French Rugby president Bernard Laporte has warned that world rugby is on the brink of financial ruin unless urgent steps are taken.
Laporte’s comments follow recent announcements of losses by the Australian, South African, New Zealand, Scottish and Italian Rugby Unions alongside plans to cut three Super Rugby franchises due to SANZAAR “hemorrhaging cash”.
The FFR president was in Dubai yesterday to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the UAE Rugby Federation, including plans for the French national team to play the world champion All Blacks in the UAE in November 2018.
“I arrive in five months (as president of FFR) and I see Australia – financial problems, Italian – financial problem, Scotland – financial problem. I think it is not fantastic” said Laporte.
“It is really important that we are looking carefully at this situation today. Not only to speak nice way about very strong powers. Rugby is a strong sport in the world. It is right that the Rugby World Cup is the third (biggest) sporting event in the world.
“But if you are looking carefully at the financial position of some unions, we have to be vigilant how to try and change this economic model to try to develop the financial income.
“A lot of international unions are losing money every year, if you look at general assembly of South Africa, New Zealand, Australia – not two weeks ago they lost two million, three million, six million.
“Everyone knows that if today you don’t have strong financial (position) you can’t support development of one sport. So we need to watch this.”
Laporte denied that his remarks were a criticism of World Rugby, the sport’s global governing body.
The organisation is in rude financial health with their most recently-published financial results showing pre-tax profits of $241.4m following record revenues of $445.3m aided by 2015 being a World Cup year.
“It is not the fault of World Rugby,” the 52-year-old former France and Toulon coach bristled. “It is the context of the economy. World Rugby is supporting a lot, spending a lot of money. It is the economic situation.
“If you look at the economy of rugby in the world you have two big countries – England and France.
“So the big chance of French Rugby Union is to organize rugby in the big economic country with strong financial reserve.
“We are sure England are following very closely with us cause England are a very strong country at this moment. We seek to work together to follow the same objective.”
The road to recovery for athletes is often long and arduous, although Winston Cowie is living proof of exactly why they put themselves through such pain and sacrifice.
Six years after dislocating his knee in the West Asia rugby union play-off final against Dubai Hurricanes, the 34-year-old Abu Dhabi Saracens player coach has been named in UAE coach Apollo Perelini’s squad to play in the Asia Rugby Championship later this month.
Perelini has picked a 28-man squad for a three-match tour to Malaysia, with Jebel Ali Dragons dominating the selection with eight players picked. There are six from Dubai Hurricanes, five each from Abu Dhabi rivals Harlequins and Saracens, two from Dubai Exiles and two UAE Shaheen players.
New Zealander Cowie had two operations following his injury in one of Gulf rugby’s showpiece games, his pain perhaps felt even more keenly when his Doha side went down to a last-minute Steve Smith try that saw Canes win 20-15.
He couldn’t even run properly for another two years – yet here he is, set to fly out to Ipoh for Division I games against the hosts, Sri Lanka and the Philippines as the UAE fight to get back to Asia rugby’s top table.
“It’s been a long road back to playing since dislocating my knee,” admitted Cowie, who took the reins at Al Ghazal last summer.
“Two operations, two years of not being able to run properly, but through a lot of hard work, a very understanding wife – Lucy Jones – and being involved with a great bunch at Saracens this year I have managed to get there.
“I’m incredibly grateful to AP (Perelini) for the opportunity and look forward to a massive campaign in Malaysia. It’s a really tight-knit bunch of guys and we look forward to working hard and doing the UAE rugby community proud.”
Cowie had no intentions of playing this year having taken on the Sarries’ coaching role. But when injuries and visa issues traveling to Doha left Sarries with a bare 15, including physio Tim Fletcher, Cowie stepped up, and in fact ended up playing 12 games.
“I was just going to change but then that changed in funny circumstances. I’m really pleased I did and I’m grateful for selection,” he added.
“Come the start of the year, I thought I would head along to the UAE training, go hard and have a crack. The training has been awesome and highly competitive, it’s been awesome to be a part of it.
“It’s been great to meet a top bunch of gents from the other clubs. So now we’re just really looking forward to getting on the plane and getting stuck in.”
Cowie, manager of marine policy for the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD), was out in the middle of the ocean when he got the call he would be going to Malaysia on Tuesday.
“I was out doing our coral monitoring in the western region of Abu Dhabi, flat calm, pods of dolphins, breaching turtles, and then this news at the end of it,” said Cowie.
“I was in and out of reception a few times so after each dive I’d be trying to check my phone, and then I got the news just as we came into port in Mirfa. There were a few high fives.”
Despite a difficult season on the field for the club, Cowie is joined by four more Sarries players on tour, including No8 Jaen Botes, props Murray Reason and Ross Byres and scrum-half Rickus Swart.
He added: “I’m so rapt for the five Sarries that made it. Jaen, Murray and Rikus are well established for the UAE, and I’m rapt for them but particularly for our loose-head prop Ross who has been excellent all season and deserves his call up. It’s going to be great.”
Ben Bolger (capt), Chris Jones-Griffiths, Ed Talbot, Ed Lewsey, Luke Stevenson (all Abu Dhabi Harlequins); Josh Ives, Dave Knight, Dan Perry (vice capt), Andrew Powell, Toby Oakeley, Lindsay Fitzgerald (Dubai Hurricanes); Dan Minks, Paul Hart, Ben Blamire, Dan Bell, Chris Masson, Kris Greene, Ryno Fourie, Scott Hayes (Jebel Ali Dragons); Jaen Botes, Murray Reason, Ross Byres, Rikus Swart, Winston Cowie (Abu Dhabi Saracens); Glenn Moore, Sean Carey (Dubai Exiles); Majid Al Balooshi, Ahmed Al Shehi (UAE Shaheen)
Players, coaches and staff from Dubai Exiles visited labourers in Dubai last Friday, handing out club kit, balls, food parcels and even Cornettos to some of the unsung heroes of the Emirates.
In a fantastic community initiative, around 50 club members spent a few hours playing games with over 1,000 labourers based in Al Quoz.
First-team player Durandt Gerber, a former Italy A international, came up with the idea after noticing that huge amounts of old club jerseys and balls were lying around in storage at Exiles’ home at The Sevens after the club switched sponsors this season.
Gerber, Matt Richards, Kristian Stinson and Stephen Ferguson were just some of the senior players in attendance, as well as head coach and director of rugby, Jacques Benade, who called it a “magic” day.
“It’s nice to say thanks to some of the guys who make life out here for most people the way it is,” said Benade.
“We have a few boys at the club at the moment, not in the same situation, but perhaps not earning big figures of money. I think it’s nice for the club to appreciate things like this.
“It wasn’t about us giving out free stuff, it was about spending time with these guys, chatting to them, appreciating how difficult life is here for them with working conditions and living away from home, and appreciate what we have ourselves.
“A lot of the boys found it a humbling experience. It was just a magic day.”
Benade paid tribute to fly-half Gerber who worked hard to turn his own idea into a reality.
Benade added: “It’s unbelievable how much old equipment we’ve had lying around in the stores. Our contract with Canterbury ran out and Durandt said ‘there’s so much stuff here, wouldn’t it be great to go out and visit the labour camps’, so he jumped on that and he did a brilliant job.
“They’re just the same as us, here working trying to make a bit of money and maybe send some home, it’s just we live in a lot more luxury than them.
“The guys really appreciated it too and it’s unbelievable how well mannered they are.”
Perhaps not accustomed to much rugby on the sub continent, players and labourers even joined in with an impromptu volleyball match using rugby balls, and it is something Benade said the club is looking to make a regular thing.
“It turned out to be a two-three hour session, they had a volleyball game with the rugby ball too so that was brilliant,” said Benade.
“As a club we try to support as many charities as we can and it’s something we’ll be looking to do again.
“We’re also trying to help at non-playing rugby schools and maybe lend some coaching to them. Not everyone is in a position to come up to The Sevens and train at weekends.
“I think it made a big difference to them and I just hope it just raises a bit of awareness and we can do maybe two or three more events like this throughout the year.”
With expat life in the UAE often well-paid and glamorous, flanker Matt Mills said everyone enjoyed giving a little something back.
“It was really good, humbling and levels you out from the life in Dubai,” said Mills.
“The boys really enjoyed it, it was a great turn out from all different clubmen and women.
“The labourers really got involved too, really enjoyed the simple games we played. I think they just enjoyed being silly as they don’t get much of a chance to let loose.
“It was great to get that many men throwing a rugby ball around too as for many of them it was their first time. Very humbling.”