Formed 2004 ... Herts 7s U14 Runners-up 2005 ... North Herts U14 team, Herts Youth Games 2005 runners-up (coached by Letchworth)... Herts Superteams U14 Runners-up 2005 ... Herts SuperTeams "Fairplay" winners 2006 ... Rochford 10s U17 Champions 2006 ... East Midlands 10s U17 Runners-up 2007 ... East Midlands 10s U17 "Fairplay" winners 2007 ... National 10s U17 5th place and "Fairplay" winners 2007 ... Herts 7s U17 Plate runners-up 2007 ... National 7s U17 Plate winners 2007 ... RFU "President's XV" Award winners 2007 ... Herts Superteams winners 2007 ... Midlands 10s U18 Runners-up 2008 ... National 10s U18 4th place 2008 ... North Herts U11 team, Herts Youth Games 2008 runners-up (coached by Letchworth girls) ... London and SE 7s U18 Plate runners-up 2008 ... Herts 7s U18s runners-up 2008 ... National 7s U18s quarter-finalists 2008 ... Gloucester City 10s U18 Bowl runner-up (6th) 2009 ... Worthing 10s U18 Plate runner-up 2009 ... National 7s U18 Plate winners 2009... Worthing 10s U15 Plate winners 2010... Worthing 10s U18 Shield winners 2010... Herts 7s U15 and U18 Bowl runners-up 2010... National 7s U18 Plate runners-up 2010...

Sunday, July 08, 2012

If this is true, is it fraud?

A few weeks ago I reported a dramatic (but generally unpublicised) rise in player numbers in England, as reported by the RFU to the IRB.

The adult player number rise made sense - it matched the sort of numbers that have been reported by Sport England for some years. However, the rise in junior player numbers was extraordinary - like a 3,000 to 10,000% rise in reported player numbers since 2009, which (even with under-reporting of girls) seemed difficult to believe. However, it is rise that is being used to support the RFUW (and now RFU) policy on the U13 game.

What was not clear was where on earth this data came from as a claim that there are over 129,000 teenage girls playing rugby just does not match with the declining number of teams playing in leagues, etc. In short - wherever this figure comes from it certainly is not (solely) club registrations - it must now include schools as well.

Okay, if that does include schools then - in theory - that is fine. A girl playing regularly at school can learn the game just as much as at a club, and will be quite capable of moving onto divisional play, etc.

However the key here is "regular". Girls who play in just one tournament, based on maybe a handful of PE lessons and no regular programme of inter-school matches - and no club rugby - are not rugby players. To call them so is a nonsense. They had - at best - sampled the game.

But  I hear from a well placed source in one region, that that is what is happening. I am told that junior player numbers in this area are being extrapolated from the "100 or so girls from six schools turning up for ONE school tournament for Year 6 and 7".

For a game's officials to pretend that these are "real" players is at best dangerous self-delusion. Dangerous because it can hide endemic problems within the game, which - in this particular region (a region that was until recently one of the strongest in the country) - seems to be the virtual collapse of the club game at U15 and U18 level. It means that an official, changed with expanding the game, can hit all their "targets" despite what is happening in the real world.

However, if a game is knowingly using this meaningless data to extract grants from government by pretending that the game is dramatically expanding and has many more players than it does then... is that not fraud?

One defence might be that everyone else is doing it - and I am told that Rugby League in the same region is using similar methods to compile its junior player data.  Its not much of a defence, though. And even if it was, it does give a picture of various sports - including rugby union - spending so much time and money coming up with ever more clever (but ultimately meaningless) schemes to increasing player statistics that they do little or nothing to increase the actual numbers of players. Frankly, the people who involved in this sound like a load of bankers.

And its all probably not unrelated to the report last week that pointed out how few people from state schools (as opposed to independent schools) now make it to the top and win, for example, Olympic medals - because most of this grant money is supposed to support and develop talented state school sports people.

I may be wrong, of course - and if anyone has any more evidence one way or another I'd love to see it.

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