Editorials - December 2016

December 07 2016

Editorial on Chairman's Open Letter and Other Rugby Canada Matters

posted Dec 7 2016
[ed. comments below]

As the year winds down and so does the rugby season in BC for the winter break it seemed timely to review where we are in this country in rugby terms. There were a few items that crossed this desk that merited comment, one was the recent letter by Rugby Canada chairman Tim Powers. Karl Fix had something to say on it that was on point and I'll mention that later on. I was going to let it lie until a reader and well respected member of the rugby community sent in a note, "Will you be commenting on Tim Powers letter to the membership in an editorial?" How could I say no. Then while I'm at it might as well cover the recent announcement of the new gymnasium they're putting in Langford and go over last year's financial statement to see where the money is being spent. So relax this may take a while.

Tim Powers Letter

One of the things that I have learned since becoming Chairman of Rugby Canada is the importance of improving our strategic communications with our big passionate community of rugby enthusiasts in Canada and abroad.

Our team does a good job of telling the stories of our athletes, our teams and our on field pursuits but we are going to see if we can communicate with you all more often, more effectively on a broader range of issues. We know you are all interested in things like future plans and strategies for professional rugby in North America, growing the game in Canada, the potential of North America hosting a World Cup, our men’s and women’s World Cup plans, what the road to Tokyo 2020 looks like, the well-being of our athletes, to name but just a few.

These are all things our team of high quality professionals assess, evaluate and in some cases are already actioning like the World Cup build up for both our women’s and men’s teams. We have some of the best people in the sports world working with us. We are in good hands.

Let me address the matter of professional rugby which rightly has been extremely topical. I know there was disappointment in different places that we did not join Pro Rugby. While the owner of Pro Rugby is to be commended for getting his business going and working hard to make it succeed, that organization’s pathway and direction was not aligned with ours.

So what does that mean? Put simply Rugby Canada wants to be part of a professional league that allows the best opportunity for our players to play and earn a living playing the game they love. Simultaneously we want to ensure that participation in a professional league helps us make our national team better and generate more Tier 1 nation fixtures. We want our relationship with a professional league to assist us in selling and growing the game in Canada while helping our athletes get more exposure. We also won’t sign away our ability to do what is best for rugby in Canada.

Professional rugby in Canada will not come by simply snapping our fingers. But it is something we are actively looking at on different fronts. We have no formal agreements with anyone now but as indicated above we are doing our own due diligence and outlining the priorities that are important to advancing our sport in Canada.

You have my commitment, our board’s and management to work to communicate with you more regularly. Personally, I am always open to feedback, insight and constructive criticism. Feel free to write me at any time at tpowers@rugbycanada.ca .

Thank you for your interest and commitment to rugby.

Karl Fix who regularly sends out comments to an email list had this to say, "Generic political statement with no substance. This is one reason Trump was elected. Why was this US Pro League not a good fit for RC and in turn what is a good fit?"

It's interesting because when I first read Tim's letter it made me think of Trump as well, I think it was this paragraph "These are all things our team of high quality professionals assess, evaluate and in some cases are already actioning like the World Cup build up for both our women’s and men’s teams. We have some of the best people in the sports world working with us. We are in good hands." It was no doubt the use of superlatives like high quality and best. The only thing needed to nail this paragraph in Trump fashion was to throw the word "tremendous" in there somewhere. Hey it worked for Trump in a faith over fact victory, so why not the sporting world. But Karl was right, there was no substance to the message.

Another thing Karl hit on was the link to PRO Rugby, I think Tim's letter was prompted by the public outcry on Rugby Canada's decision to back out of a PRO Rugby deal. The league's owner basically called them out for reneging on an agreement. Rugby Canada are usually immune to criticism so there must have been a storm of controversy on this issue to warrant an open letter.

The reader who prompted this article expressed his feelings on the letter, "Saying that they know what is best trust us is condescending, insulting and very elitist." Couldn't agree more and I think that's a problem that Rugby Canada management don't see, they have become the Rugby Elite, distancing themselves from the rugby grassroots and membership. It's partly fueled by the $3.7 million they receive from World Rugby and the $3 million they receive from Sport Canada, why listen to the membership when their dues only pay $900K - you're not going to pay for the top hotels and buffets with that kind of money.

Another reader had this to say, "A full change throughout the organization is needed with people being put in place who understand the reality of rugby in Canada. The objective should be to have a team that can first compete with the teams close above us in the standings rather than trying to pretend we can play with top tier teams like NZ. I think this is quite achievable." A change to a more player focused, grassroots development board would be a step in the right direction, but I'm not confident it will come about unless people demand change. The PRO Rugby league would have allowed top domestic players to get paid, now they're back playing amateur or taking food vouchers from Rugby Canada in exchange for their services.

On a more upbuilding note, Rugby Canada will have a new edifice, the Al Charron Training Centre which will be a gym, offices, and six apartments. Congratulations to Al for the naming. The RC crew flew in for the announcement with at least the Chairman, CEO and Head of Marketing present [ed. note Tim Powers paid for his own ticket and Mark Lemmon the Head of Marketing was not present]. I wonder which budget that comes out of, Rugby Canada spent $180K on planning and director meetings last year. The facility will certainly add to Langford's position as a rugby hub in Canada. It shouldn't be construed that this is going to make Canada better at rugby though, if grand facilities were required for rugby excellence the Fijians would be the worst team on the planet, they're not, they're the best in the Olympic version of the game. So while concrete and steel produce good buildings it's heart and culture that produce good rugby players. [culture: the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an organization.]

So on the theme of creating better rugby players and stronger teams, if this indeed is the goal of Rugby Canada, let's look where the money is being spent and not spent and how that fits in with this goal. One figure that jumps out is that Rugby Canada collects $355K from players to support the national teams, this is from age grade players and women's XVs. The senior men don't pay, neither do the U20 men. The Senior Women's XV paid $110K to support themselves, age-grade boys and their families paid $124K and age-grade girls and their families paid $106K. It's not a financial profile you would want to see if you're serious about developing the next generation of rugby stars. How many top players get dropped from the "pathway" due to financial reasons. It makes you want to check how many board member trips, management expense accounts and other management spending could be cut to lessen the burden in this area. We've all heard of players who have declined national age-grade tours because they couldn't afford it. The women's XVs deserve special mention as they've reached #2 in the world with little help from Rugby Canada financially. Sponsorship generated for the national women's XVs shows up as a paltry $15K. Rugby Canada's contribution shows up as $20K. While World Rugby puts $1.8M into Canada's senior men's XVs program they put zero into the women's XVs program according to 2015 figures. It should be mentioned the good work of the Monty Heald fund at the Canadian Rugby Foundation as it provides money to support the women's XVs program which has helped to reduce the pay to play model. The 2015 figures show a $65K grant/donation amount towards the NSWT, it will be interesting to see the 2016 figures.

2015 National Team figures. Click on image for larger4 view.

What changes would you like to see: more funding towards age-grade teams; more funding for women's XVs; more transparency on management spending; better results on sponsorship efforts for age-grade and women's XVs; a rethink on PRO Rugby in Canada?

If you want change in Canadian rugby then I suggest you contact Tim Powers, the chairman of Rugby Canada, in his open letter he encouraged dialogue and he seems like a sincere person. His email is tpowers@rugbycanada.ca

If you want to CC: BCRN on any emails feel free, if you want to write a letter to the editor on the matter email editor@bcrugbynews.com

Pemberton Holmes
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