I spent the day at Twickenham on Thursday, exactly two years before the 2015 World Cup Final, at a launch event for the Young Rugby Ambassadors (YRA) programme, one of several around the country. YRAs are being recruited to spread the word about the 2015 Rugby Wold Cup at their clubs and introduce new ideas for recruitment and retention of 16-24 year olds. This article isn’t meant to explain everything about the scheme, you can find out more about it by clicking this link, but it does document my thoughts and impressions of the day.
About 170 YRAs came to the event at Twickenham as well as 40 or so mentors. There were other events held in the various cities that will be hosting World Cup games in 2015 with nearly 1000 people taking part in total. This is just the first wave of YRAs with further waves in March and October next year. What surprised me was the number of young women that had signed up to be YRAs; roughly 20% of those present were females, far more that the number we perceive to be involved in the game. What was also gratifying was the high number of black and Asian YRAs getting involved in what many outside the game see as a white, middle class, male dominated sport.
Rob Andrew talked about his memories of Rugby World Cup having played in the first three, commentated on Radio Five Live on the next two including England’s win in 2003, and being part of the management team for the last two. Rosie Williams who is charge of all the field staff at the RFU spoke of her pride at received an OBE from the Queen the day before for services to the game; both these people having got where they are through rugby. Not all the YRAs present will be able to do the same but being a rugby volunteer can bring rewards of all kinds.
The YRAs were split into three groups and went off to their workshops and I stayed to see what the mentors would be doing which involved understanding needs, wants and motivations of the YRAs, how they would deal with some of the ideas that might come up, and understanding how important social media is to teenagers.
When we broke for lunch 170 excited young people were wandering around the conference areas so I directed quite a few to the RFU shop and a group of 15 or so asked me how to get to the pitch. Risking the wrath of some very important people if I got caught I took them upstairs to the hospitality boxes where preparations for the Australia game on Saturday were underway and let them into one of them. After taking lots of pictures and selfies I led them out again and back down to the conference area grateful that I hadn’t been rumbled!
Straight after lunch the big surprise for the delegates was the arrival of Will Greenwood with the Webb Ellis Trophy. Will was excellent and I’m sure made a big impact on everyone as did having the Cup just a few feet away. Everyone was allowed to take photos before carrying on with the workshops.
Although there was quite some emphasis on social media and the fact that people my age don’t use it as much, I wasn’t so convinced as it is well known how much I use Twitter, Facebook and my blog. But the real difference between the generations was brought home to me by one of the young women tweeting the Prime Minister about what a great day she was having on her first day as a YRA. Then we heard that Italy’s full-back had responded to another YRAs tweet. The difference is that we use traditional and tested communication groups, but the young see no reason why they shouldn’t tell David Cameron or international rugby players about what they are doing to grow the game.
You will get an idea of what the YRAs were thinking and doing by going to Twitter.com and search for #YRAEnglandRugby There are hundreds of tweets, many with pictures from YRAs at all the launch events. If you don’t understand the power of Twitter then go and have a look.
It was a memorable day for the YRAs and an enlightening day for me. The YRAs are already planning what to at their clubs so look out for new initiatives from them in the coming weeks.
Pictures from the day