By Colin Boag
The new chief executive of the RFU, Steve Brown, unveiled his four-year plan a little over a week ago, including a £443 million investment, designed to make England the premier rugby nation in the world, and to drive growth in the grass roots game. It’s an ambitious and inspiring plan, but in among the spin and hype, it’s worth taking time to reflect on some of the inequalities within rugby.
Towards the end of November, England take on Samoa at Twickenham, and the contrast between the RFU’s plan, and the parlous situation in which the islanders find themselves, ought to give food for thought.
The Samoa Rugby Union would be insolvent without the financial support it receives from its government, but what is really shocking, especially when compared to the RFU’s numbers, is just how small the Samoan figures are. Overall debt has been reduced to $192k, a figure that would be lost in the rounding for some of our Premiership clubs – it probably equates to one-third of a year’s salary for a top-class tighthead!
If Twickenham sells out for the Samoa match, the RFU will get revenue in excess of £10m, and under World Rugby rules, because the match is part of the autumn period, aren’t obliged to share it with their opponents.
Brown’s predecessor, Ian Ritchie, neatly summarised their position a year ago in the context of a New Zealand request for a share of revenues: “If we manage to sell out 82,000 here it’s because of our efforts and because we’ve invested in the stadium. If you look at the amount of money the RFU has spent on Twickenham…of course we should get a return on that.”
Samoa are reportedly asking for £150k out of the Twickenham gate receipts, but wouldn’t it be great if the RFU went the extra mile and offered them two or three times that amount as a gesture to support their struggling Union? Steve Brown said: “We want rugby to be seen as a force for good, we want to lead the world not just on the pitch but in terms of the way we’re run as an organisation, the way that we…set a standard in England, and across the globe, about how the game should be played and how the sport should be run.”
Fine words, so why not set an example by publicly supporting the struggling Samoan Rugby Union?