Thursday, 2 August 2007

Go Play Rugby

By sheer coincidence, given my attempts to get myself back into shape sufficiently to contemplate a return to the rugby field, the RFU are in the midst of trying to attract former players back into the game.

The RFU’s efforts have passed me by somewhat, which doesn’t say a huge amount for their publicity machine, especially given that they are allegedly spending some £1m and involving over 700 clubs and 130 universities and colleges in an attempt to bring back to the game over 6,000 men and women who played rugby at school and university but then hung up their boots due to work and family commitments (that’s the equivalent of 400 new teams to put it into context).

The "Go Play Rugby" campaign, launched last month, focuses on reminding ex-players of the enjoyment that being part of a rugby club can offer and is fronted by Will Greenwood (one of my favourite players and characters from the Woodward-era England team). It’s a fine idea, although by targeting the 17-30 age group I think they’re missing a trick – there’s probably a huge number of older blokes like me who would welcome a return to the game but just need a little gentle persuasion. Maybe that goes some way to explaining why the campaign didn’t appear on my radar earlier.

Anyway, here’s one of the videos promoting the campaign - pretty effective I’d say:

However, somewhat paradoxically the RFU have asserted for the last few years that playing numbers in England have been on the increase, despite the fact that it’s been obvious to many that this was not the case with many clubs either going under or drastically reducing in size due to a lack of playing numbers.

As Peter Bills points out in his article in Sunday Life this week, professionalism changed everything within rugby. Many amateur volunteers, people who gave their time for free, walked away when players began to be paid and many have been lost to the game forever. This, coupled with the pressures in modern day society to spend social time with the family rather than selfishly going off all day to play rugby, goes a long way to explaining why numbers are down.

The fact that the RFU are attempting to do something about it is laudable. But, as Peter Bills concludes, the campaign misses the point. Expensive marketing campaigns are one thing, but what grassroots rugby really needs for the RFU to concentrate its considerable resources on the amateur game and leave the running of the elite professional game to someone else. The RFU (together with the majority of the world’s elite rugby governing bodies) has focused far too much time, attention and money on the professional game (and, in the RFU’s case has made a right old pig’s ear of it) to the detriment of the game as a whole. It should relinquish control of the professional game, or at least hive it off as a separate business, and re-focus its efforts on grassroots rugby.

Otherwise, as Peter Bills so rightly says, players and volunteers will continue to drift away from the sport, no matter how glitzy the RFU recruitment campaigns are.

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