Rugby's vital socio-economic role in region must not be downplayed

The "amber and blacks" - the Taranaki representative rugby team - provide a point of focus for the Taranaki region.

Their performance often instils a sense of pride and community. Consistent performers, often pulling off major upsets, they exemplify confidence in the ability of Taranaki to punch above its weight and to be a successful and go-ahead community.

Rugby has helped shape the identity of Taranaki since the union's inception more than 120 years ago. It is a sport and activity "like no other". It plays a critical part in communities throughout the region and is central to the fabric of society in Taranaki.

Registered participants in rugby account for more than 5 per cent of the total Taranaki population. Rugby in Taranaki starts at grassroots level. Taranaki has one of the highest levels of involvement in New Zealand, especially in the younger age grades.

Last week a special report on Taranaki rugby, commissioned by Venture Taranaki in association with the TRFU, was released. The purpose of the report was to investigate the importance and impact of the sport in our region in a changing and uncertain environment.

The report also helps to determine whether there is a case for the region to support Taranaki rugby to have a place in the highest possible echelon of the sport available in New Zealand.

Change will ultimately have a significant impact on provincial rugby in New Zealand. Throughout this change process there will be potential threats and opportunities for provincial unions such as ours.

Three potential scenarios of future rugby in Taranaki have been considered in the report. These compare the involvement of Taranaki in:

Amateur Heartland rugby (a competition between minor provincial unions).

A revamped, semi-professional national provincial competition, and

Fulltime professional rugby in an international competition such as the Super 14.

If Taranaki was to drop the ball and end up out of the top-flight national competition, rugby participation in the region could drop significantly. The total impact on output (revenue) attributable to rugby in the region could be a 62 per cent fall. GDP contribution from rugby would subsequently fall by 65 per cent and employment by 57 per cent.

Conversely, albeit hypothetically, if Taranaki was positioned to take advantage of opportunities to secure a Super Rugby franchise at some point in the future, TRFU revenue could be boosted to between $10 million and $15m a year.

Total revenue could rise 157 per cent from the current situation to $30.6m a year, resulting in an increase in regional GDP of 160 per cent, and an increase in employment of 172 per cent.

There are various other ways that rugby benefits the Taranaki region that are not as easily quantified. They include increased community visibility, regional pride, collective morale and the feel-good factor, stimulation of other developments and social cohesion.

Rugby's point of difference in Taranaki is the central part it plays in many of the communities around Mt Taranaki, combined with the great level of interest our representative team generates.

It embodies the spirit and nature of Taranaki where there is the perception that it is the underdog which often performs beyond expectations.

Taranaki rugby is grass roots. It generates a sense of community and pride in the region. In return, the community supports rugby - whether it is financial, time, or participation.

The findings of the report clearly indicate that there is a strong case for significant regional investment in rugby, not only to protect the current value the sport offers Taranaki, but also to ensure it is well positioned in the medium term to take advantage of possible opportunities that may arise due to the imminent and likely ongoing restructuring of the game.

Taranaki rugby has experienced good years but also challenge and change.

Overall, however, rugby forms an important part of Taranaki's culture, history and identity. Significant levels of social and economic benefit will be lost if Taranaki cannot support its own team in the top echelon of domestic rugby in New Zealand.

Taranaki Daily News