London 2012 inspires RFU ahead of 2015 Rugby World Cup
The boss of rugby union in England says that his sport, and the forthcoming Rugby World Cup, can learn from this summer's successful London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Ian Ritchie took over the helm as chief executive of the Rugby Football Union (RFU) nine months ago, after six years in charge of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, where he oversaw the Wimbledon championships each year.
Mr Ritchie and the RFU have laid out their legacy plans around the Rugby World Cup, which will be played in venues across England for six weeks in 2015.
And, taking its cue from the success of the Games this summer, volunteers are very much at the core of those World Cup plans.
As well as looking for thousands of volunteers to get involved with rugby union on a regular basis, they can also play a major part in the tournament's staging, where it is hoped to recreate the impact of the red and purple-clad London 2012 Games Makers.
"We are looking at different aspects of the Olympic Games - at the organisation, mechanics, how venues were operated," says Mr Ritchie.
Mr Ritchie says he was inspired by the success of the London 2012 volunteering programme, not only for the numbers involved but also because of the youth of many of those Games Makers.
"That was one of the successes of the Olympic Games," he says.
Another Olympic link is in place with the hiring of Debbie Jevans, former director of sport for Olympic organising company Locog, as the new chief executive of England Rugby 2015, the organisation which will run the Rugby World Cup.
The RFU is to invest £26m at grassroots level to capitalise on a predicted increase in interest around the World Cup, with £1m being allocated to train 6,500 new referees and coaches and recruit 5,000 rugby volunteers by 2015.
Mr Ritchie took over the helm of the RFU at a difficult time for the organisation, and after boardroom infighting had threatened to tear it apart during 2011.
"The foundations, the fundamentals, were in place," he says, speaking at a Sport Industry Group event. "The game in general terms was not in a bad place within the sporting world."
The 58-year-old says one of his first tasks was to provide stability and to make sure all staff and management felt "integrated", which included making sure those dealing with Under-eights rugby or the England senior men's team were all working together.
With this new internal harmony, the RFU has set out to refresh its sponsorship strategy during 2012, signing new deals with Canterbury, BMW, and O2, among others.
Mr Ritchie says this new clarity at the RFU has enabled it to sign fewer sponsorship deals than before, but which run "narrower and deeper" throughout the organisation.
"The BMW and O2 deals are not just about sticking a banner around the stadium," he says, pointing out that those deals also include fan, community and academy strands to them.
And he says another sign of the new inclusively can be seen in the fact that autumn's launch of the new England kit, made by Canterbury, took place not at RFU headquarters at Twickenham, but at Gloucestershire rugby club Drybrook RFC.
England have four autumn internationals, against Fiji, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, and have secured sponsorship from Australian sponsorship group QBE for these games.
"We have a good financial base, and it looks like the four internationals will be a sell out," he says. "They are a shop window for us."
The RFU expects to capitalise on the high profile of the England team and grow interest and participation in rugby union in the lead up to the 2015 World Cup, which runs from 18 September to 31 October.
Mr Ritchie hopes the event will create the same buzz among the British public as the London 2012 Games.
"To hold the World Cup in this country is a once in a lifetime opportunity," says Ritchie.
"We will never get a better interest to grow participation and interest [in rugby union]. It is absolutely a focus for us to make the World Cup, which is one of the biggest sporting events in the world, a success."
He adds: "The World Cup will hopefully motivate people. If we can get people engaged throughout the country, that is my raison d'etre."
He said if all went well some 2.9 tickets would be sold to World Cup matches, which will be played in large stadiums. That explains the inclusion of a number of football grounds in the list of host venues.
On tickets, he said a pricing balance would have to be sought, between attracting people to all the games, whatever the teams involved, and those big-name games played at Twickenham and the Millennium Stadium, which are guaranteed to be a sell-out.
Mr Ritchie also hopes that the introduction of the shortened form of the game, Rugby Sevens, to the Olympics in 2016 will add an extra impetus to interest and participation.
"It is very interesting," he says. "It is like the way cricket has worked with Test matches and Twenty20. Rugby has a similar opportunity with Sevens and the full 15 game."
He said a lot investment had also been put into touch rugby union, with a commitment to introducing 15,000 people to this form of the sport
"Rugby has a real opportunity with different types of the game, including women's rugby and touch rugby."
In addition, the All Schools programme is aimed at giving a million children the chance to play the sport, with a target of introducing the sport to 750 state secondary schools by 2019.
But he said the bigger challenge for the RFU and other sporting bodies was to entice youngsters into sport of any kind.
"They all face similar issues - how do you get children adapting your sport; how do you get people playing the game?
"It is not about one sport against another - it is about how you get people playing more sport."