Rugby in Australia is struggling. I think of rugby union as a family home.
In a home, the most important thing is a strong foundation. What would happen if you spent all the money on the roof, without a strong floor? The house would collapse. This is what is happening to rugby in Australia.
I am a 16-year-old schoolboy boarding at Newington College in Stanmore, Sydney. However, I have been very fortunate to be gifted this position, coming from a rural area of the Riverina playing club rugby to now playing GPS rugby at a prestigious independent school.
I have seen both ends of the spectrum of funding into grassroots rugby. I have had the opportunity to represent the ACT Junior Brumbies and captain the Southern Inland junior rugby union side and noted the difference between these two sides. Rugby Australia appears to have more emphasis on elitist rugby than growing their grassroots.
The difference in facilities between these two representative sides is dramatic. While one of them didn’t have enough jerseys for a full squad, the other extreme was a full kit presented to the ACT side. The level of coaching is also noted as the ACT Brumbies utilise the facilities of the senior club, which is of the highest standard.
Rugby Australia needs to reconsider how their money is distributed from the professional level down the chain to grassroots, especially in rural and remote areas. Your youth is when you start to love or hate what you do, in this case, the sport you play.
Rugby Australia needs to reassess how they develop and engage the grassroots of our great sport with much needed effort into the development of all areas involved. Something that would be greatly appreciated by the grassroots clubs would be grants from RA, providing struggling clubs with more funding to be able to upgrade facilities, plus the ability to access all-weather training facilities as seen in the AFL’s grassroots programs.
The problem I am outlining is that there is not enough funding filtering down into the grassroots. Instead, all the profits that are created by the clubs are going straight into the pockets of the administration and representative agendas instead of the junior clubs to boost their popularity within the community and investing in the future of the great game we call rugby union.
However, there is plenty of money at the under-16 age group and up. This is where rugby starts to identify the future of the game. This is the starting point for future athletes. This is where Rugby Australia is going wrong. Kids are not staying in the sport of rugby union as the support from their idols isn’t there like it is in other codes in Australia.
The promotion of rugby is an easy fix. RA only needs to put some effort into the matter. Regular visits of high-profile players to rural schools should be high on the agenda of the development officers. Upgrades in equipment for these struggling clubs is also essential to boost the sport from a young age.
More coaching accreditation courses for coaches are needed. This will enhance a team’s performance and once again encourage more kids to play. Finally, promoting referees from a young age to keep more people around the game will create a strong community. Refereeing courses will help to create this atmosphere around the game. All of these ideas listed above are in place in the power sports of Australia like rugby league, AFL and football.
Achieving all this will expand the popularity of the game immensely. Further enhancement of the sport could be shown through turning rugby into the family game, as similarly seen in cricket and the NRL, which are both advertised as the backyard game around a barbecue of a Sunday lunch – fun for the whole family.
Having said all this, I hope that Rugby Australia can consider some of the things I have outlined above, as I am an up-and-coming grassroots player that has experienced some of these problems first hand.
And yes, I know this is a tough time now, not only for rugby but for everyone. With the ending of this virus, hopefully soon, rugby in Australia can rebuild stronger and with more intent to nurture the young athletes and the future of the game because if we continue on the path we are heading, I wonder where we will be in ten or so years.