CAMPO: I’ve tried to help grassroots rugby, to no avail
Australia's David Campese escapes a tackle. AP Photo/Brian Little
It’s been interesting reading some of the comments on my columns from the armchair experts asking why I talk so much and don’t do something to help Australian rugby at grassroots level.
The reality is that I’ve tried and it just wasn’t welcomed.
I thought I should give some insight into my unwelcomed efforts over the years.
In 2010, I was asked by the president of Sydney University to set up a Sevens academy at the University, which has remained the dominant club side in NSW rugby over the past decade or so.
The future of this code is bright after being granted approval as an Olympic sport for 2016.
This means an opportunity for rugby players to win an Olympic medal, an offering no other code can offer, not forgetting the appeal to women as they too have the option of winning a medal.
My aim was to promote Sevens as a viable alternative to the 15 man-a-side game. And create an avenue to increase the popularity of rugby and get kids to choose rugby over the many other sporting codes on offer.
We set up an internal Sevens competition, supported by most of the houses at Sydney University. We got a sponsor on board. It was well supported and very successful.
Then realising we needed a feeder system, we turned our focus to school level, particularly the government sector, to generate players through a system which would be set up as an academy using universities’ facilities and structure.
From the investigations I did, it was disappointing to discover that little was being done to promote Sevens rugby in Schools.
One of my ideas was to try approach government schools and encourage them to offer Sevens as an option.
I was unexpectedy surprised at the positive response I received after speaking to a few contacts high up in the school system – especially out west, where union is dominated by league.
Unfortunately, the whole thing fell apart after a year due to the ARU allowing the national Sevens side to compete in the local Sevens comps.
Due to strong ties to the ARU, half of the University players were called up for the National team and no longer available for us. I found this very frustrating and unfair for the clubs as the point of the local comps is to allow club teams to gain experience and win prize money to improve their club facilities and help with travel.
Fast forward to February last year, by which time I’d been running my rugby academies in Hong Hong for about a year.
I approached the NSW Waratahs and proposed to set up a weekly coaching academy for 30 or so kids at the Sydney Football Stadium every Friday night.
The Waratahs would give each club around Sydney an opportunity to send 30 kids to be coached by myself for two hours or so. The focus was to be on the basics in a fun yet structured environment after which parents could join in for a BBQ.
And so the discussions went like this: “Great idea but you have to go to ARU to see if it will work”.
Then I was told “we must approach the Waratah sponsors first to avoid any conflicts”.
That’s when all the excuses started.
To cut to the chase, after months of excuses, they made it out to be too complicated and that was the end of that.
So for all of you out there, that’s why I have my academies overseas. There’s a market there for it and, unlike in Australia, these grassroots initiatives are actually supported by the various governing bodies.
Perhaps part of the problem is that I don’t go by the rules and I am willing to share ideas with anybody.
Back in ’96, just after I retired, Alex Evans, who coached the Wallabies for many years, came to my house to say he was leaving the game.
He said he had approached the ARU with an idea to get him and I to travel around Australia promoting rugby and nuturing grassroots through coaching kids and club/school coaches.
You can guess what happened to that idea …
Sadly, I have tried and over the years to help coach kids’ schools and clubs.
After moving away from coaching rugby into the business world for almost fifteen years, I have recently realised that rugby is still my true passion and coaching and passing on my knowledge is what makes me tick.
I still want to help, but my time has passed. I’ve got to go where the opportunities are.
So to all those people who comment, “why don’t you do something about the current state of Australian rugby”. I have tried. But there’s only so much you can do.
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