Winter is here, games are cancelled, clubhouses across the country are empty, and you haven’t had a Coffin Dodgers blog this season.
Last year we published an article Ambition (see HERE), this last few weeks I have seen a number of articles regards ending player payments below Elite level. So is it time to declare grassroots rugby amateur again, (but was it ever so!).
From the top down professional rugby is becoming financially unsustainable only recently the German national team went on strike prior to the match against Chile, players unhappy following the ending of funding arrangements meaning that the national squad’s full-time, training programme had to be cut. Samoan rugby stating bankruptcy, the funding of so-called tier 2 nations is something that needs addressing urgently by World Rugby.
Premiership clubs continue to debate the merits of adding teams to the league, ring-fencing payments, ditching relegation etc, the list goes on. The biggest issue for most clubs is whether to pay players at all. The RFU can remove some burden in declaring the game amateur below a cut-off point, which matters not where providing there is one.
Let’s bring the point closer to home, will it be abused at grassroots level, the answer is yes, it always was we all know clubs who hid boot money. There will always be the odd club who believes money will get them higher, but does that mean they are successful.
Be it contracted players or a playing budget for travelling expenses there is a crippling obligation for grassroots clubs to dig deeper into a benefactors pocket or to seek out the elusive local sponsors, and for what reason? The arrival of the leagues in the eighties, followed by payments to players in the nineties, changed everything for clubs whose misplaced ambition to progress through the system has led to inflated playing budgets and an over-reliance on sponsors or benefactors, changing the nature and look of such clubs. There are many playing at our level.
It was once the case, that clubs were run by and for the members who all contributed membership fees and all had the interests of the club and the local community at heart. Only 4 years ago 2 clubs within a stone’s throw were fielding 5 XVs. It is not just the case of clubs running a rugby budget to achieve their ambition to progress the 1st XV. There are other factors involved, but in some instances this has led to alienation of players lower down within the clubs with a disastrous effect on playing numbers. You only need look at the Halbro intermediate leagues to see who’s lost teams and at what level some so called big clubs lower teams are at. This is then transponded throughout a club resulting in a dwindling in-house support from the lifeblood of these clubs – the amateur volunteers, cook the food, do the laundry etc. Tellingly, resulting in an empty clubhouse on a cancelled rugby weekend due to inclement weather. Effectively the “soul” of such clubs has been lost.
And all for what? A couple of promotions to a slightly higher standard of rugby?
So is enough, enough. Is it time for those rugby clubs to rediscover the joys of amateurism – of being self-funding, community based organisations run purely for the love of the game. Or is that era over for ever.
This is not an observation of any particular club, just a thought of a coffin dodger sat in watching it snow.