Mark Drakeford took over from Carwyn Jones as Welsh First Minister in 2018

Paris (AFP) - Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said on Thursday recent off the field issues with rugby in Wales have cast a shadow over the sport.

In January, the chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) Steve Phillips resigned after allegations of a “toxic culture” at the governing body with claims of sexism, racism and homophobia made by former employees.

Last month, a player strike over contract problems was cancelled just days before a loss to England in the Six Nations.

“I have no doubt that these events have cast a shadow over rugby, and you can feel it at home as well in the way people are thinking about the game,” Drakeford told AFP on a visit to Paris.

“I’m quite sure it is reversible and you can demonstrate a different future and that will be good for the game in Wales,” he added.

This week, the WRU announced former High Court judge Anne Rafferty and former England back-rower Maggie Alphonsi would form part of an independent review of the group’s culture.

“I think it’s a genuinely positive step,” Drakeford said.

“It gives you some reason to be hopeful that its report, which the WRU has committed to implementing, will help the WRU to move closer to deal with the issues that have been so difficult for them recently,” he added.

In December, Wales’ football team led by the now-retired former Real Marid attacker Gareth Bale, appeared in the World Cup for the first time since 1958.

That followed a Euro 2016 semi-final appearance after more than half a century of failing to reach major tournament finals.

“The Welsh sporting landscape has changed, the provenance and success of football has given that a different sort of provenance than it would have had 20 years ago,” he said.

“I don’t think anybody should believe the passion that people have in Wales for rugby has somehow gone away,” he added.

- ‘Great upset’ -

The 68-year-old, who assumed office in 2018, is in the French capital ahead of Wales’ Six Nations game with France on Saturday.

The Welsh Labour leader said Wales has found it difficult to manoeuvre on a continental level since Britain left the European Union in 2020.

“In one way we are very lucky that our friends and colleagues that we’ve had relationships with over so many years continue to be very positive about engaging with Wales, involving Wales, coming to Wales,” he said.

“There is no doubt at all that Brexit has adversely affected Wales,” he added.

Drakeford will be present at the Stade de France this weekend as Warren Gatland’s visitors, with just one win in this year’s Six Nations play Les Bleus, who hammered England last weekend.

The hosts can still defend their title if they win and other results go their way.

“None of us would go to these games if we didn’t believe on the day any result was possible,” Drakeford said.

“If it was a foregone conclusion, there would be no hope in turning up, would there?”

“You will definitely not think anything other than France are clear favourites this season at home, but if an upset wasn’t possible then it wouldn’t have the pull on people’s attention that it does have and we will go there hoping for one of those great upsets,” he added.