The Future of Club Rugby

Domestic RugbyOn the day the nine Irish players were selected for the Lions and Joe Schmidt gave his first interview as the new Ireland manager, the IRFU also chose to publish the final report of a working party on club sustainability.

The sport has transitioned quickly from a wholly amateur ethos to a professional era at the elite level but this has caused issues for the club bedrock of the sport, not only in Ireland but in most jurisdictions.

This report was drawn up after much consultation with clubs as well as engagement with other sports and other rugby unions. It reveals that 121 clubs playing in Ireland have cumulative debt of over €20 million.  Three clubs are highlighted, though not identified as having debt of over €1 million.

The main recommendations in the report indicate that the best way to remedy this problem is to restate and beef up, or in some cases introduce new regulations outlawing the payment of players below provincial level.

A return to the corinthian spirit of playing for the love of the game is espoused throughout and new structures of reporting and financial record keeping are to be introduced in two phases, from the start of the 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 seasons.

Clubs are presently permitted to make payments of up to €4,500 to players, to a maximum per club of €64,000 in a year.  These payments are to be discontinued from September 2014.

All other expenses paid to players need to be recorded and reported to a new committee of the IRFU.

All sponsorship payments made by benefactors or corporate bodies need to be made through the club books and no payment to individual players is to be permitted.  Strict regulation is also to apply to University and College players on scholarships.

“The domestic club game is the bedrock of Irish Rugby,” said Scott Walker, Director of Rugby Development and Clubs, “and securing its future is essential. Clubs and individuals have voiced their concerns and it is accepted that steps need to be taken to ensure that two fundamentals, volunteerism and loyalty, are protected and encouraged.

“Payments to players became commonplace during our ‘boom’ years and this practice has put significant financial pressure on many clubs with resources being diverted from crucial areas. The changes introduced by this reports will protect and develop the domestic game.”

A formal system of transferring players will also be introduced, mirroring that already applied within the GAA, and clubs looking to compete at national competitive level from 2014 will have to meet a new set of up to 46 criteria relating to participation, coaching, and engagement with young players.

Any club wishing to play at AIL or Division One qualifying standard for example will have to field a minimum of three male adult and one female adult teams.  They will also have to have U18 and one other youth band in the women’s game to encourage development of equality in playing capacity.  This is to be applauded.

Perhaps controversially, the payment of coaches is to remain, though guidelines on appointment and remuneration are to be published separately.  This has the potential to undermine the payment to player restrictions through offering paid coaching roles and is the reason why such payment has been controlled under the GAA amateur code.  The IRFU have admitted that these guidelines will be just that and not proscriptive.

The report runs to 24 pages and can be downloaded here.  The announcement of the Lions may carry most of the headlines and most of the interest but this is a document that will have a far greater impact on the future of the sport and needs to be brought to the full attention of everybody involved from school through to the full adult game.

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