In the match programme of the Pontypridd v Cardiff Boxing Day derby, Owen Smith MP and Ponty Rugby CEO Stephen Reardon both commented on the current issues affecting rugby in Wales, and the impasse between the governing unions and the fully professional entities.
There was a common theme to both articles - a call to "Reclaim our Game", to make Welsh rugby relevant once more to the many, not the few...
'Days like today are what Welsh rugby is all about. To an outsider it might look like a pretty simple formula - two teams up for the fight, the crowd in holiday mood, and a few pints to ease sore heads and lubricate the larynx - but we all know it’s something far more complicated and satisfying than that. It’s about local pride and ancient rivalry. It’s about banter and bragging rights. It’s about history and tradition. It’s about us versus them. That’s not a recipe you can cook overnight, or even over a decade. And that’s why, in essence, Regional Rugby is a failure. You know it. I know it. Even the WRU knows it. It’s just a question of whether Welsh Rugby can come together to admit it and find a sustainable way forward for our game, or whether we just watch it wither before our eyes.
Most readers will have heard me saying these things over the last few years and have seen, too, the campaign I launched to call for a professional team to represent our town and surrounding Valleys. The campaign succeeded in forcing the media and the WRU to face up to the scale of discontent that exists in rugby’s Valleys heartlands at the gap that has grown up between the elite, professional end of the game and the grassroots clubs that are the backbone of Welsh rugby.
My motivation for starting the campaign was as a fan of Pontypridd RFC, as someone who’s watched our team from pretty much the same spot on the 22 for over 37 years and shares with all of you the sense of loss that we have been denied a seat at the top table of the game in Wales. And I was hugely grateful and proud that so many people contacted me from Ponty (and from all over the world) urging me on in articulating our frustration. But I also had a lot of people – people whom I respect, like some of the stalwarts of our club – who told me that I was barking up the wrong tree: that what people want is not another phony franchise (not even the Warriors back at Sardis) but to watch our club, Ponty, playing back at the elite level where we belong. And, on reflection, I think they were right.
I think that’s what the fans of the regions actually want too, if truth were told. That’s why the regional namesake of the club we meet today is playing in blue and black hoops, back at the Arms Park and in front of a crowd shouting for Kairdiff, however much the man on the tannoy says he wants to ‘Hear it for the Blues’. And that’s why we should tell Roger Lewis that if the current super-clubs drop the ball, this club will be ready to pick it up, as Pontypridd RFC, the heart of Valleys Rugby at Christmas, past, present and future too. '
Owen Smith MP
'Media coverage of professional rugby football in Wales continues to be dominated by the dispute between the WRU and the four Welsh regions. Embroiled in a row over control and funding, the WRU has determined that the regions must sign an extension to the existing Participation Agreement by the 31st December 2013.
At a meeting a fortnight ago, it seems that the two parties failed to agree on anything other than to meet again. As a consequence of the English Premier Clubs’ apparent decision not play in the Heineken Cup next season, the Welsh Regions desire to join them in a replacement Anglo-Welsh competition. In order to try to accommodate this solution and in an effort to halt the ‘lure of French lucre’, the regions have asked the WRU to increase their funding significantly.
Apparently, the WRU wishes the regions to continue to play in the existing Rabo Direct League and the Heineken Cup. Also the union has declined to authorise any significant increase in funding to the regions in the interests of prudent financial governance.
As a consequence of this impasse, Regional Rugby Wales Ltd has called for a Public Enquiry into current and projected distribution of broadcasting and competition revenues into the professional game in Wales. Furthermore, the regions have launched a campaign slogan entitled’ Protect Our Game’. It prompts the question, to whom does ‘Our Game’ refer - is it the ‘Our Game’ that has allowed super clubs to disenfranchise the majority of Welsh rugby supporters who reside north of the coastal strip defined by the M4 corridor? Is ‘Our Game’ the one in which a region holds a club in such arrogant contempt that it recruits the clubs’ head coach and captain in mid-season without making an official approach to the club?
If the Regions don’t wish to sign the Participation Agreement, then so be it, let them tread their own path. It is a golden opportunity for the WRU to reform the game in Wales in the interests of all of its member clubs and not in the interests of a few. Let’s hope for a Happy and Prosperous, but most of all a Meritocratic New Year. '
Chief Executive Officer
Ponty Rugby Ltd
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