ON the face of it, this morning’s annual general meeting of the Scottish Rugby Union promises to be a sedate affair. They usually are these days, now that previously divisive issues such as the governance of the game are apparently close to consensual resolution.

So a new president will be installed, a new vice-president elected, and a motion debated which proposes a change to the structure of the men’s game. The meeting will then be adjourned to a later date, probably next month, in which the full audited accounts will be presented - those accounts are normally published in time for the agm, but for the second year running this has not been done.

Yet, while the meeting may be viewed as a short series of minor procedural matters, there will also be scope, as ever, for club representatives to ask questions of the top table. Several issues are crying out to be raised.

For a start, there is that delay in publication of the accounts. A change in auditors and the appointment of a new Chief Financial Officer (CFO) were reasons given for that delay by the SRU in a letter to clubs. But Hilary Spence, the CFO in question, was appointed in the middle of 2021, while the auditors were changed in January.

The SRU took the unusual step of offering club officials a “30-minute information session” with Spence on Thursday, a move which perhaps constitutes tacit recognition that there is some disquiet about the postponement of the audited accounts.

The biggest issue, however - one which is of potentially far longer-lasting consequence to the sport as a whole, not just in Scotland - is player welfare. Neil and Morven Cattigan, the parents of the late Scotland international Siobhan Cattigan, asserted in a long interview in the Sunday Times two weeks ago that the lack of proper treatment for the brain injuries she received led to her death late last year. 

The SRU responded in the same article by denying one specific allegation and saying “the mental and physical welfare of all our players and people is central to Scottish Rugby”. Later the same day the governing body published a statement which included the line “respecting medical confidentiality, and with reference in the interview to a potential legal claim, we are not in a position to communicate further on any details of Siobhan’s care at this time”.

But the prospect of legal action and respect for medical confidentiality do not mean that nothing can be said or done by the governing body about the issues raised by the Cattigan family. Indeed, it would have been perfectly possible for Scottish Rugby to launch an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Siobhan’s death long before the Sunday Times article was published.  

Whatever happens at this morning’s meeting, even if SRU chief executive Mark Dodson is not asked a thing about this topic, it is clearly a matter that is not going to disappear any time soon. More than 100 former players in England and Wales have already begun a class action against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union, alleging duty-of-care failures relating to brain injuries suffered on the field of play. Yesterday it emerged that two former Glasgow Warriors forwards, Kieran Low and John Shaw, have joined a similar action against World Rugby and the SRU.

Shaw, now 54, was recently diagnosed with early-onset dementia. Low, 31, has been diagnosed with persistent post-concussion syndrome.

No details have yet been revealed about the kind of sums such former players are seeking in compensation, but there are potentially serious financial implications for the various governing bodies should cases go against them. In addition, there is the possible reputational damage to the game, which could lead an increasing number of parents to decide that rugby is not a sport that they want their children to play. 

Meanwhile, World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin yesterday suggested that other players considering legal action should talk to his organisation instead, and said that the global governing body is already reviewing the support it gives to players after they retire. “What we would say to those players who aren’t currently part of the action is; can we have a dialogue about how we can all provide better support,” he told the Daily Telegraph. “It’s important that we find a way for players to have that dialogue without feeling the need to resort to legal action.”

But Richard Boardman of Rylands Law, the firm dealing with the class action, suggested that such a plea would not be heeded. The number of complainants he said, “is, inevitably, increasing all the time as the issue of traumatic brain injuries in rugby union is given more exposure as more and more players speak out about their brain damage.”