene (she did) but that she told lies about why she didn’t intervene earlier.

hdavies15
hdavies15
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve George

Not missing any point at all. Read my opening sentence. There was no justification for any Minister to get involved at all. If there was law breaking taking place within the WRU, and it sounds like there was, then it should have been a matter for the police. It would have been appropriate for a Minister to have a broad appreciation of what was going on although at that early stage it would have been allegations and a lot of “she said, he said” chatter which would be of no use until formally taken down as evidence. Where the Minister… Read more »

Steve George
Steve George
2 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

My point is that the story is really about whether a Labour Welsh Govt minister has lied, as her Labour colleague, Ms Antoniazzi seems to suggest. I take no view on whether she should or shouldn’t have involved herself (although I think you make good points) but the central point of the story is an allegation of mistruth. That is important. Whether or not Ms Bowden should have intervened is moot. That she shouldn’t be telling lies about the reasons, is surely common ground?

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