Open letter to the Rugby Community from Bill Pulver

As many of you are aware, Australian Rugby has recently communicated a new Strategic Plan, which was built collaboratively by the Rugby Community.

After a significantly challenging period for the game financially in recent years, a vastly improved media rights arrangement announced in late 2015 has provided the game with the opportunity to address these challenges. To achieve this, the entire Rugby Community was engaged in a process to develop a strategy encompassing every level of the game for the next five years (2016-2020). In May of last year, the ARU invited all members of the community to provide input into the plan via the Australian Rugby Survey. The survey had over 8,300 respondents and their feedback helped to shape the final plan. A strategy group was also formed to act as the custodian of the plan, including the CEOs of all of the ARU’s member unions, representing all of the various unions, competitions and clubs across the country.

As a collective, a new vision for the game was drafted: “To Inspire all Australians to enjoy our great global game”. To realise this vision, four key areas were identified for improvement:

1. Make Rugby a game for all – Our Community
2. Ignite Australia’s passion for the game – Our Fans
3. Build sustainable success in the professional game – Our Elite Teams
4. Create excellence in how the game is run – Our Administration

I invite you to read the entire document here.

At the very heart of the plan is Community Rugby. Before I go on, I want to commend all of our club administrators, volunteers and players on the outstanding way in which our clubs are run.

It is this sense of community spirit, those people who do it for nothing more than the love of the game, which makes our game so special. Our 950+ clubs across Australia continue to be the most important caretakers for the game and they need to be nurtured and supported.

The challenge for our community clubs, and this is a challenge affecting all sporting clubs in Australia, not just in Rugby, is that fewer people are playing organised sport and clubs are struggling to attract and retain participants.

In our ever-evolving and increasingly diverse Australian society, we want to encourage more people from all different backgrounds to join our Rugby clubs. Growing the game requires a focus on making Rugby more accessible, to expand beyond the traditional channel of private schools and to attract more women and children to the sport.

So, what are we doing? At the primary school level, we’re rolling out a five-week national school program teaching the basics of Rugby (which we have called ‘Game On’). This program for public and private schools introduces kids to Rugby and at the end of the program they play a fast, fun, non-contact version of Rugby called VIVA7s.

After their first taste of Rugby through VIVA7s, we are encouraging kids to join a Rugby club to continue playing. VIVA7s is distinguishable from traditional Rugby in that there is no contact, it caters for any age group or ability levels, and its mixed – all of which are appealing qualities in this day and age. The financial incentive for clubs to run VIVA7s competitions is huge, and the clubs that have already rolled it out successfully in NSW and Queensland are reaping the financial and social benefits.

In 2016, the ARU will increase its development workforce by 50% nationally to drive the ‘Game On’ program into schools and to assist clubs to set up VIVA7s competitions – where the profits flow directly back to the club.

Meanwhile, if we continue to rely solely on traditional methods of getting people into Rugby clubs, we’ll keep facing the same problems into the future.

Globally, the game is on a very sure footing. However in Australia, Rugby competes in a vastly different landscape in a congested sports and entertainment market so, aside from encouraging people into clubs, we’re also committed to bringing in new fans. To do this, the game will innovate on and off the field. We are committed to our teams playing smart, creative, running Rugby, and we want to engage better with our fans to feed their passion for the game. We want our Rugby experiences – whether people are logging onto, or sitting in the stands at a Bledisloe Cup Test – to be among the best in the world and we are committed to investing in this area.

At the professional level of the game we need to build sustainable pathways for men and women, and a cooperative high performance environment so that our elite teams including the Qantas Wallabies, the Qantas Australian Sevens teams and our BMW National Under 20s team continue to be ranked among the best in the world. The BMW Junior Gold Cup and the Buildcorp National Rugby Championship are national competitions which are crucial components of this professional pathway. They will ensure the game has a national footprint which is accessible to young players from all different backgrounds, all over the country.

The game also requires strong leadership and high performing organisations across the code. We are delighted that each of the ARU’s state and territory member unions has signed the National Charter that will guide the collaborative decision-making across the game for the next five years.

To execute our strategy we need to align funding with our intent. Our strategy is focused on the growth of Rugby at every level and we will direct our investment into initiatives that will deliver more participants, fans, success at the professional level, and ultimately, ensure the future viability of our great game. We hope you will join us in making this vision a reality.