EASTWOOD Rugby Club President Brett Papworth has criticised the Australian Rugby Union for abandoning Sydney suburban rugby and placing top-flight football ahead of the growth of the game.
Papworth pointed to boardroom politics as a primary reason for the ARU’s lack of financial support for NSW and Queensland’s state competitions such as the Shute Shield.
“Simply put, NSW is the heartland of suburban rugby in Australia and makes up 50 per cent of the game’s participation numbers at least,” Papworth said.
“Yet when (the ARU) decide to invest, NSW gets no more than Western Australia or South Australia.
“My assumption is that the board representatives from the other states want to push their own competitions at the disadvantage of the Shute Shield, which is just not a reflection of the work NSW does at a grassroots level.”
From a financial standpoint, Papworth’s concerns seem to be justified.
Of the $106 million spent by the ARU in 2014, $56 million was spent on the game’s elite elements such as Super Rugby and Wallabies payments and $25 million on head office salaries and benefits.
A further $16 million was spent on ‘match-day expenses’ such as fireworks for Super Rugby and Wallabies matches.
Nationwide, grassroots rugby received just $4 million.
While this number more than doubled in 2015, none of the extra funds were allocated to Sydney club rugby.
According to ARU CEO Bill Pulver, extra funding isn’t spent on the Shute Shield in order to keep it as an amateur competition.
“We don’t have unlimited funds,” he said.
“The Shute Shield is an important part of the Australian rugby development pathway (but) I just don’t think it’s appropriate for the ARU to fund Sydney clubs directly.
“It is basically an amateur level of the game and we have been working to make sure there are not player payments taking place.”
He also stressed that the ARU does value development, stating “if you believe like I do that bringing young boys and girls into the game today is the most important driver of long term health of the code, that’s where you should be investing your money.”
However Papworth says that this just isn’t being seen at a grassroots level in NSW, where he argues that for the long-term success of the game, help is needed the most.
“Union in this country is getting smashed by the other three codes and it seems like (the ARU) just don’t care,” he said.
“It’s not about the Shute Shield grabbing cash, we want a long-term view for Rugby Union in this country.”
Papworth believes that, as NSW caters to the most kids at a grassroots level, it deserves far more help from the ARU than it currently receives.
“The ARU effectively operates to manage the Wallabies but where are our 2039 Wallabies going to come from?” he said.
“In 100 years we’ll still be doing what we do every weekend.
“I just worry that the ARU aren’t able to say the same.”