Fellow members of the Rugby Community,
As the Board of USA Rugby, we are taking the opportunity to update you on the work-streams put in place since the press release issued after the December Board meeting. We hope to improve on the level of information given directly to the USA Rugby Community and to supplement that disseminated by the Community Councils. This letter is the first of planned updates on what is happening at the National Office, which we anticipate at least every quarter or as events/activity warrant.
As you recall, USA Rugby filed for bankruptcy protection in March of 2020. That filing accelerated several changes to the By-Laws and USA Rugby’s governance and financial structures that had been considered in a review process conducted early that year. From the time USA Rugby emerged from bankruptcy in September of 2020, there is now an updated 11-person Board with new Directors, governance, and financial structures in place. However, as noted from the annual State of the Union Reports issued to the governing councils (now required by the Amended By-Laws) since that time, USA Rugby has continued to face many challenges:
- Ongoing debt obligations not resolved by the bankruptcy.
- A new dues structure that acknowledged transfer of responsibilities to the Community Councils, therefore providing limited funding for the National Office and, as per the bylaws, no funding for our National Teams.
- A reduction in National Office non-coaching staff from 32 pre-bankruptcy to 9 today, affecting its ability to deliver services and administrative support to the standard we would like to our Communities and National teams.
- A global pandemic resulting in the absence of play at the local, regional and international level, with attendant impact on dues.
- Increased compliance and other related reporting requirements (resulting in increased expenses) from the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC); and
- The absence of any meaningful event or sponsorship revenues to support our National Teams.
The Board acknowledges and thanks all of the USA Rugby management and support staff who have been focused on addressing these challenges over the last several years under very difficult circumstances with limited resources, while at the same time securing sufficient funding for all of our National Teams, a greater number of meaningful fixtures (XVs), and the growth of the community game.
While all of our National Teams (XV’s and 7’s) have had periods where they have shown their potential on the world stage, the XVs teams have fallen short of expectations. The recent form of our sevens teams has been very encouraging, especially as they are coming out of a rebuilding phase. However, during the last cycle, our Men’s and Women’s Sevens teams each finished 6th at the Olympics and 11th and 4th, respectively, at the Rugby World Cup Sevens, while podium finishes had been the target. Our Women’s XV team was eliminated in the quarterfinal round of the Rugby World Cup having won one game in the Tournament. As we are painfully aware, 2022 ended with the failure of our Men’s 15 to qualify for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
- How do we give our National Teams the platform and tools to be consistently successful in annual events and ultimately win medals at Olympic Games and Rugby World Cups on a regular basis?
- How do we facilitate sustainable growth in participation across our Communities from a playing, coaching, refereeing and administration perspective?
These are the questions that we plan to address in undertaking the initiatives laid out below.
On the very positive side, the Board and USA Rugby management put in a huge amount of work to successfully achieve the contingent award of the Men’s and Women’s Rugby World Cups in 2031 and 2033, respectively. Hosting these Rugby World Cups is a game-changer for USA Rugby’s future. The basic terms of the award are that there will be no financial obligations or risk for USA Rugby, but an opportunity to obtain significant outside investment for the growth of the game in the United States over the next eight to ten years, and to create financial sustainability for the Union thereafter. Negotiations with World Rugby in building out a coherent ‘Growth Plan’ for those Rugby World Cup are continuing.
As outlined above, the award of the 2031 and 2033 Rugby World Cups, the challenges facing our National Teams in terms of funding and platforms to perform, plus the importance of growing the game at all levels, has prompted three major projects:
Strategic Review: USA Rugby has engaged a volunteer group of Harvard Business School alumni and others with significant management, consulting, and community experience in USA rugby to undertake a complete strategic review of USA Rugby’s organizational, governance and financial structures. This includes a review of management, how dues and other revenues are raised and spent, and what may be best practices going forward. The Board will be reviewing the group’s preliminary findings in the coming weeks and their final recommendations in March. Any proposed or planned changes will be announced thereafter.
High Performance Review: As announced in December, after assessing the performance of our teams in 2022, we are working with World Rugby on a full and comprehensive review of our high performance programs and structures. The independent review is being led by Graham Mourie, former All Blacks Captain, professional Super Rugby Coach, New Zealand Rugby Board Member, World Rugby Committee representative and Performance Case Management Chair. He is assisted by Mike McGovern, World Rugby HP Consultant. John Crawley, USOPC High Performance Director of Team, as well as former members of the Men’s and Women’s USA Eagles teams who will provide extensive input and review. We envision this process will result in a series of recommendations for how we can rebuild a high performance organization that will thrive in the challenging United States and world sports landscapes. This review will consider the following:
- Organizational structure and responsibilities.
- Processes for identifying and developing both players and coaches in proper pathways, including but not limited to youth, college and club; and
- Metrics and milestones that measure our performance to ensure we are moving forward and are constantly improving.
The results of this review will be critical in informing the selection of the group of leaders for our Men’s and Women’s 15 programs later this year. We expect this review to be completed in May.
World Rugby Growth Strategy for the Americas: As part of the process of meeting the conditions set forth as part of our World Cup awards, we are supporting World Rugby in the development of their growth strategy for investing in the game in the Americas. This plan will be reviewed by the World Rugby Executive Board in March and presented for approval by the World Rugby Council in May. This plan will then be the basis for World Rugby’s investment of resources in the United States leading up to the 2031 and 2033 Rugby World Cups.
We believe these initiatives and the changes that result will underpin the long-term growth and health of rugby in the United States, at both the community and high performance levels. As we announce the results of these projects, we will look for input from the USA Rugby community on the initiatives and any proposed changes to governance, financial or high performance structures.
As discussed in the Annual Meeting of Councils in December, we will have another such meeting in the relatively near future. Given the projects above and the amount of work underway, we now plan to align that meeting with the World Rugby timeline and host it after the World Rugby Council meeting in May 2023.
Thank you for your ongoing support of our great game.
USA Rugby Board of Directors:
Tom Cusack, Chair