Rugby Canada raises fees for youth players, but only men's national team will benefit

Rugby Canada to facing a storm of criticism for increasing registration fees and proposing to use the proceeds solely to fund the men's national team.

Fees are rising to help fund the men's national team as they struggle to qualify for the World Cup

Rugby Canada is increasing registration fees on all players to help the men's 15s team qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. (Raul Martinez/EPA/EFE)

Rugby Canada is facing criticism for raising registration fees and proposing to use the proceeds solely to fund the men's national team.

Last weekend, the sport's national governing body announced the fee increase in a news release, stating the entirety of the funds — around $450,000 — would be used to help the men's national rugby 15s team attempt to qualify for the upcoming 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

The announcement comes as the men's team, now ranked 21st in the world, has been struggling and is in danger of missing the sport's most important tournament for the first time in its history.

"Qualifying for the 2019 Rugby World Cup is vital to the future of the sport in Canada and the health and well-being of all Rugby Canada programs," said the release. "Every effort is being made to help our Senior Men's Fifteens team qualify."

But Melissa Baer, a former women's rugby player from Ontario who used to play for the Western University, is outraged by the decision, saying the women's national team is entitled to some of that money in light of its recent success.

"Why are we not leading the world or being part of that movement to ensure that women get equal funding specifically when we have successful teams?" Baer said in an interview with CBC Toronto.

The fee increase will affect all age groups. Annual fees for all players over the age of 12 are to increase by $20 and players under the age of 12 will see their fees increase by $5.

Those fee hikes were met with criticism on social media.

The decision, made with the support of Rugby Canada's provincial counterparts, also includes a three-year freeze on further increases to registration dues.

Funding linked to performance

Making sure the men's team qualifies for the World Cup is necessary to maintain annual funding Rugby Canada receives from World Rugby, according to Allen Vansen, chief executive officer of Rugby Canada.

Vansen said Rugby Canada receives more than $2 million per year from World Rugby, the sport's international governing body, as part of a "high performance investment," over half of which is dependent on whether or not the men's team qualifies for the World Cup.

"Failure to qualify is detrimental to all of our programs. It's not just the men's program," said Vansen. "We would see a reduction in funding that would impact every single national program and many of our development programs that we operate across the country."

Melissa Baer, who used to play rugby with Western University, is outraged by Rugby Canada's decision. (Submitted by Melissa Baer)

The Canadian men's rugby team has missed a number of chances to qualify for the World Cup, most recently when it lost two games to Uruguay. The Canadian team will have one last chance to qualify at a repechage tournament in November likely to be held in France.

Vansen says the boost in funding will help the team receive additional training in advance of the qualifying tournament.

"We made a commitment to making sure that we put together a plan to have these men be in the best position to qualify," said Vansen. "That's what we're doing and we've asked the community to assist in that in terms of paying a little bit more on the registration dues."

'It's just not acceptable'

"How did we get there?" Baer said. "It's just not acceptable that this is how far we got down the track without someone saying, 'We are not in a good shape to qualify for World Cup.'"

Baer pointed out the women's team receives less total funding, even though it's been more successful, finishing fifth in the 2017 Women's World Cup.

But Vansen says Rugby Canada has to make the men's team a priority now since their World Cup is upcoming and the women's tournament is over.

"The year after a World Cup is a year that we're going to see a reduction in the amount of camps and the amount of investment that we can make in that program," Vansen said. "But every program goes through that, no different from… It's part of the normal process as we plan that out."

Mark Chesser, president of the Niagara Rugby Union, criticized Rugby Canada's decision to make grassroots players pay for the national men's team. (Gary Morton/CBC)

Mark Chesser, president of the Niagara Rugby Union, understands the need for funding, but wishes the national organization had found another way to raise funds.

"The fact of the matter is we will face huge hikes if in fact we don't make it — I'm really hoping that we  do— but this isn't the way of going about getting funding for that."

Chesser also criticized the rollout of the plan.

"They sort of just announced it," he said. "They didn't ask the average player if they would do it, they just said, 'Yeah, this is what you're doing.'"

Chesser says that larger clubs like his will be absorbing the fee on behalf of their players, but other clubs will need to pass the cost on to their players.

With files from Talia Ricci