ARU’s strategic plan alienates rugby’s traditional base

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By Sam Ryan

There’s a coffee shop up the road from me. It was my favourite by a long way.

Sure, you had to wait in line a while and parking wasn’t great, but when you finally got that coffee it all became worthwhile.

A few years ago, the coffee shop started serving cakes and other savouries.

At first, I thought it was great. Sometimes, when I grabbed a coffee, I’d pick up a croissant as well.

Life couldn’t have been better.

But then something changed. The owners sold the coffee shop to a rich man who liked croissants even more than I did.

He thought he could make more money if he sold more cakes and savouries, so he began to focus more on that instead.

Suddenly, the coffee didn’t taste so good.

The new owner started to use cheaper milk and told his baristas to work faster.

The quality quickly declined, and so did the lines.

The loyal customers who had been coming to the coffee shop for many years began to go elsewhere. Some stopped drinking coffee completely.

It just wasn’t worth it anymore.

The new owner had forgotten why the majority of his customers came to his shop in the first place. To drink quality coffee.

Effectively, the ARU has done the same thing.

In its five year strategic plan, announced earlier this week, the ARU has justified alienating its traditional core by promising to make “rugby a game for all.”

Now please don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe that women’s and Sevens rugby is important. So is the promotion of non-contact versions of the game and the push into public schools and other non-traditional rugby areas.

But surely, the ARU’s pursuit of these new markets cannot take place at the expense of the game’s traditional stakeholders – the players, coaches, volunteers and supporters at local rugby clubs right around Australia.

Particularly, when many of them are paying the ARU more than $300 in registration fees each year.

The strategic plan states that the “XVs game and Club Rugby is at the heart of Australian rugby and keeping it strong must be central to ongoing success.”

However it doesn’t specify how this will be done and focusses largely on the ARU’s efforts to “reach new markets of people not currently participating in organised sport.”

That worries me, particularly as it came just a day after the ARU’s annual report showed funding of Community Rugby had been almost halved from 2014 to 2015.

Sure, the ARU has announced it will employ more development officers and attend more schools, but I wonder how many lifelong rugby fans that is creating? How many of these kids actually go and sign up to play rugby at a local club as a result of the ARU’s visit?

Because I think the AFL and NRL might by trying a similar thing.

Why can’t the local clubs take on some of this responsibly and manage the development of their own juniors?

From minis right through to colts and grade. It sounds like a pathway to me.

It obviously won’t be the same for everyone. School rugby also plays a vital role. But at the moment rugby clubs and schools are bleeding and are struggling to fend off the advances of rival codes.

But apparently all that doesn’t matter in the long run, as long as the ARU has some positive statistics to report.

If the ARU is so worried that clubs and schools will “piss money up against the wall”, then why not make funding available on a case by case basis or put an ARU auditor in place to control the pool of funds.

At the end of the day, something is better than nothing and that’s what most clubs are seeing at the moment.

I’ll finish on what I found to be the most astounding line of the ARU’s strategic plan.

In creating the strategic plan, the ARU surveyed 8,300 rugby “fans” and other major stakeholders and came to the conclusion that “success for the Wallabies (is) seen as the most important outcome” for Australian rugby.

I challenge Mr Pulver or anyone from the ARU to head to a local rugby field this Saturday and ask that very question. I’d be astounded if they got the same answer.

Oh and don’t worry, someone will be there. Setting up from 7am and packing up well after it goes dark.

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