Q&A: Investing in the Pacific Islands
AUCKLAND, 4 Oct. - On the back of Tonga’s upset of France in their final Pool A match, we talk to William Glenwright, the IRB’s Regional General Manager for Oceania, to learn exactly how the International Rugby Board uses Rugby World Cup revenues to assist Pacific Islands rugby.
How are Rugby World Cup revenues used to assist Rugby in the Pacific Islands?
Revenue raised from Rugby World Cup funds the IRB’s Strategic Investment Initiative which is designed exclusively to improve the performance of international rugby. In 2012, through this initiative we will be investing over NZ$7 million in direct financial assistance to the Pacific Islands across four main areas: High Performance, development, competitions and administration.
The High Performance investment is our most comprehensive and it has allowed us to establish full-time Academies in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. These Academies provide a daily training environment for elite and potentially elite players, match officials and coaches to obtain scholarships and train in world-class facilities under word-class coaches who are employed full-time.
The scholarships provide educational and career support that assists the players in preparing for life after rugby and the progression rates from LTC Scholarships to national team representation and professional contracts is extremely high.
See a Total Rugby TV feature on the Samoa High Performance Academy
All but one of Samoa’s victorious 2009/10 IRB Sevens World Series team came from the Samoa Rugby Union’s High Performance Scholarship programme. Both the Fiji Rugby Union and the SRU have established full-time sports medicine clinics within their High Performance programmes which provide comprehensive injury management and rehabilitation support services for national team players and scholarship players.
Administratively, the IRB investment has allowed the Unions to grow significantly to better enable them to meet the demands of rugby in the professional era and to deliver their main mandate which is to grow the Game within their countries. As an example, in 2001 the Fiji Rugby Union employed just one person. Today, the FRU employs 42 people – and this is on the back of the considerable IRB investment that continues to grow in Fiji.
Importantly, revenue raised from Rugby World Cup allows us to cover the insurance costs of the Pacific Island Unions, which enables the Unions to select their best professional players from Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. The cost of insuring the professional players is prohibitively expensive and the Pacific Islands Unions simply could not afford it.
However it is critical that these Unions are able to select their best players, especially for Rugby World Cup, and so the IRB covers the cost of insurance which means that if any of the players get injured during the Pacific Nations Cup or RWC (or in preparing for these tournaments), the cost of their medical treatment is covered and, importantly, they continue to receive their salary until they are able to return to their clubs. This is a vitally important contribution by the IRB and it is only made possible through the revenues generated by Rugby World Cup.
It is more than just monetary support though?
Absolutely. In addition to the direct financial support that we provide the Pacific Islands Unions we run an array of programmes aimed at improving the standard of rugby, improving the knowledge of the staff employed by the Unions, and growing participation rates in a region that has such a rich Rugby heritage.
Our comprehensive Training and Education programme has facilitated over 3,800 accredited coaches, match officials and strength and conditioning trainers throughout the region. We now have eight IRB trainers and 29 IRB Educators throughout the Pacific Islands that work full or part time with their Unions to deliver IRB Education courses.
It means that nearly all of our Pacific Island Member Unions are self sufficient in the area of training and education and consequently we have seen an explosion in the number of courses being run and the number of people being accredited over the past two years.
We have established an extensive professional development programme which is designed to improve the skills and experience of the staff employed by the Pacific Island Member Unions. We work closely with the Australian Rugby Union and the New Zealand Rugby Union to place Pacific Island staff at the ARU, NZRU and the Super Rugby franchises to improve their knowledge, skills and experience in areas such as event management, financial management, coaching and sports medicine, to name just a few.
In partnership with the ARU and the Australian Government, we are in the process of developing a Mass Participation and Community Rugby curriculum for Pacific Islands schools, clubs and villages. This is an AUS$2 million project that will expose more boys and girls in the Pacific Islands to the joys and benefits of Rugby and will have a profound impact on the growth of Rugby in the Pacific Islands.
What about preparation for Rugby World Cup 2011?
Preparation for RWC 2011 by the three Pacific Islands was first class. With the assistance of our High Performance Manager, we worked very closely with the three Pacific Island Unions in the development and delivery of their Rugby World Cup plans. We assisted them in the recruitment of world-class coaches and we spent a lot of time and money in establishing athlete monitoring systems that enabled the Pacific Island Unions to track their overseas-based professional players and keep them up to date with the Union’s plans for Rugby World Cup.
The IRB provided financial assistance for the coaching and medical staff for all three Unions to travel to Europe over the northern hemisphere winter to meet with the clubs and the players and detail the training and recovery plans for the players. It was an opportunity to show the players and the clubs that the Pacific Island Unions had established excellent training programmes supplemented with first-class sports medicine services, which, combined with comprehensive insurance cover, provided the clubs and the players with a level of comfort that the players were in excellent hands.
Because of this new level of co-operation and interaction with the clubs we had no issues in obtaining the release of players for Rugby World Cup 2011 or the six-week RWC preparation phase and the Pacific Islands Unions, and the professional clubs, should be applauded for their cooperation in ensuring the Unions were able to select their strongest possible teams. Having the players in country for an extended period of time in the lead-up to RWC 2011 meant that I think we had the best prepared Pacific Island teams for a RWC.
While it is disappointing that we didn’t have a Pacific Islands team qualify for the quarter-finals, there are plenty of indicators from the Pool phase that we are closing the gap – but we have to work even smarter to ensure that we meet our ongoing objective of having Pacific Islands teams qualify for the knockout stage of Rugby World Cup.
Obviously we need to do a review of the RWC and that is a process we will start with the Unions, with the assistance of our High Performance Manager, in November. It has to be a warts-and-all review to identify what worked and what didn’t work and the lessons learnt have to be reflected in the next phase of our High Performance plans for each country.
How will the new IRB funded High Performance Centre in Apia assist Samoa?
This has the potential to be the jewel in the crown of the IRB’s strategic investment in the Pacific Islands. It is a brand new facility that includes an accommodation block, gymnasium, recovery centre and administration block that will house the SRU’s growing administration in one place.
It provides the elite and potentially elite players in Samoa with a genuine world-class training environment. Coupled with the quality of coaches that the SRU currently employs through their High Performance Programme, we are on the brink of seeing a completely new generation of world-class rugby players coming out of Samoa and that is very exciting.
The challenge, of course, is ensuring that we maintain the high level of programmes and services that have been developed by the SRU and not relaxing on a false assumption that a shiny new facility will automatically produce world-class players. The strength of the SRU’s High Performance Programme over the past six years has been the excellent High Performance systems and structures that they have established through a particularly close relationship with the New Zealand Rugby Union and it is important that we continue to develop these and keep these systems as world’s best practice. The new High Performance and Administration facility has to enhance, and not replace, these systems.
Between Rugby World Cups, how does the IRB assist the Pacific Islands with fixtures?
International fixtures is an extremely complex challenge that involves numerous stakeholders – each with their own valid agendas – including the IRB, the Pacific Island Unions, the Host Unions and of course the professional clubs that employ the players and pay their salaries. The new International Tours schedule will see more matches for Tier 2 Unions against Tier 1 Unions and will see Tier 1 Unions touring the Pacific Islands – beginning with Scotland next year.
Outside of the international fixtures in November and June we are working extremely hard to ensure that the Pacific Islands Unions – and indeed all Tier 2 Unions – have access to regular, high level competitions. In 2012, the IRB will invest over NZ$3 million in competitions in the Pacific Islands alone – including the Pacific Nations Cup, the Pacific Rugby Cup, the Oceania Sevens Championship, the Oceania U19 Championship and the Asia-Pacific Women’s Sevens (which was won this year by Papua New Guinea).
The Pacific Nations Cup continues to grow and is an excellent tournament. We have commenced a review of the PNC to see if and how it can be expanded and improved, however this needs to be done in the context of all the other international tournaments the IRB funds around the world for Tier 2 Unions.
The challenge we want to address is to somehow find a competition model that provides better and more regular matches for all our Tier 2 Unions and this is something that we are working extremely hard on. I think that this World Cup has shown that the performance of the Tier 2 countries is improving rapidly and we want to facilitate this improvement through better competitions in between World Cups.
The new format of Pacific Rugby Cup is an example of the collaboration that we have with the ARU and NZRU to provide a higher level of competition for the Pacific Island Unions. This year, the ‘A’ teams of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga played against the Academy teams from six Super Rugby teams in Australia and New Zealand.
It meant that the best locally-based players in the Pacific Islands (some of whom went on to play at Rugby World Cup) were able to test themselves against the future stars of Australian and New Zealand Rugby. From a high performance perspective it was an excellent tournament and we are working on ways to improve this new tournament model for the PRC.
In addition to the running of these competitions, the IRB also covers the cost of participation by Pacific Island teams in a number of international competitions each year, including the HSBC Sevens World Series, the Junior World Championship and the Junior World Rugby Trophy. That in itself is a significant investment over and above the direct investment made in the regional competitions I have just mentioned.