Credit: Anthony Hayton

As Optimistic As I Was This Time Last Year…

Photo credit: Anthony Hayton

This time last year I commented that I was optimistic that 2018 was going to be a year to remember for all the right reasons, and looking back I think that optimism has proved well placed. We have continued to see new people join our sport, WR5s seems to have taken off very quickly, our Junior Programme in partnership with Lord’s Taverners is proving popular and the GB team had a very successful World Championship in Sydney.

Now, I am not pretending that everything in the basket is rosy, and in particular the recent the postponements of Super Series Division 2 and 3 weekends was hugely disappointing for everyone. There is also a realisation that the rapid growth of our sport over the last 8 years has created new challenges which we will all need to think about in order to come up with a way forward which the majority of members are comfortable with. The first of these challenges is how to restructure the Super Series to make it affordable and sustainable. When I first started in the sport the Coloplast Super Series was very easy to manage – we had just seven clubs and these played one another over three weekends and it was largely funded by our title sponsor. We now have 22 teams playing over nine weekends. In addition we are finding that there are fewer suitable venues which are available to us – in some cases it is just that they do not have the space we need, whilst there are others that are fearful of damage to their floors and this is especially the case with the modern ‘sprung floors’. On top of this the current financial model for the Super Series does not work as costs are too high and the NGB is subsidising the competition from fundraising and general sponsorship more than is sustainable. Last week the current situation was presented to the DMG and both Julie and Paul, GBWR National Development Directors, are looking to work with clubs to try and find a new competition model which can work for everyone. I suspect there will need to be some compromises, but club competition is at the very heart of our sport, it’s a statement of the obvious that playing the game is the reason people join us and we need to make sure we keep our tournament structure competitive and enjoyable, but equally it has to be affordable. The DMG will be working with the National Development Directors to look at how we can develop a competition model which addresses the issues above but no-one has a monopoly on good ideas so if you have thoughts on how we can improve the current competition then please feed them in, to Julie or Paul. To make the challenge even greater I have set my team the task of increasing the number of competition opportunities; I think we need to see more opportunities for clubs to play one another than the current Super Series provides for and that is what members want to see.

Photo credit: Anthony Hayton

Growth is bringing other challenges. The rapid development of WR5s is great to see as we seek to meet our strategy of providing more wheelchair rugby to more people. We must still remain conscious that the core of our game is the Paralympic discipline of our sport. Wheelchair rugby was created by quadriplegics for quadriplegics and we must ensure that our vision of enabling more people to play different disciplines of our game never undermines or threatens the Paralympic discipline. Whilst we want to encourage the development of WR5s, we must take care to manage growth sensitively and with a clear understanding of the importance of our core game, and where possible support clubs to provide both disciplines. There is some excellent ongoing club development work such as that in Coventry where former GB athlete Mandip Sehmi has been delivering some brilliant sessions with Coventry Rugby Club where around 15 new players have been taking part – many of whom qualify for the WR5s game. Likewise, activity is ongoing in Richmond with 10 new players taking part. We are now in discussions with Richmond Borough Council and Richmond Rugby Club about supporting the development of a Richmond club.

Last weekend saw the last of the GB training camps of the year but it was one with a difference because it was a joint camp with the Talent squad. A total of 28 athletes took part playing in mixed Talent and GB teams all supported by 4 coaches, 2 classifiers, 4 officials and 8 volunteers. We will be looking for opportunities to do more of these in the coming year as it is critical that we consider the squad beyond Tokyo and ensure that we provide opportunities for Talent athletes to develop and learn from those who are already seasoned internationals. It is really exciting to see so much new talent and to see the enthusiasm and commitment they have which bodes well for our international future.

On Thursday this week we will launch the King Power Quad Nations 2019 tournament at the King Power Stadium in Leicester. The original launch was planned for the start of November but was postponed following the terrible helicopter tragedy which killed five people including Leicester City Chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, who had generously committed to sponsoring the Quad Nations for a second year. We have been hugely saddened by his death and are enormously grateful to his family and to the Leicester City staff and footballers who have come forward to support the rescheduled launch. The tournament itself will take place 1-3 March 2019 at the Leicester Arena, and we will announce the lineup on Thursday this week.

Photo credit: Osborne Hollis

Whilst on the topic of Leicester – who did the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge sit next to on their visit to the University of Leicester last week? GB athlete Nick Cummins, who was able to talk to them about GBWR.

Photo credit: University of Leicester

I am sure that many of you picked up on the recent welcome news that UK Sport has awarded the GB programme half a million pounds from the new Aspiration Fund. The funding, which is spread over the next two years, will be a tremendous help as we prepare for key overseas tournaments ahead of Tokyo 2020. We are very fortunate to have been made this award but it does have to be seen alongside the £3.5 million which was our original bid for Tokyo funding. As such we will continue to fundraise and seek new partners and sponsors so that we can maintain a high quality performance programme which gives us a chance of competing with the top teams in the world. Even with the award our coaches and athletes will remain as volunteers and we will be keeping our staff levels to the minimum necessary to get the job done.

So this is my last blog for 2018 and despite the challenges I have touched on above I am as optimistic about 2019 as I was about 2018. We have a fantastic year to look forward to and in my New Year blog I will give a little more detail about some of the key things we are planning for.

Wishing you and your loved ones a very happy Christmas and thank you for all of your support this year.

David Pond