In normal times, I afford myself the luxury of a game of golf on a given weekend. As a former rugby player who has represented his country I like to think I have a certain aptitude for sport in general and, as I’ve moved away from full-time employment over the years, I’ve been able to devote more time to golf. I fulfil my duties as WRU chairman with pride, diligence and dedication during the week, but I’m a Sunday morning regular and I might get out and practice with extra sessions when time allows.
It’s the kind of schedule that rugby players in the community game might enjoy as they prepare to partake of their chosen past-time on rugby pitches around Wales during the season. In comparison to the professional game in either sport, I’d suggest we are perhaps at a similar standard. I’m not going to win the Ryder Cup and there are hundreds of players at clubs around the country who will never pull on the red jersey of Wales, but who nevertheless love and passionately enjoy our game and, indeed, help to sustain it with enthusiasm and commitment to it.
As we often state, the community game is the lifeblood of our sport, club players are also supporters, coaches, administrators and referees and alongside their families and social networks they form the very DNA of Welsh rugby, but there is one persistent factor at this level of the game that I simply cannot fathom – payment.
There is no one scouting the golf courses looking to tempt me with lucrative offers after a decent round and neither would I, nor anyone else for that matter, expect there to be. So why do clubs, who exist for rugby and rugby alone so unnecessarily drain the very resources which could ensure long term sustainability by insisting on paying players?
I spoke on these pages last week about opportunity arising from present adversity. Clubs around the country now have a stark admission to make, after cancelling the season at the end of March doors have been closed, lights have been switched off and costs have been minimised, in readiness for the time when we can switch everything back on again. But there are outliers who cannot turn off all the taps in this simple way. They are the amateur clubs who have players on contracts and with wage bills to sustain. In the professional game there have been negotiations and pay-cuts across the board, but in the amateur game this should not have been an issue.
I know many of our Indigo Group Premiership clubs, for example, are keen to use the current lull in playing to re-assess their own finances. At this level of the game there is a willingness already to more tightly control payments made to players and a widespread acceptance that this aspect of individual club business models is not currently fit for purpose. But, if the Premiership must significantly tighten its belt, elsewhere payments must not be made at all.
We will have the opportunity soon, we hope, to start again. The opportunity is there for us all to sit down with our key stakeholders and re-calibrate. Welsh rugby will return with renewed vigour, it will be refreshed and irrepressible and the communities around our clubs will flood out of their homes to gather again to enjoy each other’s company and to enjoy our national sport.
But please, dear clubs, I implore you let us start again with the right structure. If no club offers payment, then there will be no market for player wages and no club will feel the need. If no club breaks ranks and we all play for enjoyment, for our town or village of birth, for the club with whom we hold the strongest affinity, with our friends and neighbours, our extended families and our children, then no club will suffer the same threat of oblivion that is currently being felt in some quarters if a similar crisis were to strike again.
Don’t pay players. Play in the league you are in, strive to beat the opposition you face, dream of lifting the trophies available at your current standard and attract the players who are drawn to your club. Use the money you save on attracting, developing and engaging players for the future or on ensuring your club remains the central hub of your community that it has always been. Be sustainable and help safeguard the future for us all.
Yours in rugby,