Dominic McKay gives update on Scottish Rugby Podcast
Scottish Rugby’s Chief Operating Officer and Guinness PRO14 Board member, Dominic McKay was the guest of the latest episode of The Official Scottish Rugby Podcast.
Here is some of what he had to say about the impact COVID-19 is having on the game in Scotland and the full interview is available to download and listen to on the Official Scottish Rugby Podcast HERE.
How difficult is it to be plan for the future in such uncertain times?
“Well there is naturally a lot of day-to-day things we need to react to because the environment around us – and it is the same for everyone – is changing. What we tried to do to create a little bit of structure is we established a Threat Management Group six weeks ago. The Threat Management Group is a multi-discipline group that gets together every day to discuss the challenges that COVID-19 is causing for our organisation and our people.
“So within that Threat Management Group we’ve got experts from our medical team, stadium, finance, the domestic game and the high performance game getting together and talking about the challenges we’ve got around us on a daily basis but also projecting where we want to be and what we want to try and be ready for over the coming weeks and months.
“Ultimately the plan is to make sure that we’ve got the strongest possible organisation once we’ve got through this challenging period and we are trying to do that with our people at the centre of all our decisions.
What does that planning involve?
“There is a balance between reacting once things are known and starting to think about the implications of certain decisions or certain activities that are changing around us.
“Scenario planning plays an enormous part in discussions we have within that Threat Management Group to think about and to consider the impact on our organisation as a result of certain things happening. The group have been great at that over the last number of weeks.
“One of the great things that is happening is we’ve got is a collaboration into that group and we tap into that expertise from other sports and other countries and other chief medical officers talking to our Chief Medical Officer, James Robson.
Any update on the Guinness PRO14 competition?
“Scottish Rugby is a part of that global rugby family and everyone is facing the same challenges now. From a PRO14 perspective, the management at PRO14 are looking at a series of scenarios to potentially re-start the competition if we are given the green light to do that in a safe and sensible manner.
“That is quite a complex challenge, partly because the jurisdictions which the PRO14 operate in – Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Italy and South Africa – all have their own local government advice and they also have their own medical advice for their teams.
“Credit to the team at PRO14. They are working very hard coming up with potential solutions to re-starting the season, but clearly that is all entirely dependent on the government restrictions in each of those jurisdictions being lifted and that’s something we can’t see for the short to medium term.”
Any further update with regards to the International season?
“There is no further updates at the moment. There is lots of work happening in the background to look at options and scenarios and that is because we want to try and give as much opportunity to make the right decision at the right time and not to be too soon in making a decision because it is all obviously interconnected to the global season and to the November tours and so there is a lot of work happening in the background.
“It would be fair to say the challenge we are facing in Scotland is mirrored in every rugby union and every rugby club around the world right now.”
How important is it to work together with regards to financial support?
“We opened up a fund worth £500,000 and brought forward monies for the club game into the month of April and it was really important to try and recognise immediately the local clubs – which are the bedrock of our sport – are like the union themselves going to be facing immediate financial challenges so how do we best support them?
“Through our Threat Management Group we get an update from our Director of Rugby Development, Shelia Begbie, on the progress of that fund and the number of applications we are getting through. It’s been really pleasing that a number of clubs have applied for it already so that fund will really help support local clubs in terms of their immediate needs.
“The exact same, in principle, is true at a macro-level on the international stage so World Rugby are looking to create a fund that the unions can tap into to support them over the next number of months. We will have a look at that and see how best we can make the most of it.
“It’s an example of when rugby wants to work together it can collaborate really effectively at both a local level and an international level because we are all grappling with a crisis that surrounds us right now which has an enormous impact on the organisation and indeed the sport.”
With regards to mass gatherings, have you had discussions with the Scottish Government about when they are likely to be allowed again?
“We have had very good dialogue with the Scottish Government which has been regular and constant at a number of levels.
“We definitely recognise the remarks made by the First Minister recently in respect to mass gatherings and sport and we will absolutely take the guidance from the government in respect to when it is right for the sport to recommence.
“As part of our thinking within our Threat Management Group, we are also looking how best to set the sport back up again in terms of re-starting once we have been given that green light by the government, because it will be quite a different environment from the one that was paused a few months ago.
“There will be a lot of collaboration between ourselves and other sports to make sure we make the most of expertise and international advice.
“Sport has an enormous role to play in terms of the economy and I think the second thing worth mentioning is the importance of sport to affect positively the mood of the nation shouldn’t be underestimated. I think sport is going to have an important role to play in projecting a positive side of Scotland and a very positive side of our society.”
What procedures and processes do we have in place with regards to our ticket sales?
“Whilst we would normally be on sale right now for our Autumn Tests, we have deliberately delayed that to try and give a little bit more visibility for the Autumn and November window just to get a sense of how things are beginning to shape up.
“So, we will come back to our supporters and communicate when we are going to go on sale so those people who are waiting for an opportunity to buy tickets for the Japan, New Zealand and Argentina games, we will communicate with them and let them know when we are about to go on sale but we are going to take our time to go on sale once we know a bit more information.”
“Those people that have committed to season passes already – which we are really grateful for – we are again going to take our time and do our modelling and review of what the landscape is looking like before we start taking any more season pass money.
“We want to make sure that our season pass holders, who are probably amongst the most loyal fans, have got the right information around what is going to be happening around November and indeed the Guinness Six Nations for that matter.
“What has been pleasing to see is the number of kind messages that have come into the Ticket Office who are very understanding of the challenge we are facing as we navigate through the potential scenarios of November and our Summer Tours.
“Our supporters are very smart, they’re very clued-in and they’re aware of the sort of challenge we’re facing and I think are respectful of that.”
What has the organisation done to keep fans engaged during the pandemic?
“As an organisation we try to innovate and do things a little bit differently and indeed over the last few months it’s been really pleasing that whilst we’ve been unable to put games on, we’ve been able to showcase as an organisation some of our archive and it’s been great to see some of the old games re-run.
“The interest in those games has been fantastic. We had nearly 60,000 people tuning in to watch the Calcutta Cup game last weekend and I think about 75,000 tuned in to watch some of the previous games, so there’s a real appetite for people to watch sport.
“I think these podcasts are great, the video content we are able to share with our supporters has been very important; the content coming out of Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh has been great and we want to do more of that as much as we possibly can, for as long as we need to, to try and keep people and our supporters engaged with the teams.”
Sport plays a massive role in galvanising a nation and bringing people together. How big a part can rugby in particular play in that?
“I think sport will play an enormous part in helping to lift the mood of the nation. When it’s right and proper, and the government say it’s ok to get back involved in sports, whether that’s for players to train with their mates, whether that’s for the supporters to get together to watch games in the stadium, with the appropriate restrictions, there’s no doubt that sport has a massive effect on everyone’s mental wellbeing and there’s no doubt that for many parts of society just now, it’s a real struggle.
“It’s a real challenge. People are nervous, people are worried and anxious, so we need to give them some hope and I think sport has a role to play as part of a broad sweep of activity when we come out of the lockdown to lift the nation’s spirits.”
How difficult a decision was it to furlough players and some of the Scottish Rugby staff?
“Our staff have been absolutely magnificent, both prior to and during the pandemic. We’d had a really busy year and they’d done an amazing job creating wonderful events and great experiences and selling out the stadium. So, the staff have been really magnificent. And then during the challenging periods over the past number of weeks, as we’ve grappled with the changing environment we’re all facing, whilst working from home and working remotely, they’ve been absolutely brilliant.
“It’s been a really unsettling time for them and for their families, as it has been for our player group who you would imagine would just have just been desperate to play games, desperate to train with their mates and aren’t able to do that. It’s important for me to say thank you to both our player group and also to our wider staff group, because it’s an unsettling and challenging period for them.
“We’ve opted to utilise the Job Retention Scheme that the government have made available to all businesses for obvious and very good reasons. But the process of engaging with our staff and talking with our staff has been really pleasing because we’ve got super-talented people in Scottish Rugby who have done some amazing things and we’re excited to get back together as a team when we can.”
On working hard with our partners:
“Our sponsors have been amazing and it’s been quite humbling to see how they’ve stepped up both as a sponsor but also in their own activities. I think about SP Energy Networks – the work that they’re doing to power the country and to make sure we’re all enjoying the power we need during this challenging period, as well as activity they’re doing at our local grass roots level, in supporting communities, has been fantastic.
“And that’s the same with BT and some of the activities they’ve been doing for front-line staff. Our sponsors have been magnificent towards us, but they’ve also been magnificent towards the country and communities in which they’re engaged with.
“As have our own staff. Some of the activities that our players and our staff have been engaged with over the last number of weeks to support frontline staff, to support the communities which they are living in, has been really humbling to see and that’s extended all the way through the whole of the rugby community.
“We’ve got local rugby clubs the length and breadth of the country doing some incredible work supporting vulnerable people, whether that’s delivering food or making phone calls – there’s been some impressive stuff done. We shared a bit of that last week online and the stories have been great to hear.”
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Continue to tune in to the Official Scottish Rugby Podcast for more exclusive behind the scenes interviews and information, news and discussion from the home of Scottish Rugby. Previous guests of the podcast have included Gregor Townsend, Scotland Captains Rachel Malcolm and Stuart Hogg , Hamish Watson, Glenn Metcalfe, Lisa Thomson and many more.