Sydney rugby clubs hope they will benefit from the recently launched Australian Rugby Foundation.
The Australian Rugby Union has committed to supporting rugby’s grassroots and the clubs believe they are an important part of that group, although many remain sceptical that they will get any of that funding.
The Australian Rugby Foundation is the ARU’s national foundation for rugby. The foundation was set up to raise money through donations from the wealthy and extensive Australian expat community of rugby supporters around the world. It also holds numerous fundraising and networking events, offers exclusive memberships for its donors and is led by patron former Prime Minister, the Hon John Howard OM AC.
According to its website, the foundation’s goal is simple:
“to connect Rugby’s supporters around the world to help secure the future of our Game – from the grassroots to the gold jersey.”
This untapped resource may just be the lifeline that long-struggling segments of the game have needed and deserve.
The 7Two telecast deal funded by the clubs and New South Wales Rugby Union has provided some safety to the long-term viability of the Shute Shield competition. However, it remains to be seen if struggling clubs can remain involved after the sustained funding cuts and increased player fees introduced by the ARU. The telecast deal staved off the immediate threat of sponsor walk outs for many clubs, justifying the expense.
Warringah Rats president Phillip Parsons said his club was responsible for community rugby in the area.
“I’d love to see the ARU give every club 120 grand, and we use it for the development of community rugby and we are responsible for it,” he said.
“We are disappointed we weren’t given support from the ARU this year. We are disappointed that we had [to pay] an additional participation fee that was solely used to fund the broadcasting rights, I was disappointed by that.”
Although no specific funding promises have been made to club rugby in relation to the foundation, the ARU has continuously indicated its support for the grassroots of the game.
The foundation’s executive director and former ARU head of strategy, David Sykes, hinted at this when he recently told this writer:
“The individuals who make up our game are unequivocally our greatest strength. Through the ARF we want to provide a vehicle to better support rugby people to help the game grow.
“The ARF is tasked with raising funds for a number of areas of the game that typically haven’t enjoyed the support they deserve, including grassroots, Indigenous and women’s rugby.
“The ARF is also the organisation responsible for supporting players who have suffered catastrophic injuries – a role we take very seriously.”
The ARU’s new television broadcast deal is poised to generate $30 to $40 million, but it is unlikely any of this bounty will make its way down to the lower levels of the game.
The general manager at Northern Suburbs, Adam Fulepp, said:
“The long-term stability of grassroots is needed to ensure the success of rugby in Australia. It is no surprise that, in the current economic climate, sponsorship is harder to come by than it once was across all levels and codes in Australia.
“When your grassroots base is strong, those at the top of the pyramid are performing strongly.”
The foundation has the potential to support key participation growth areas, such as western Sydney, where the long dominance of rugby league and the growth of AFL have starved rugby of funds and players.
Establishing the foundation is an acknowledgement by the ARU that something needs to be done to fund the game where it is most vulnerable.
Parramatta Two Blues general manager Michael Bell welcomed the foundations’ possible benefits.
“The ARU have for some time now given the message of the importance of western Sydney to the long-term future of the game. We look forward to seeing the funds from the ARF channelled into grassroots rugby in the west,” he said.
There is nothing stopping clubs from setting up foundations to ensure their own success, with the best example being the powerful Sydney University Football Club Foundation, as well as Warringah’s own capital fund.
However, the possibility of access to the larger and non-affiliated pool of money may be the push that club rugby needs. Clubs are also seeking more clarity as to who will be supported and how.
“If ARU continues to keep saying they are responsible for grassroots rugby, we want to know what that actually entails. Define what that means. Who’s involved in grassroots rugby and what are they responsible for,” Parsons said.
The ARU believes the foundation’s long-term benefits are real and the appetite for donation is growing.