THE SRU has released details of its long-awaited assessment of player numbers in Scotland, revealing that it has a total of 36,207 people who have registered as players on the governing body’s new SCRUMS system. That figure includes women and men, girls and boys, and has been hailed by Sheila Begbie, the director of rugby development, as the first truly accurate assessment of the state of play in Scotland.
All but 4,000 of the total are male, with boys, at more than 21,000, making up over half of the total. The total does not include participants in variations of the game such as Tartan Touch, nor has there been a breakdown of the number of games played by each player, or the average number of games played over a season – although the SRU are confident that such information can be gleaned from the data.
While accepting that there may well have been a drop in participating numbers in Scotland over recent years, Begbie insisted that the unreliability of previous data meant it was impossible to quantify. “I wouldn’t say it’s a massive decline,” she said at a Murrayfield press conference today. “I think there’s potentially a decline in the numbers that we’ve got playing the game, but I wouldn’t say it’s massive. We actually don’t know realistically what the numbers were before.
“I think it’s almost comparing apples and pears, because I think the reality is we’ve never really known what the numbers are in the game. When I’m talking about one person from our organisation being registered four times . . . And the number did come from clubs and schools previously.
“We are where we are. We have to move on. This is our line in the sand of where the game is.”
The SRU is confident that its new way of data collection – Scottish Rugby Management System, to give it its full name – is free of problems such as dual registration which beset previous efforts to evaluate playing numbers. “We used to get the data from clubs and schools, who in-putted what their player numbers were,” Begbie continued. “On SCRUMS, the big difference is it’s the individual player who registers themselves on to the system, and that’s why we’re saying that the data we’ve got now is cleansed data, because it’s individual registrations.
“There’s a profile created for each of the players registered on SCRUMS. If a player is under 18, it’s a parent or guardian or carer that will register them on the system.
“We took a little bit of time just to make sure that there were no duplicates. And there were no duplicates in the system. We’re quite safe. It is working.”
The number of players within Scottish rugby has long been a vexed question, with previous reported figures showing wild and unexplained disparities. In 2006, for example, the overall number was 24,200. A year later, that number had fallen to 20,000, only for it to rise to 30,500 in 2009 then rise again 12 months later to 38,500.
Today’s number has been broken down by region as follows:
Glasgow North 7,799
Caledonia Midlands 6,908
Caledonia North 4,854
Glasgow South 4,466
East includes Edinburgh, Lothian and the Borders, while Glasgow South stretches down to Dumfries & Galloway. The 136 professional players have been registered nationally.
Although, as stated, the 36,000-plus total has yet to be broken down into number of games played by each registered person, the adult male figure of just over 11,000 appears significantly greater than the number who turn out at weekends. Many in the club game have seen their own playing numbers fall along with the number of teams they can field, while volunteers and spectators are also thinner on the ground in many areas than they were a decade or two ago.
Begbie was speaking as she launched the SRU’s Rugby Development Strategy, a plan for the coming five years which includes a number of initiatives to encourage participation at all levels. “Club rugby is the engine room of the sport,” she added in a statement issued by the SRU. “This new Strategy recognises that rugby competes with many varied leisure-time activities, all looking for a share of peoples’ precious time and money. We want to make it easier to get involved with rugby; remove barriers to playing and adapt to changes in society as the number of people playing team sports decline.
“Scottish Rugby’s regional delivery model is based on developing strong relationships with our clubs and key stakeholders. Five regional teams working with clubs have built this strategy and will deliver an inclusive game the length and breadth of Scotland. Decision-making and budgets are decentralised across the regions with a focus on building ‘local solutions for local issues.
“We are determined to tackle the challenge of playing numbers. So, the performance targets we set out today are about doing exactly that.
“We will retain our current number of 36,207 registered players playing XV rugby across Scotland as our target for next year, with a key focus at present being the transition and retention of players. Our clubs are the heart of the game and we will support them to manage the issues we collectively face around keeping rugby a viable and attractive sport to be involved in, at every level.”