Wales politics

Sport Wales: Thorburn warns ministers to be careful

Paul Thorburn
Image caption Welsh ministers don't seem to value sport in society, Paul Thorburn claims

Former rugby star Paul Thorburn has urged ministers to be "very careful" of their interventions in Sport Wales.

Chair Paul Thomas and vice-chair Adele Baumgardt have been suspended after a review found a "significant breakdown" in relations at senior level.

Mr Thomas lost a vote of no confidence from the Sport Wales board after he reported members were paid too much.

Mr Thorburn, a former board member, said the organisation should be run by people who understand sport.

Sport Wales is given around £20m of public funds every year to promote sport in Wales from elite level to grassroots activity.

The activities of its board were suspended in November amid concerns that the organisation had become dysfunctional under the chairmanship of business expert Mr Thomas.

A critical review he commissioned - not published but seen by the BBC - had called for an overhaul of Sport Wales, saying it "lacks transparency", was "obsolete in its thinking" and "weak in vision".

On Tuesday, Public Health Minister Rebecca Evans told the Senedd that the board was being reinstated under an interim chairman while Mr Thomas and Ms Baumgardt were suspended pending further inquiries.

Image copyright Welsh Government
Image caption A leaked review by chairman Paul Thomas said Sport Wales was in "danger of stagnating"

Mr Thorburn, who served on the Sport Wales board under its previous chair Laura McAllister, denied suggestions that the organisation had not been transparent and gave too much priority to elite sport.

He told BBC Radio Wales: "A degree of frustration from my perspective is that our Welsh ministers don't seem to value sport in society.

"We were trying to get sport and physical literacy on the curriculum, driving that hard and trying to get that forced through but we seem to be stumbling at every hurdle.

"So I think politicians need to be very careful."

Mr Thorburn welcomed the appointment of an interim chairman and re-instatement of the board, allowing Sport Wales officials to fully resume their activities.

But he urged ministers not to take too much control over the organisation.

"You need people who understand sport, understand the value of sport in society and, unfortunately, in my opinion some of the ministers we've had in place clearly don't," he said.

The Welsh Government declined to respond to Mr Thorburn's comments.

Meanwhile Alun Ffred Jones, a former Plaid Cymru AM and minister responsible for sport, said the situation was "a bit of a mess".

He criticised Ms Evans for refusing to reveal full details of the government review on grounds of data protection and confidentiality.

"You either have a report or you don't," he told BBC Radio Cymru.

"If the review has highlighted weaknesses you would expect to see those, and the reasons for the suspensions of the chairman and his deputy."

Mr Jones added that he was not aware of any problems within Sport Wales and that it was doing good work.

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