Monday, 28 July 2008

Putting Rugby First

A report, believed to having the backing of (amongst others) the English Premiership clubs, has been published which claims that rugby is stuck in an English "ghetto" and that the IRB are missing out on the vast new markets offered in Asia and the Far East.

The report, by consultants Spectrum Value Partners and entitled "Putting Rugby First", labels the IRB as undemocratic, unrepresentative and shackled by the voting structure that gives the eight founding unions a permanent veto (although mysteriously the words " free-loading old farts" are omitted).

To prove its point the report claims that half of the world's four million registered players are in England (which begs the question why are we still so rubbish?) and that 97 per cent of those who watched the last World Cup came from the founding unions of England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, France, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

It also cites, as evidence of the IRB's failure to ensure that the game develops globally:

  • The failure to secure a place for Rugby Sevens in the 2012 Olympic Games, despite the fact rugby first appeared in the Olympics in 1900;

  • The inability to accommodate Argentina into a regularly-scheduled international rugby calendar before 2012 at the earliest – despite Argentina finishing third at the last Rugby World Cup; and

  • The decision to host the next Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, a small, rugby-saturated market, rather than in Japan, a springboard to the fast-growing Asian economies...

    ...none of which you can really argue against.

    The report is being sent to rugby stakeholders around the world: administrators, players, referees, government ministers, commercial partners, journalists and influential supporters. It claims to provide an independent perspective on rugby’s current status, identify some of the underlying problems and proposes how to help solve them. The intention, it says, is to start a debate among rugby’s stakeholders about how to become truly global and secure the future of the game

    To download the report click here.


John Birch said...

It was ever thus, wasn't it?

If I recall my history correctly, rugby had something like a 20 year start on every other football code in the 19th century. It should be the worldwide football code. Rugby is the sport that was played in North America.

But the nations playing the game wanted a say in running it. They wanted to discuss how the rules should evolve. And the the rulers of the game told them to, basically, get lost. It was their game, it was pure to its origins, and a British game too. The views of non-Imperial countries were not wanted. So the North Americans went their own way.

And when another football code came along that was founded on compromise, that was willing to listen, and was desparate to find new players, unsurprisingly the world took up that one.

Practically nothing has changed and the impression I get is that a significant proportion of rugby administrators want things to stay that way. It is a maddeningly conservative sport - the way that women's rugby is treated is indicative of that. These members the IRB want to have their cake and eat it - they want the power and money and status of being a "World Sport", but they don't want Johnny Foreigner telling them how to run it.

It is actually quite fascinating to compare and contrast the work and attitudes of the IRB with its much-maligned (particularly by UK unions) "rival" FIRA. On almost every measure, from its treatement of minor nations to its approach to women's rugby, FIRA is so much more positive its out of sight.

Anonymous said...

Yep, there’s a lot to agree with in there. Here in the Netherlands, lots of people watched the World Cup on BBC and were thrilled by the spectacle of it all. Some politicians went so far as to say the spirit of the games was an example for all of society. You’d think that after such a big success the union and the IRB would arrange some kind of follow-up to use the interest generated to gain new players and viewers. Unfortunately there’s nothing of the sort. Maybe that’s because it’s a small union with little funding or commercial expertise. Some of the clubs are doing their best to capitalise, by holding open days, sevens tournaments and beach rugby tournaments, but we certainly don’t get the impression that there’s huge support from the union to help us promote events.

We recently played a beach rugby demonstration game at the opening of a new permanent beach sports court; some of the country’s best sportspeople including Olympic medal hopefuls for volleyball were present, all demonstrating the beach variants of their sport; the press was there, lots of spectators and national and local politicians. Was there anyone available from the union to referee or help the commentator? No. In short, as a club we did our best to provide a worthwhile spectacle and people enjoyed watching despite the somewhat amateurish impression our efforts undoubtedly gave. It’s a real shame as beach rugby is one variant that attracts a whole new audience; the young, trendy beach crowd who’ll happily put some money in the bar in return for a good day out.

Now OK, the Netherlands is a small market where rugby is only a minor sport, but the sae applies in many countries; the potential for growth is there, but the IRB need to come out of their ghetto and explore the world. Stop handing TV rights to narrow commercial interests, use the power of the established markets to gain leverage over the media; tell them if you want to show the World Cup, the tri-nations or the six nations, that’s fine, but then you’ll have to show it on ‘normal’ TV in developing markets as well. Otherwise, bog off.


Nursedude said...

Many people in my own country don't even realize that the USA won the Gold medal the last time that Rugby was played in the Olympics.

I can hardly wait to look through the entire report, but just looking at TF's highlighted parts of the report, it looks like a lot of food for thought in there.

I think it is a travesty that even after it's great run in France 2007, Argentina is still on the outside looking in. Oddly enough, maybe Argentina's success made the folks at the Six Nations and Tri Nations TOO nervous about adding a team that can be competitive right away, and not a whipping boy like Italy was the first few years it was in the Six Nations.

Anonymous said...

The way Rugby has been run is a travesty. Previous posters are correct, if Union hadn't been so conservative and been able to adapt better there would be no league, Canadian or American football. The IRB has only itself to blame.