Posts filed under ‘Rugby Union’

Gravy Train Going Off The Rails

All sports fans know that sport is big business, but suddenly the business of sport is proving to be one of the things that is strangling the life out of many.

As the administrators in a number of sports look to make money, many are losing sight of the bigger picture, which is that 90% of people who play sport do not do so at anywhere near the elite level. So why is so much emphasis being put on the elite sportsmen and women?

One reason is obvious, elite sportspeople are the ones who drive us to play as children and emulate what they have achieved. That being the case there has to be some balance.

Many will be surprised to hear that many of those elite sportsmen and women who are not in the high profile sports will tell you that they too are feeling the impact of the administrator’s drive to make money off the back of them.

In the past week this writer has spoken to three athletes who have all played at World cups or World Championships in their three different chosen sports, and all three – who for obvious reasons wished to remain anonymous – advised that they were having to fight for money that was owed to them from their sports administrator, had received lower funding now that the Government had given funding grants to the their game’s governing body, or were being asked to pay for things that had always been covered when playing at the highest level. This will no doubt be worrying for many fans around the country.

All without exception felt that money was being held back because the administrators were having to cover salaries and increased operational costs. One was tempted to hand back his scholarship, while another was considering retirement.

There is no doubt that these days sports administrators are being paid extremely good salaries. The CEOs of most of the top sports nationally in Australia demanding over $1million a year. At state level some sports are more generous than others with some CEO’s earning close to or around $200k a year. One state CEO enjoyed a $30k increase when his contract was renewed, despite massive upheaval in that particular sport, this increase alone was bigger than the prize money on offer to the best team in that sport!

The question is can sport afford such salaries amongst its administrators? Where is the money going to come from to support such salaries? In some cases this is abundantly clear, the 90% who are not involved in elite sport are the ones propping them up. Junior clubs are getting stung constantly, with parents expected to continue to shell out more and more money. Yet are they receiving improved coaching, games, and pitches? In most cases the answer is, ‘no.’

Many sports will tell you that they are looking to improve coaching standards, which is great news, but is this improvement coming free? No, the people have to pay once again. Sadly coaching is now becoming elitist in some sports. No longer are you getting the best people coaching. In the past coaches tended to be a man or woman passionate about the game, frequently an athlete whose career was curtailed by injury, or an athlete who did not quite make it to the top of their chosen sport. Yet frequently now these wonderful people cannot afford to pay the fees being asked of them. They cannot justify such a cost to their families, and so they are being lost to their sport. Ex players and athletes who may have no coaching communication skills but who have passed an exam and understand the theory take their place, yet they fail to inspire.

Last week one coach on receiving an award for his achievements in 2014 said in his acceptance speech that “you cannot teach any two athletes the same way, and if you do you are not a coach.” The reason he said was that each individual is different, each is motivated in different ways, each reacts to pressure differently, yet their physical capabilities may be the same. A good coach manages these things, and these are things that cannot be taught. These are things that many of the volunteer mums and dads, who gave up hours coaching young athletes gave, they did not learn these skills in a classroom, they either had them or life taught them. These were people who nurtured talent for the institute of sports to polish. Sadly in the push for money they are now being lost to sport, and in their place are people with the money to gain a qualification, with the aim of making more money.  Coaching at junior level should never be about money, and the day it is sport is in deep trouble.

The sporting landscape is shifting dramatically and money is a major factor. There has been a clear culture shift as one rugby club advised. No longer do players stay behind on a match day and share beers with their mates and the opposition; now they have a gatorade and head home. The same is true in other sports too, but in rugby that was a big part of the brotherhood of the game. The end result for this particular club is a drop in $20k in bar takings for the past season. Now they have to find a way to make up that revenue if they want to continue to pay their players and coaches the going rate as well as stay afloat.

Something has to give, and it would appear that the time when something does is not too far away. It will be a very sad day if clubs have to start to close their doors, as where will the next generation of elite athletes come from. The elite athletes are the ones who encourage children to take up sport, and if these athletes are forced to retire and walk away from their sports because they simply cannot afford to stay in it, the knock on effect will be huge.

Sadly it is not just one sport feeling the pinch, but many. As well as many of our elite athletes. The only way things will change is if the Board’s in charge of the governance of these sports act quickly and re-assess the management structures and the financial remuneration and structures within their sport. If they do not heed the warning signs it could be a case of the administrators strangling the life out of the sport they are meant to be giving life to.

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November 21, 2014 at 12:26 pm Leave a comment

Stuck in Time

Australian Rugby has been through a pretty torrid time of late, but wins against the Barbarians and Wales will have put a smile on the face of many of those with furrowed brows a month ago.

They say that success can often hide many issues that continue to exist behind the scenes, and frequently that has been proven. Let us hope that there is no papering over the cracks and that any problems are given due attention and solutions found.

Interestingly Rugby in Australia does not appear to have moved on too far in the past 70-odd years as the following quote, which was made by Cyril Towers to the Daily Telegraph in Sydney in 1940, will attest.

“I’m tired of the Union’s petty muddling and stupid administration. They’ve killed my enthusiasm for football. Until we adopt New Zealand methods and put men at the head of affairs who understand football, the game won’t have a chance. Young and promising players are not in the race unless they are in big with the executive. Ability on the field does not mean a thing. It is far more important to go down to headquarters and pat a few people on the back than it is to play brilliant football.”

Towers has been described as “one of the most accomplished exponents of back line play Australia has ever produced, and it is improbable that any centre played with greater guile than Towers at his best.”

As much as people moan about the way things are today, it often pays to look back at history and find out how things changed, if they did. Often you can learn a lot. The one thing the ARU needs to be careful of is that top flight players do not lose their enthusiasm for the game and head overseas for the money, as currently those wearing the green and gold are in the main here for the pride they have in wearing the Australian colours. If that becomes a chore they will soon head overseas.

With the World Cup around the corner the ARU and the game in general cannot afford that.

 

November 12, 2014 at 7:51 am Leave a comment

Heroes and Men of Valour

Today the world reflects on those who served in the War to end all wars, and so we should. Sadly few lessons have been learned and wars still are being fought on the battlefields and in the minds of those who return from such conflicts.

At the time of the First World War Australia’s population was just around four million and a total of 416,809 Australians enlisted in the Australian forces, of which 32,231 were from Western Australia. Australia suffered its highest ever mortality rate, with 61,720 being killed and over 156,000 wounded, many of whom died within 18 months of returning home.

Sport has played a big part in keeping the sports up in war time. There was the famous rugby match played beneath the Pyramids in the Great War, as well as games of football between British and German troops during a ceasefire. In the second World War sporting events were used to keep everyone’s spirits up and war time internationals were held in Britain; caps of which are not on the official record.

According to Australian historians football, or soccer as it was then known, was regularly played by Allied troops at Gallipoli and also amongst Australian troops based at Lemnos in Greece in 1915. In fact Victorian Sports historian Dr Ian Syson has revealed that records show an extensive and co-ordinated soccer programme within the Australian forces – and there was even an Anzac “Ashes” series between Aussie and New Zealand troops. The prize was a silver razor tin case, containing cigar ashes from one of the soldiers who landed at Gallipoli.

There have been many sportsmen who deserve to be remembered for their heroics in the face of war. We thought we would share some with you.

Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse, VC and bar, MC, RAMC. He is a man begging to have a movie made of his life. He is one of only three individuals to be awarded the Victoria Cross and Bar (Two Victoria Crosses). Chavasse was medical officer of the 10th Battalion, the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment and was initially best known as an outstanding athlete at Oxford University, going up to Trinity College with his twin brother, Christopher, in 1904. It was there that Noel studied medicine and was a key member of the Oxford University athletics and lacrosse teams. He represented Great Britain in the 400 metres at the 1908 Olympic Games in London, finishing second in his heat which was not enough for him to qualify for the final.

Lieutenant General Sir Philip Neame, VC, KBE, CB, DSO, Chevalier Legion d’Honneur, Croix de Guerre (France), Croix de Guerre (Belgium). Neame is the only man to win a Victoria Cross and Olympic gold medal. He was a lieutenant in the 15th Field Corps of Royal Engineers. He was an outstanding sportsman at Cheltenham College, and was one of 14 old boys from the school to win the Victoria Cross. His Olympic gold medal came in the 1924 Paris Games in the four-man running deer team competition, when Great Britain won from Norway and Sweden.

From the world of football we have Second Lieutenant Donald Simpson Bell, VC. Donald Bell was the first professional footballer to enlist for the First World War, with the 9th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment, and he is the only professional footballer to be awarded the Victoria Cross. Bell was a gifted all-round sportsman who played for Crystal Palace, Bishop Auckland and Newcastle before turning professional with Bradford Park Avenue in 1912. He died five days after the heroics that won him his Victoria Cross and many felt his efforts on that day warranted a second.

From the Equestrian sporting world came Brigadier General Paul Aloysius Kenna, VC, DSO. Paul was awarded the VC in 1898 after serving in Sudan and was killed at Gallipoli in 1915. He was thought by many at the time to be possibly the finest horseman of his age. In 1893/94 he was the top-rated polo player in the British Army in India. He was also a jockey and rode over 300 National Hunt and Flat winners before turning his attention to show-jumping. He led the Great Britain showjumping team on tour to North America in both 1910 and 1911. He was also selected to lead the Great Britain team at the 1912 Olympics. Unfortunately they arrived in Stockholm late, and performed very poorly. Kenna wrote an angry report to the British Olympic authorities on how British teams should be prepared and trained for future Olympics.

In Rugby League comes Second Lieutenant John ‘Jack’ Harrison, VC, MC. John Harrison was one of the greatest players in the history of Hull Rugby League Club. He first came to the attention of York but soon transferred to his native Hull, where he scored 106 tries in 116 matches, including 52 in the 1913-14 season, a club record that still stands to this day, and is unlikely to ever be beaten.

Rugby Union has contributed four Victoria Cross winners, three Irishmen and one Englishman.

Lieutenant-Commander Arthur Leyland Harrison, VC. Harrison, was a promising England forward who had people talking about a long and fruitful career following his two appearances in the 1914 Five Nations Championship. He played in the back row against Ireland and then moved into the second row against France, when England won 39-13.  He won his Victoria Cross posthumously for his part in the Zeebrugge raid of 1918,

The three Irishmen are remarkably all from the same Rugby club in Dublin, Wanderers, and are to be the subject of a documentary currently under production by Ashley Morrison called “Fight in the Dog.”

Robert Johnston was not only a team mate of Thomas Crean but also a great friend. The two played for Ireland and then toured South Africa together in 1896 with the British and Irish Lions when, like Crean, he decided to stay on. With the Boer War imminent they joined the Imperial Horse (Natal). Johnston was 27 and a captain when he was awarded his Victoria Cross at the Battle of Elandslaagte, Johnston was badly wounded and was nursed back to health by Crean.

Major Thomas Joseph Crean, VC, DSO. He was the Richie McCaw of his generation, although slightly more boisterous off the pitch, where he had a reputation as a hell-raiser. He was a key player in two championship-winning sides for Ireland. He trained as a doctor at the Royal College of Surgeons and received the Royal Humane Society medal for saving a fellow student from drowning in the sea,

Brigadier Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey, VC, MC.  Harvey played for Ireland against Wales in 1907 and France four years later, before emigrating to Canada and embarking on a career in the military.

These are just some of the men from sport who won the highest military honour, there were many other unsung heroes, from the world of sport and from all walks of life.

Today we talk of epic battles on the sporting field, and of heroes coming to the fore, but today of all days we should put those words in context and recall those who really fought in epic battles or any battle, for all are heroes for giving us the freedom to enjoy life and sport the way that we do today.

November 11, 2014 at 12:16 pm 1 comment

Going Through the Roof

West Ham United may be flying high in the English Premier League but things are going through the roof for the club at the moment.

First of all as mentioned on this site previously pressure is being applied at Government level for the Hammers to ground share with cross London rivals Tottenham Hotspur while they get their ground upgraded. Baroness Brady of Knightsbridge, West Ham’s Vice Chairperson however continues to maintain that the club will not ground share on a temporary basis with any other club. Even though the Greater London Authority is applying pressure to the London Legacy Development Corporation claiming they need to revisit the deal done with the hammers as the current one was “a poor one for the taxpayer.” Anyone knows you can always get a bargain down the East end, funny how the government weren’t aware of that.

The big worry is the costs continue to rise at the former Olympic stadium, in fact they are going through the roof, literally. Work needed to strengthen the roof to accommodate the reconfiguring of the stadium is expected to cost in the region of UKL36million. Taking the cost of the conversion to a football stadium capable of hosting occasional athletics events to UKL619million.

The venue is due to host five matches at next year’s Rugby World Cup before West Ham take over the ground on a permanent basis. The fear is with additional costs to convert the stadium blowing out, the Government’s bubble has burst. Hence the pressure to find more events for the stadium to help pay off the debt.

Suggestions have been made that the Capitol One Cup – League Cup – final be played there as opposed to Wembley, or even England Under 21 or women’s internationals. One thing that works in West Ham’s favour is now most of the Greater London Authority would love to see them qualify for the Champions League and hope they can maintain their current form, as to do so would not only bring more games to the venue, but also much needed revenue.

One has to say some legacy…

November 4, 2014 at 8:52 am Leave a comment

Look and Learn and Avoid Similar Mistakes

Western Australia has often been ridiculed for its reactive view to progress, rather than being proactive. The protracted decision to erect a new multipurpose stadium, at a massive cost to tax payers, was just another example of how the state is slow to make decisions; and some would say then makes the wrong ones. There is still a large section of the sporting public, who have visited stadia around the globe, who are yet to be convinced that the multi-purpose approach is the right one, as this has been proven elsewhere that retractable seating to convert the stadium from an oval sport to a rectangular one is an option that rarely succeeds.

However there are lessons to be learned before the stadium is built, and from a stadium close by.

Singapore opened a state-of-the-art stadium earlier this year and was looking to make it a sporting hub for Asia. Initially most of the criticism was aimed at the sandy pitch and how poor the quality was for top flight sport. Teams playing at the venue unanimously stating that the surface must improve if they wish to regularly host top class football.

Yet now attention has turned on how the National Stadium’s commercial priorities have taken precedence over the stadium’s primary use. With an expected cost of AUD$1.5billion – including supporting infrastructure, – you can be sure that the Western Australian government will want a prompt return on that investment.

Tickets for the recent Japan v Brazil game hosted at the stadium were selling for SGD180 (Approx AUD$180) a price many ordinary Singaporeans could not afford. With the venue due to host the Suzuki Cup there are concerns that once again the prices will be prohibitive.

SportsHub Private Limited are the company managing the stadium, and they have received heavy criticism that they are more concerned with paying fans brining in food or drink than genuine security issues. Obviously the stadium vendors are an ideal way in which to recoup some of the investment in creating such a venue.

There is a familiar ring to the rhetoric in Australia, with Sports and Recreation Minister Terry Waldron saying, “Seat sizes are generous and each one will have a cup holder; fans will enjoy access to more than 70 food and beverage outlets; and those requiring higher levels of access – such as people in wheelchairs – will be able to use designated seating platforms across all seating tiers.The technology provisions include 4G Wi-Fi coverage across the stadium and precinct, two giant 240sqm video screens – some of the biggest in the country – and a further 1,000 screens throughout the stadium so fans never miss any of the action.”

Fears are already brewing that Singapore’s showpiece National Stadium is becoming a tourist attraction, and a venue only to be used by the wealthy, rather than becoming a venue packed with passionate local sports fans creating an atmosphere to be savoured. Could Perth’s sports fans face the same fears when the stadium opens in time for the 2018 AFL season?

Will Western Australia watch the mistakes being made in Singapore and ensure that they do not make the same mistake with their new stadium. Premier of Western Australia Colin Barnett has gone on record as saying “the focus remains on delivering a venue that puts ‘fans first.'” For all in Western Australia let us hope that this is the case and they keep an eye on what is happening in Singapore. If they don’t we will be saddled with a stadium that is for exclusive use only.

October 27, 2014 at 9:12 am Leave a comment

All Teams Need A Place to Call Home.

There is no doubt that there are many sports fans who have a bucket list. A list that will undoubtedly include attending an F1, go to a Melbourne Cup, watch Manchester United at Old Trafford, Liverpool at Anfield, but these fans achieving their goals should not be impacting on sporting events too heavily. Yet something is, and few want to accept that it could in fact be the economy.

For the past 10-15 years sport has been all about money. Clubs from various codes have looked to increase the capacity of their stadia so that they can squeeze more fans into the live atmosphere and cash in on fans wanting to ‘be there.’ However the cost ob that experience has slowly risen, and unfortunately these prices have become the benchmark for pricing.

Arsenal FC were a prime example of a club needing to have more fans inside their stadium in order to compete with the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United. In 1997 they were looking to expand their old home ground of Highbury, their plan would have seen them have to demolish 25 neighbouring houses, and this was why it never went ahead.

After bidding to use Wembley, they left that idea in 1998. Eventually they found a new home in Islington. Yet before building Emirates Stadium they agreed to build a new modern waste plant for the council, two developments of “affordable housing” as well as pay for improvements to roads and the tube station to accommodate the increase in traffic on match days. That was not all, they also agreed to build four health centres and replace a children’s play a era with a new playground. This was so they could build a new stadium and have the surrounding land that they could develop  and make money from. The hard truth being that it would be a long time before they had paid of the cost of the stadium and it was making money for them.

In 2003 Arsenal borrowed UKP357million to build the stadium alone; Loans repayable for this money due in 14 years!

The good news though is despite that cost Arsenal own their ground. In Australia very few if any major sporting associations own their grounds. They therefore have to pay a rental fee in order to use the ground on a match day and then have the ancillary costs of security on a match day which continue to drive the price of using the ground up. Which in turn drives the price of a ticket to watch the game up.

This is why the crowds are beginning to fall away at many sporting events, cost. Fans have an ideas as to what they are prepared to pay for the standard of sport they are going to watch. In rugby they will pay more to watch the All Blacks play Australia than they will to see them play Argentina. There is history, there is rivalry, there is the ‘being there’ experience from an All Blacks Test that simply isn’t there yet against Argentina. People will pay a little bit more for that experience.

A case in point was the recent F1 Grand Prix in Singapore. No Stadium issues here, but the crowds were well down on previous years, in fact many locals left town that weekend. Tourist numbers of diehard supporters were also down, and were very much in the range of 30-55 age group. The attendance by locals was also well down and seats were unsold in the grandstands, the reason being according to those who stayed being that it was an event once you have been to it, there is no real desire to go again, and… the cost is too much.

Australia faces a major challenge in the coming years. Stadium managers are going be continually asked to turn a profit on the venue that they manage. They will try and squeeze more money out of those sporting clubs that use the venue, but these clubs are walking a tightrope as to how much they can charge to their supporters before they turn around and say that they cannot justify the cost. Many feel that the price of watching professional sport in Australia is at a level where it cannot go any higher.

If the fans stop coming through the gate, and crowds start to dwindle sponsors start to question their investment, and it is a downward spiral from there. It is an incredibly fine line which is being trod at this present time.

The major issue is the fact that the clubs are unable to control their own destiny, by owning the venues that they play at. Imagine if Perth Glory and Rugby WA – who own and manage the Western Force – were able to broker a partnership where they owned the stadium that they played at, and both were able to create new revenue streams for themselves by having the stadium host concerts, expos etc. in the off season? This may well be a pipe dream, but it is something that both organisations will need to give due consideration to down the track.

The new mutli-purpose stadium in Perth will not benefit these codes, and they need to start looking at how they can ensure their own long term futures. The only way is to own the grounds at which they play, and determine their own ticket prices based on either the appeal of the game, the success of the team, or the general economy.

Rest assured the only the die hard fans will continue to empty their wallets and click through the turnstiles for non-international competition. Every fan has a price which they feel is acceptable and one that is too expensive. Sport was always about giving entertainment to the man on the street, and escape at the weekend from the drudgery of work. While the top end of town may have the money, it is the regular ticket holders who create the atmosphere and who will stay with the club and the team through thick and thin, hence these are the people who need to be looked after. Slowly they are becoming excluded and the ownership of the stadia and costs accrued by not owning them is one of the many reasons why.

September 30, 2014 at 12:21 pm Leave a comment

Coming Down Hard on Streakers

Many people have said New Zealand has always been a little bit behind the rest of the world, even if their rugby team is light years ahead. Proof of this may be in the sudden spate of streakers as in Australia this was all the rage in the 1970’s.

During the All Blacks’ 28-9 victory over Argentina on Saturday a female streaker took to the field before she some heavy handed treatment from the Security guards.

Rose Kupa ran on the pitch and sprinted across diagonally, making light work of the slow to react security guards before finally being brought down near the opposite 22m line. She was understandably arrested and given a pre-charge warning for disorderly behaviour, as well as banned from McLean Park for two years. By all accounts she is not too bothered as she said she had ticked something off her bucket list.

This streak came hot on the heels of another recent incident in New Zealand when a pitch invader streaked in Dunedin. Again they received some strong treatment from a Canterbury squad member who was working as a security guard.

All Blacks coach Steve Hanson raised the most pertinent point when he was quoted as saying “It’s not that big a deal is it? She entertained everybody there for about 35 seconds. My beef is how they get on (streakers in general, to the field). I think we’ve got to have a better plan with how we stop them getting on and we probably don’t have to smash them over either when we finally catch up with them.”

We are sure that most sports fans attending events look at the Security guards and would back themselves to be able to outrun them. Certainly it would appear that their vigilance of late has been lax, and maybe the strong treatment is borne out of frustration at having been outpaced. The trouble is one day someone is going to get seriously hurt. As Hansen says there really is no need for such heavy-handed treatment. 

 

 

September 9, 2014 at 12:29 pm Leave a comment

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