Spanish Rugby: Fumbling Its Chances
Berasategui Rodríguez, Laureano
Original document: Situacion del rugby en España. Diciembre 2010
More than a century has passed since the first official rugby match was played in Spain. Held in the northwestern city of La Coruña in 1911, the game pitted the crews of two English ships – the Gloucester and the Liverpool – against each other.
Despite its long history, rugby remains a fringe sport in Spain. But is that set to change?
IESE researcher Laureano Berasategui has produced a report based on a survey of club sides and regional rugby federations in Spain. He believes that rugby has the potential to grow in popularity in the country in the coming years.
Among the reasons he cites for this is the growing popularity of the seven-a-side version of rugby, to be played as an Olympic sport for the first time at Brazil 2016. Spanish media are also giving rugby more coverage, and there is increasing interest and participation in Spanish women’s rugby.
That said, for rugby to truly take off in Spain, the sport’s main stakeholders will have to join forces in a show of uncommon unity, committing themselves to the professionalization of the sport.
Making Rugby Professional
By working together in a more coordinated fashion, the sport’s main institutional and business players should be able to produce a long-term strategic development plan within the next 10 years.
Yet the sport’s federations and clubs currently lack the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to support such long-term growth.
To give an idea of the sheer scale of work that remains to be done, the author cites Spain’s shortage of certified rugby pitches, as well as the fact that many teams do not even have insurance coverage.
Clearly, serious improvements will have to be made in funding, organization and staff expertise if there is to be any professionalization of the sport.
The hard work, generosity and passion shown for the sport by growing ranks of volunteers could serve as a vital launching pad for future development.
One of the weakest links in Spanish rugby is its excessive dependence on the public sector – particularly worrisome given Spain’s economic troubles and likely cuts in public spending on sports.
Another barrier is the weak institutional links that currently exist between the different regional federations and the national federation, and even between the federations and the clubs themselves.
Even though Spain might see periods of progress and success, the lack of a solid foundation threatens to keep the sport from flourishing and the country’s national side from closing the gap with some of the world’s best teams.