American Rugby Clubs Stuggle to Find Fields

(In Touch -- On Rugby, by Alex Goff - Monday, April 12, 1999)


Fields. One thing you can say about rugby in all its forms and venues. The sport needs fields.

But in the United States, thatís a difficult proposition. Fields are dominated by soccer in the fall and spring, and baseball and softball in the summer. Rugby, big tough, nasty rugby, is often left out.

Some examples:

The rugby clubs of the Seattle area are in the process of fighting with the City of Seattle, and other local governments and school districts to secure the fields they are due by law. The Seattle Parks & Recreation Department are hampered by dwindling budgets, and must a lot fields and resources to the biggest sporting gorilla, soccer. And soccer groups across the country have made it clear they donít want rugby games on their fields (theyíre not their fields, they belong to the local governments, but the soccer group often act like they own the land).

According to David Miller, Coaching Director for Seattle RFC, the City of Seattle had assured rugby teams that a forthcoming renovation of Magnusson Park would include two rugby fields. But, thanks to the noise form a community group, the park will be completely changed so there are no athletic fields in its 363 acres.

Itís a story repeated nationwide. Well-established teams in Washington D.C., despite accepting some of the lesser-quality fields in the area, find themselves kicked off those fields.

Clubs all over have issues on not being able to control their own venues for practices and games, said Denver Barbarians coach Stephen Hazel. What do you have to show an athlete youíre trying to recruit with regards to facilities? Real athletes look at some of the fields allotted to rugby teams and Ďyouíve got to be kidding me.í

In short, itís embarrassing to the players, recruits, and fans to get crummy fields.

More solvent clubs have met this challenge by buying their own fields and building a clubhouse - something Hazel said club alumni can really get behind and support. But others arenít so fortunate, and must depend on local parks agencies for their fields. And the agencies arenít always so accommodating.

Why?

Several reasons. Rugby continues to have a reputation as a hard-drinking, rough sport thatís no place for women and children.

Rugby is thought to be very bad for fields, especially soccer fields.

Rugby is a fringe sport that few people play, and therefore few resources should be allocated to the games.

Rugby does not support youth sport, and is not socially responsible.

Rugby players have done a generally rotten job in the U.S. of networking with government officials to educate about their game.

What Should We Do?

Be political. That doesnít mean be nice and accommodating, it means have someone in your club meet with officials, educate them about the game, show them a video. But it also means be tough and expect what you deserve. Miller in Seattle said he believes a nice, accommodating approach has failed to get the Seattle clubs what they need.

Be careful. The hard-drinking, nasty image has to be changed. Keep your drinking confined to indoors, try and take care of your field, and watch your language (even during practice). Never mind that softball players drink and swear much more than rugby players, you have a perception to fight.

Stress to anyone you can if your club supports a youth team. Youth programs are gold.

Solicit support of your club alumni. Being that they have, you hope, gone on to great things, perhaps they can use their influence and free time (theyíre not training, are they?) to wield some influence in city and county offices.

Pool your resources. Clubs who work together begin to show governments that rugby is played by a large number of people. Thatís the argument they use when they allot everything to soccer. And speaking of soccer Get on the good side of some people at your local soccer and softball organizations. Participate in a fundraiser or charity event. Try to set up a meeting to discuss how you can all take care of fields. Suck up.