In the latest in a series looking at the men and women of our Players’ Council, we speak to broadcaster and former English winger Ugo Monye who sits on our Men’s XV High-Performance group.
Ugo Monye, fresh off his 40th birthday celebrations, is a busy man.
The former winger, who represented the British & Irish Lions as well as playing for Harlequins for 14 years, is now a broadcaster, speaker and in the past year has joined the International Rugby Players Council, sitting on the Men’s XV High-Performance group alongside Conrad Smith, Jamie Roberts and Dean Mumm.
Monye spoke at the recent Shape of the Game conference in London and while he’s keen to highlight the issues the game needs to tackle, he also keen to drown out some of the negative noise surrounding the game.
“The game faces a number of quite significant challenges and it’s really important that it challenges them head on… whether it’s science or data or collaboration and understanding the differences from the community all the way up to elite game.
“I think the overarching message is we have got hundreds of thousands of kids playing rugby…and the elite level (makes up) 1%. You look at the Gallagher Premiership and you’ve got 11 teams, so under 500 people are playing on any given weekend.
“But beyond that, in the community game that is propped up on parents, volunteers, boys and girls officials, everyone just giving up their time just so that the next generation of kids can absolutely thrive.
“I was fortunate enough to play for 14 years, and the man that I am today is very much down to the benefits of being involved in a team sport and one that I absolutely love the game of rugby.
“The game, the results, it’s the camaraderie, the teammates, the values, the cultures, the places you travel, the people that you meet. And I think some of that absolutely does get lost in it because of some of the other topics that need to be spoken about. But it’s really important to stress the value and the importance of the great benefits that the game provides many people.”
Is this why Monye has got involved with International Rugby Players?
“I love the career that I had. Really passionate about it, but I get such a buzz from being at games every single weekend (with his broadcasting job) and getting to appreciate the talents and skills of others.
“So what I think International Rugby Players does is aggregate a lot of experience. The common denominator with all of us is we’ve played the game at decent levels, but then the skill base of everyone within the group, whether it be lawyers or doctors, practitioners… we’ve been able to connect those dots to be able to have a real good helicopter view on the game.
“We’re only a small organization, but our impact is mighty. The (player) voice is really relevant because we often table the opinions focused on the players, having spoken to them, consulted with them, bringing all of our own experience, as well as the views of current players today, ‘cos it is their game.”
What, for Monye, are the big issues he’d like to tackle in the sport?
“I think it’s important to state that the game and the challenges that we’re facing today are the ones that we’ve inherited for a long period of time, whether it’s finance, whether it’s play safety or welfare laws.
“These have been topics that have perhaps been looked at but not really properly invested into. Now we’re at this biting point where all of these issues are mounting… and why not have a deep dive into all of them?
“We’re going through a bit of pain but on the flip side is hopefully having a game which is really safe, really enjoyable to watch, financially viable and sustainable for everyone.
Monye looks at the game not just as a former player but as an experienced broadcaster working with major organisations like the BBC, ITV and BT Sport.
“I think there’s a lot of noise about how the game is. And that’s a massive deterrent. And it feels like it’s a barrier of entry to young boys and girls getting involved in our game.
“We know our game is a contact sport and the game can’t be afraid of what it is. And I know the game is doing everything it can do to protect not just the elite players, but junior players, grassroots players as well. We have more data, more evidence, more objective findings about what our game is.
“So it’s changing the perception of that and you can do that many ways.
Monye is delighted that rugby as a game is addressing the big issues, but acknowledges that the conversation comes with a price.
“By highlighting issues it almost becomes self-perpetuating because you talk about it, therefore it’s there. The reality is we have to confront these issues to be able to get it out there, to be able to find solutions.
“So changing the perception and then I guess tangibly doing what we can to make the game as safe as we can would be the couple of things that I’d want to target.”
It will be a busy few years ahead.
International Rugby Players
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