7.1.2012 pontyrugby matchday magazine
Constituency MP Owen Smith has produced an article for the Ponty Rugby matchday magazine presenting an argument for an urgent reform of the regional rugby structure in Wales...
Apart from the obvious (that we do the treble of course) my wish for 2012 is that it is the year when we stand up against vested interests.
First to be challenged should be the City of London, whose self-appointed leaders were responsible for many of the economic ills we now face, but not far behind on my list of unaccountable and unelected dictators (tongue firmly in cheek, Roger, so don’t get too touchy) are the vested interests of Welsh rugby.
Now some will say it unfair of me to compare the robber-baron bankers to the colourless administrators of the WRU, but for the dispossessed and destitute of Ponty or Pooler, say, the analogy feels just. And, what’s more, it’s clear that the two groups share some defining attitudes.
Both emphasise the primacy of money and the market (‘sustainability’ is the WRU’s latest code-word for cash) over other priorities or values of community, identity, co-operation or cohesion. And both dismiss any objection to their narrow perspective by invoking the patronising and defeatist doctrine of TINA: There Is No Alternative.
Well, I disagree. And in support of my case I call in evidence the 100 years when we did it differently in Welsh Rugby, and the many 1000s of us who have refused to bow to the Regional Junta since it was imposed a decade ago. But the time has now come to step up our protest, to move on from passive disengagement, and to start to fight-back.
In short, we’ve got to organise to make our voice heard and to force the WRU and their colleagues in the Regional Super-clubs to concede that, whatever their protestations about finite resources or long-term contractual agreements, it is not acceptable for an elite of bureaucrats and bankrollers to declare, de facto, that top-flight rugby will only be played south of the M4. That is neither fair nor democratic and it must not continue to go unchallenged.
Others may criticise my making such a fuss about rugby in the Valleys: it’s just a game, isn’t it? And, of course, there are many things more important than the game for our communities: jobs, poor health, housing and social engagement. But sport matters. It matters because it can help build community cohesion, it can instill pride and ambition, it can create jobs, wealth and opportunity. Especially in a community like Pontypridd, where the prowess of our rugbymen and the international renown of our club are part of the bedrock of our town, it has the clear potential to be a catalyst and an engine for economic and social regeneration. It’s one of the things we’re good at and known for: our USP or brand, as the marketeers of the WRU might say.
And our politicians, locally and nationally, have got to buy into that vision and capitalise on it. They’ve got to dismiss the cliché that sport and politics don’t mix (tell that to French Councils who subsidise their local clubs and use them to market their communities as places to live and locate business). So what is this politician doing to help? First, I’m going to keep on saying it. Second, I’m going to help us build a case, starting by producing a report, commissioned from Wales’ leading economic and social impact consultancy to assess the opportunity of bringing top-class rugby back to the Valleys. And third, I’m going to invite the WRU – and 300 of the Ponty faithful -to attend the launch of that report at a fundraising ‘Fightback’ dinner to be held at Sardis Road on the 31st March after the Ponty - Neath game. Ponty legends old and new will be present and speakers will include sportsmen, rugby writers and greats of the game - declaring their support for a campaign to reform regional rugby.
But most importantly our fans have to lead the charge. You can start by signing a new e-petition of the WRU at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/reform-regional-rugby/ and by buying a ticket for the fundraising dinner, details of which will be posted on the Ponty Website in the coming weeks. C’mon the Pont! C’mon Valleys Rugby!
MP for Pontypridd