Over the past few months we have watched as Welsh rugby has done its best to tear itself apart. The Regions and the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) don’t seem any closer to reaching agreement over the future of their relationship. In fact, they’re probably further away than they’ve ever been.
But this is not the biggest crisis facing our game in Wales. It is what is happening to our community game which should be of gravest concern. Recently, the WRU have been trying to impose an unpopular re-organisation of the lower leagues on their three hundred or so member clubs. This has not gone down well at grassroots level.
Not content with trying to wreck the amateur league structures, driving more community clubs to the wall in the process, the WRU have also decided to set up a series of summer Touch Rugby leagues in direct competition with the successful, independent Wales Touch Association. It seems the WRU are intent on controlling every aspect of the sport in Wales, regardless of whether it’s within their remit, or whether they destroy it in the process.
If this wasn’t enough, the WRU have now joined forces with their business partners, BBC Wales, to stymie another popular independent initiative which had been encouraging interest and participation in community rugby.
Inside Welsh Rugby (IWRTV) started their YouTube channel just over three months ago. A collaboration between ex-Wales international Paul Turner and Dischro Creative, IWRTV have put a lot of time and effort, at their own considerable expense, to produce a series of excellent programmes exploring the issues facing grassroots rugby in Wales.
IWRTV has attracted a strong following via social media, and has challenged the mainstream media by providing a truly balanced view of the current issues facing the Welsh game, as opposed to the skewed, superficial, WRU-friendly fodder peddled by the likes of the Western Mail and BBC Wales. IWRTV had hoped to broadcast footage of community rugby matches from clubs up and down the country, but unfortunately, the WRU and BBC do not want them to do this.
When IWRTV approached the WRU and the BBC to outline their plans for broadcasting grassroots rugby, they were told by the Union and the broadcaster that they would have to pay two hundred thousand pounds and submit a business plan with their editorial stance for the privilege of showing footage of club rugby matches. This is footage that the WRU and BBC have shown no interest in broadcasting themselves.
The BBC have paid for the rights to broadcast rugby from the lower leagues, but their entire output consists of an occasional few seconds of clips on the Scrum V programme on a Sunday evening. Hardly worth £200,000 to anyone. That’s before we ask why the WRU would want to be paid TWICE for the rights to the footage. In addition to the ridiculous price tag demanded by the BBC, the WRU have intimated to IWRTV that they would want to have control over the editorial content of any programmes which were broadcast.
IWRTV have asked the WRU to participate in their programmes, but the Union did not even have the decency or common courtesy to respond to them until the morning of the show. The Union appear to have a deeply paranoid attitude to free speech in the media. If they are not able to control the agenda, then they just don’t want to know. It makes you wonder what they’ve got to hide.
It is very sad that IWRTV will broadcast their final programme this Friday, 16th May, as they are no longer able to sustain production without further funding. It doesn’t have to be like this, of course. In a more sensible world, the WRU and BBC might decide to back IWRTV and invest in showing club games to a wider audience. Surely this would be to the benefit of the whole of Welsh rugby? This leads to another question. If the WRU are not acting in the interests of the game, are they acting in anyone’s interests other than their own?