A grassroots perspective to the ARU’s strategic plan: Part 2

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By Brett Papworth

The response to my Rugby News article the other day has been quite staggering. It has been overwhelmingly supportive and I have sent many of the responses through to the Chairman of the ARU, Cameron Clyne, and to Bill Pulver.

Respected school headmasters, current and former Wallabies, a former national coaching director, rugby people from right around the country, from Perth, Queensland and even abroad. And of course many local rugby volunteers who found themselves nodding in agreement. Even the cricket community has jumped on board.

Literally hundreds of responses, and that doesn’t include those on social media, to which thankfully I am immune.

The ARU were asked by Rugby News for a response. Instead they chose to respond in The Australian, and in response to questions from Peter Fitzsimons in the Sydney Morning Herald.

I can tell you that Cameron Clyne has made contact and we plan to catch up next week to plot a way forward. Let’s hope so anyway.

Understandably, he wasn’t too happy and we had some spirited dialogue.

I have met with Cameron previously and found him to be a decent man and a good listener, who I think genuinely wants to find a solution and mend a few fences. He doesn’t want this to play out in the media, as you can imagine, but the fact is that for some years now, I and others, have been trying to make progress by doing things privately, respectfully, and desperately hoping they were listening.

Well they weren’t and until they do, this is how we are going to have to play it.

As for yesterday’s comments by the CEO in response, I have a number of comments to make:

It seems the Louis Vuitton bags were a gift from others, not the ARU, so for that I apologise. I wish I hadn’t made that mistake, because if I hadn’t there would have been no response at all. Out of 2500 words, he chose to respond to perhaps the least important point of all. Not a word about the main issues, and no mention or response to the fact that the game’s grassroots are dying, or any defence of the expenditure of the ARU.

Instead, Bill called me “ill-informed and disrespectful.”

In my dealings over recent years, we, as clubs have been lied to, patronised and dismissed as irrelevant. Yet I am the one who is disrespectful? As for ill-informed, the facts stated in my article are from the most recent publicly available ARU annual report, and he offered no comment.

I may have gone a bit far when I said the board members were all there for the benefit of their own CVs. Because that couldn’t possibly be true could it? If, as Bill said yesterday, the board members are “loyal servants of the game” and a “stellar group of people” who are responsible for “arguably the best governance model in sport”, then what I would like to know exactly is this: what have any one of them done, specifically, for the long term health of the game in this country?

Loyal servants of the “professional” game, of that I have no doubt. Loyal servants to political correctness, and loyal servants to media spin, I also have no doubt.

Bill also said he regretted saying the clubs would piss the money up against the wall, instead clarifying that what he meant was that historically our clubs have squandered money on player payments. He has said before, that in his opinion, we are an amateur level of the game.

What he won’t tell you is that he knows differently and here are the facts:

Certain universities have offered scholarships to elite rugby players for some years. They’ve reduced entrance scores, tuition fees and in some cases college accommodation. Bill knows this better than others. He also knows there are people in rugby administration who are contributors to foundations, that fund clubs to assist them in being a powerhouse.

What this has created is a situation whereby other clubs are forced to find something (anything!) to keep their very own juniors, and often fail to do so. So no, it’s not strictly amateur, but it’s hardly our fault and it is entirely disingenuous on his part to talk about it without giving the full story.

We don’t actually mind the scholarships, for the academic rugby player. It is what universities should do. You know, the Rhodes Scholarship ideal! We love our best rising to positions of prominence. But within reason, and not for every lad with some rugby talent.

When school leavers are making demands of their local club, because ARU development systems have made far too many of them think they are special, then maybe things have gone too far.

But this is a discussion for another time.

What we’re here to talk about is grassroots funding. Not Intrust Shute Shield funding, but funding for the 700+ clubs right around Australia.

As a first step, why not hand some of the development responsibility back to the clubs and the local areas. You don’t need to own it, and we have done it well over the years. Vibrant local clubs, at all levels, can have a big impact on the local community, and it might enable us to gain back a bit of ground against the other codes. And it will make a huge difference to the culture and the longer term development of players.

Bill also mentioned an increase in funding for grassroots to $10 million, but I wonder how much of that is actually on this Viva 7s programme, and how much is on programmes and people which will be controlled by the ARU, as opposed to being handed to grassroots to run with because, just maybe, they know what they are doing?

And please can we get clarification on the funding split between the states, just for transparency, which is what the ”best governance model in sport” should be right on top of!!

By now, you might be wondering why I am being such a pain in the ass? I have been asking myself the same question. Why is this so important to me?

Well, I’m not completely sure. Maybe because I have spent the best part of my life involved in sport, heavily, summer and winter, and believe that grassroots sport is just about the greatest gift to society there is.

And maybe because, back in 1994, I applied to the ARU and the IRB for reinstatement to the amateur ranks, after my stint on the dark side. My application was rejected and I was forced to take the game to court to be allowed to have ANY involvement.

The case never got to court, and settled on the courthouse steps. At substantial cost, mostly financial.

The game knew they couldn’t keep the gates closed for much longer, and within about a year the game had gone professional.

So I guess I feel I have played my part in the largesse now being enjoyed by those of whom I am critical. It isn’t personal, but just as it was important to fight back then, it is important to fight now.

And tomorrow, I will be at TG Millner Field, for the first trial of the new season against the mighty Students, with a big crowd of like-minded volunteers, who will ensure the place is set up, the water bottles filled, that we have jerseys and balls, etc. All in the hope that one day one or two of our lads might get to pull on our national jersey. But if not, then at least they know we want them to be their best, and that it’s worth it.

Sometimes you just have to have a crack.​