Wales politics

Sport Wales chairman and deputy sacked by Welsh Government

Rebecca Evans
Image caption Rebecca Evans said her "overriding objective" was the effectiveness of Sport Wales

The chairman and vice-chairwoman of troubled quango Sport Wales have been sacked by the Welsh Government.

Paul Thomas and Adele Baumgardt were suspended in November, along with the entire Sport Wales board, over concerns the organisation was dysfunctional.

Public Health Minister Rebecca Evans said there was "an irretrievable breakdown in relationships" in the board's leadership.

But Mr Thomas has hit out for being "hung out to dry" as a whistle-blower.

Ms Baumgardt accused Mr Thomas of not being fit to hold senior public office, an allegation he rejected.

Welsh Tories accused ministers of picking "a fine day to bury bad news" with statement released at the same time as the triggering of Article 50.

In February, Welsh ministers re-instated the Sport Wales board, but the chairman and vice-chairwoman remained suspended.

Ms Evans said: "My overriding objective is the effectiveness of Sport Wales and its contribution to the wellbeing of the nation through its focus on sport and physical recreation, hence my decision.

"I have asked the interim chair, Lawrence Conway, to remain in post for the remainder of 2017 at least, and to take this forward with the remaining board members."

Sport Wales, originally called the Sports Council for Wales, was created in 1972 to promote elite and grassroots sport. It has an annual budget of £22m.

Over the last six months it has become embroiled in a series of rows over the operation of the board and the way it awards contracts.

Image copyright Welsh Government
Image caption Paul Thomas had been suspended since November

Mr Thomas told BBC Wales the Welsh Government has been "appalling" in its dealings with him and felt he had been "hung out to dry" as a whistle-blower, highlighting issues which needed to be resolved within the organisation.

He said he was appointed to change the way Sport Wales works but had not been given the support needed by the Welsh Government which "turned its back" on him.

"How do they expect to attract people like me, from the business community, to work with them if this is how they treat people", he said.

He was also surprised and disappointed that nobody from the Welsh Government had contacted him to tell him he was being sacked.

Paul Thomas told BBC Wales he found out when a friend sent him a text message.

Image caption The letter informing Mr Thomas that his post was terminated told him his behaviour was "counter-productive"

Ms Baumgardt said that the board minutes of Sport Wales since the appointment of Mr Thomas in April 2016 "quickly evidenced that he was not, in my opinion, fit to hold senior public office".

"On behalf of the board, my actions sought to mitigate his behaviour and to instigate proper principles and practice for good governance," said the former vice-chairwoman, who worked at the organisation for more than 10 years.

"The Board had correctly challenged him to account for his behaviour which, ultimately, led to the unanimous vote of no confidence in November 2016."

Mr Thomas said he "absolutely" rejected the allegation that he was unfit for public office. "I went through two public appointments. On both occasions I came first in terms of the candidate to be picked," he said.

'Spectacularly wrong'

In February, Ms Evans said a review of Sport Wales had been completed, but a number of new complaints had subsequently been received about the board and its members.

BBC Wales is currently challenging the Welsh Government's decision not to release the review under the Freedom of Information Act, with a decision on the appeal due next week.

But the Welsh Conservatives' sport spokesman, Russell George, said the dismissals "leave us none-the-wiser as to what went so spectacularly wrong in the board of Sport Wales".

"With the triggering of Article 50 underway, it seems the Welsh Government picked a fine day to bury bad news," he said.

Plaid Cymru spokesman Rhun ap Iorwerth said: "There are serious questions to be answered by the minister following her statement today on the original recruitment process and on the assurance review which was conducted."

He said he would be seeking "clarification" on what led to the breakdown in relationships at Sport Wales.

For UKIP, Gareth Bennett said: "We will be looking for the Welsh Government to make the findings of their review public.

"We need to have confidence that the significant amount of public funds invested in Sport Wales are used wisely, and that any lessons from this unwelcome saga are learned."

In the Senedd chamber Ms Evans denied that the Welsh Government was seeking to bury bad news by making the sackings public less than an hour after the UK government triggered Article 50.

She told UKIP AM Gareth Bennett: "I have to say I didn't want the process to take any longer than it had to, and I didn't want it to drag on, for the benefit of all those people concerned."

A spokesman for Sport Wales said: "This has been a challenging time for Sport Wales but following the statement today by the Minister for Social Services & Public Health we can now look to move forward as an organisation."

He added that the minister was "very clear that Sport Wales is a fundamentally well run organisation and that it is now functioning very well under the leadership of the Interim Chair and reinstated board".

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