How Rugby Australia could use the Folau cash to grow and potentially save our game
By Sam Ryan
A lot has been said about the Israel Folau saga over the past week and while it doesn’t seem like it’s going to go away anytime soon, it’s becoming more and more likely that Australian rugby will need to start planning for life without Issy.
The immediate conversation sparks discussion about the makeup of the Wallabies side ahead of this year’s World Cup, but I think there’s a more important discussion to be had.
Instead of looking at who will replace Issy in a gold jersey in a few months time, why don’t we look beyond that.
Where are we going to find the Wallabies fullback to play at the 2035 World Cup and how are we going to keep him and her in our game.
It’s a long and difficult discussion but the reality is that at the moment, our player and talent pools are shrinking.
Provided our mates at Moore Park can get their ducks in a row in the next few weeks, Rugby Australia should have more than $3 million to spend over the next few years, that would have been paid to Folau.
So if they can avoid paying out the remainder of his contract, what should they do with his cash?
They could pretty up their balance sheet, which is going to be ugly, particularly in a World Cup year.
They could form another high performance squad, hire a few more ex Wallabies or find office space for some more defence and attack coaches, or directors or analysts or whatever they call them now.
Or they could take the long term approach and invest the money to increase the sport’s real participation rate in the years and decades to come.
I believe the most practical and potentially productive solution would be to use the Folau cash to reduce the registration cost of junior participants in a particular age group, say 8-12 year olds, for the next three years.
We’re constantly told that we live in the world’s most competitive winter sporting market and that’s not only true for the professional teams but also for grassroots participants.
Kids these days can play rugby, or league (it’s a dirty work, isn’t it), AFL, soccer, hockey, judo, badminton, you name it.
So why not take away one potential barrier and create a point of difference – cost.
I’m not a parent yet, so maybe I’ve got this wrong. But say I was a mother in western Sydney or in the southern suburbs of Brisbane and I was deciding if my son or daughter was going to play league, union or AFL.
There may be other factors that sway my decision, but if it costs less to play rugby than it does to play the other sports, I think I know which way I’d go.
With $3 million, Rugby Australia could reduce the registration cost of 20,000 junior participants by $50 a season for three years.
If they wanted to target particular areas, they could reduce the rego of 10,000 players by $100. Or it could be limited to new participants.
With the $100 active kids rebate that is currently available in NSW, a lot of those kids could play rugby for free.
And in those three years, the kids will fall in love with our game just like we all did when we were that age and suddenly our player and talent pools begin to increase.
It doesn’t solve rugby’s issues completely, but it will certainly help reverse the current negative trend.
To their credit, Rugby Australia have spent a decent amount of cash on their schools programs of late and have done a great job increasing their exposure in non traditional rugby schools.
But no matter how hard they work in those areas, they’re still always going to be outspent by league and AFL.
In my eyes, that cash is all but wasted unless the kids in those school programs are joining a local rugby club.
So to capitalise on those programs, why not send the kids home from school with a note to mum and dad spruiking the rego rebate.
It’s not as glossy as signing a new star or building a new gym but it may just reverse our (real) participation trends.
That’s money well spent to me.