What is a Sustainable Rugby Club?
RFU staff and volunteers have talked about sustainable rugby clubs for some time but what does it actually mean? Nowadays the term sustainable is used in tandem with energy, agriculture, ecology, etc., but this doesn’t really apply to sport. I will be asking for your opinion later but I would like to share my thoughts with you.
For me, a sustainable rugby club is one that can consistently replenish what it uses up in human, playing and financial resources. Players stop playing rugby at a club for a number of reason; injury, age, ambition (moving to another club), taking up another sport, moving away for work. Whatever the reason for a club losing players there needs to be a strategy to replace them, so a club with a youth section will need to manage the transition from Colts to Senior rugby to maintain and grow player numbers.
Smaller clubs running just one or two adult sides need to be more resourceful and a variety of different models exist; a village side will link up with the local High School; an Old Boys Club will have an existing link; there may be a tie-up with a local military establishment where the servicemen welcome the opportunity to play and socialise outside the regimental structure. Often it is just a case of persuading players to turn out for their local side in exchange for minimal travel for training and playing.
Volunteers are a key part of sustainability because without them the game can’t exist. The volunteer base is getting older as retiring players seem less willing to take on an administrative role, so succession planning is becoming more and more important.
For clubs to be financially sustainable is crucial, the key being that clubs only spend what they have available. Semi-professional clubs have playing budgets running into six figures and this is only possible with the help of major sponsors, but once those sponsors decide that they no longer want to support a club, that is when we have seen problems. It isn’t really much different at the bottom end of the RFU league structure, it is just a matter of scale. Financial sustainability is as simple as living within your means.
The RFU Strategic Plan refers to sustainable clubs but there needs to be a definition, and that is where I hope you can help. What do you think a sustainable club is? Do you agree with what I’ve written or do you have a different slant on the subject? Please let me know by clicking the Leave a Comment link above or posting on the Facebook page below the link to this article. Your comments will be fed back to the RFU.