Local clubs will be next to benefit from Stormont’s All Party Group on Rugby.
Set up five years ago, the group has played its part in transforming Ravenhill into Kingspan Stadium and redirecting the senior Ulster team.
Speaking to the group at Stormont yesterday (Tuesday) though, Ulster Rugby’s CEO Shane Logan spoke about the need for £20 million of investment into the local game.
“The club game has grown slightly over the last five or six years but not enough,” he said.
“We have to generate the overwhelming bulk of our own players ourselves. For the future of the senior team and for the future of what we’re about, which is our clubs and schools, we have to improve. We exist to serve the grassroots game.”
That will centre around investment in facilities, ranging from pitches and floodlighting to catering for women’s rugby and people with disabilities.
“We will be doing an analysis of what our clubs need to bring them up to the required standard to allow growth,” continued Logan.
“We are relatively under-invested. I don’t think that is anybody’s fault but by the time Casement Park is complete, there will have been roughly £80 million plus invested in both GAA and soccer. Our level is around £20 million pro rata shy.
“We probably need that £20 million to get the infrastruture of our clubs up to equivalent standards that the GAA and soccer enjoy.”
That investment, of course, will go hand in hand with Ireland’s bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup, in particular the need for world class training bases for competing sides. Logan hopes 15 of the 45 bases would be located within Ulster.
“We want to attract a disproportionate number of touring clubs,” said Logan.
“On average a Rugby World Cup team will spend five weeks in the jurisdiction. We want it to be so good that we are attracting New Zealand, France, England, South Africa and all the leading tier one nations.
“If we can do that, not only will we have investment in infrstruture, we will have something that lights up the game in local communities, that brings big amounts of money and big amounts of interest.”
Kingspan Stadium will host the semi-finals and finals of the Women’s Rugby World Cup next year, when all 34 of the voters for the 2023 RWC venue will be present. Ireland are going up against France and South Africa to host the tournament and next year’s event will play a role in the success or otherwise of their bid.
Logan also reflected on the All Party Group’s workings since it was set up in 2011, including not only the stadium redevelopment but also increased engagement from across the community.
“Fives years ago, while we had great potential, some negative things were said about us,” he reflected.
“The French knew Ravenhill as Raven-hole and to the English, it was the land that time forgot. Our crowds were poor, 7-8,000 on average. Our ground is now the envy of European rugby. We have a capacity of 18,000 and an average crowd of 16,000. We have arguably the world’s best rugby gym facility and we have a 4G pitch which we share with Aquinas school, something that was unthinkable five or ten years ago.
“We have had over 20,000 of the poorest 10% of children and young people on rugby programmes of six to eight weeks. That has been in many cases transformational. I have seen kids from the Cregagh Estate, South Armagh, the Shankill, who regularly come to games and stand on the terrace side by side whereas in real life they would potentially have been diametrically opposed.”
Ireland will discover whether or not their 2023 RWC bid has been successful in September 2017.