In December last year my colleague, Joe Ronan, wrote an article under the headline, ‘The RFU is disconnected from the grassroots game, and it doesn’t seem to care.’ This was accurate then and seems even more accurate now after waking up to the news this morning that the RFU has decided to cut funding for Championship clubs by 50% starting next season.
The RFU’s decision, broken exclusively by The Guardian, leaves a number of clubs uncertain of their futures with – according to a source quoted in the paper – the potential for up to 200 players to be left without a club next year.
This move belies a fundamental neglect from the RFU of the traditional league structure and represents a cynical grab for cash. It has been well documented that Premiership Rugby has little faith in the conventional pathway programme and by cutting funding for Championship clubs by such a drastic extent, the RFU seems to be acquiescing to Premiership Rugby’s every demand in a move that essentially ringfences the Premiership
Quoted in The Guardian, Nottingham Chairman, Alistair Bow had this to say:
“It’s the RFU saying it doesn’t want the Championship. The Premiership has had a lot of influence over all the decisions regarding the Championship, certainly for the 10 years I’ve been involved. I do strongly believe the actions the RFU has taken have handed PRL everything on a plate and without having to pay a penny for it. The RFU has handed English professional rugby … everything, to the hands of PRL.”
This is damning analysis, yet one that seems to ring true. It is not, however, shocking – over the last few years rugby has become increasingly money oriented.
The danger here, is that the Rugby Premiership turns into a franchise league. With no connection to the grassroots, the fans, the community – but instead to the board and the financial backers. This is a trend happening across sport generally and is heart-breaking and lamentable.
This top-down approach to sport – where TV rights and corporate sponsorship trumps all – is a trend fundamentally linked to a neoliberal, money-oriented mentality in all business, with sport as no exception.
It leaves communities floundering. Where fans were once the centre – and success was judged on enjoyment, participation and the intangible catharsis that sport provides – instead turnover and short-term profit rule the roost.
As I wrote for this publication last week, club rugby seems to be in a state of crisis, and RFU’s move to cut so aggressively the funding for Championship clubs next season only emboldens this fear.
By Will Sewell.