John Inverdale has expressed his desire to broaden the appeal of the National Leagues after becoming the National Clubs Association’s (NCA) new chairman.
At Sunday’s AGM, Inverdale officially took over from Norman Robertson, who is stepping down after an 11-year tenure.
Both RFU CEO Bill Sweeney and Inverdale were full of praise and admiration for Robertson who, over the last decade, has continually increased the profile of the National Leagues.
And Inverdale is already keen to take both National One and National Two to the next level.
“I think the NCA is under-appreciated in the game as a whole, but I also think it’s the responsibility of the NCA to go out there and get more appreciated,” Inverdale told TRU.
“There are ways that can be done, but the fact that we’ve got a product here which stretches to Tynedale to Canterbury to Luctonians to Redruth, that’s an amazing geographical spread with everyone with the same core values and the same love of the same thing.
“One of the objectives of the NCA over the next five years is to just get more people to understand within the game, but fundamentally outside the game, that you don’t have to go and watch Saracens play or Bristol if you’re in the West Country. You can go and watch Dings Crusaders and watch a really good game of rugby.
“If it’s down your road, what you will watch is worth watching and that the absolute key thing is broadening the sport and broadening people’s awareness that the quality of play in levels three and four is worth your time on a Saturday afternoon. We all collectively have to try and broaden the appeal of our game.”
Inverdale is arguably best known for his work with the BBC and ITV, covering major sporting events across the globe including the Six Nations and the Rugby World Cup.
However, the 62-year-old is steeped in rugby history having played at university in Southampton and at Cardiff Met before becoming affiliated with Esher, where he is currently the club’s chairman.
In fact, Inverdale has been associated with the National Two South side for almost 35 years and he also felt that this was the right time for him to take on a new challenge within the NCA.
“Norman is an ace politician and when he did ring me up to see if I fancied doing it, my initial thought was going back nearly 30 years to the days of Rugby Special and when the game was going open and looking at how rugby was administered,” Inverdale added.
“I remember thinking and did think for many years and still do to some extent, ‘Who are these people who are making these decisions?!’ They are not easy decisions to make because there are so many vested interests and you learn, even now having barely been in the job for a nanosecond, you learn about how many different vested interests there are and no decision is easy to make.
“If you are ‘in the tent’ to use that cliché, you at least have the possibility of being able to influence how that decision is made. You can write, you can be a broadcaster, you can be a journalist and you can berate and you can do whatever you want, but ultimately all you are doing is throwing stones from the touchline. You are not actually doing anything on the pitch.
“I thought maybe this is the right time to actually see if anything I feel about the game, I can help to steer in that direction.”
Inverdale is acutely aware that his reign as NCA chairman has begun with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Whilst the elite club game is targeting a return to play on August 15th, the start date for the 2020/21 National League season is still up in the air and that is just one of the many issues which Inverdale, and his colleagues, are in the process of resolving.
The RFU has announced a national roadmap to support a return to community rugby activity.— England Rugby (at ??) (@EnglandRugby) June 4, 2020
During the Covid-19 crisis, it has been a difficult time for National League clubs, but Inverdale was keen to reassure them that their best interests are paramount when it comes to making decisions.
“I have been on the group that have been discussing when play might begin and a lot of the factors are way out of our control and they are all down to ‘R’ figures and scientific advice and medical advice and the nature of rugby because of its physical contact as a opposed to fishing or golf or whatever it might be.
“Everyone is desperate to get started as soon as possible and all I can say is that this is a game that is built on trust. If you are at full-back, you trust the prop. If you are at scrum-half, you have to trust your outside-half otherwise our game doesn’t operate.
“Across the NCA, you have to just trust the people who are making the decisions that they are doing it with our best interests at heart because we genuinely are.”