The UK Polocrosse Association and one of its member clubs, Rugby Polocrosse Club, have traded lobbying emails in advance of this weekend’s Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) which will decide if the A grade competition at this year’s UK National Club Championships will be ‘mixed’ teams (editor’s note: for those who aren’t already aware a slightly misleadingly named ‘mixed’ team consists of one section of men and one section of ladies). The UKPA went first when on the 11th of July it sent an email around all its membership listing the steps it had taken to try and make the transition to mixed teams fair for all clubs and how it was willing to allow a certain amount of flexibility in the rules to make it possible for as many clubs to field mixed teams as possible.
The two main steps the UKPA were willing to take was allowing the loan of players between clubs purely for Nationals (something normally not allowed) and also allowing a junior boy to play in a Ladies section as a last resort (editor’s note: damn lucky junior boys being allowed to play with five ladies…it’s just not fair!). The UKPA also made clear that only players of an eight handicap or over could play in the A grade for Nationals.
For a while that was all we heard, there was no response from the so described “some members of the UKPA” and life ticked on quite normally. Then early in the morning on the 28th of July came the response as Rugby Polocrosse Club sent an open letter to the UKPA membership laying out the reasons why they (editor’s note: for it was they who were the majority of the “some members” in question) had felt it necessary to call an EGM.
The letter is a fairly lengthy one but the key points made within it are that the rule is unfair against clubs such as theirs which did not plan for this form of polocrosse for this season and has an A grade team made up entirely of men, that it also goes against the principles of Nationals to start allowing clubs to borrow players and finally that the UKPA has rushed to bring in this rule and such rule changes should be voted on at an AGM and then brought in two seasons after that AGM to allow clubs and players time to prepare.
So one shot from each side, surely that would be enough excitement? But no it wasn’t to be, because then Barry Amor responded by circulating around the membership a table showing the number of players who would be eligible to play in A grade at Nationals and an analysis of how many of the UKPA membership (both men and ladies) might be able to play in the A grade under both a mixed and non mixed system.
What the email and table effectively shows is that the only club who really loses out is Rugby. It suggests that there could be up 7 mixed A grade teams playing at Nationals without the need for loaning players between the clubs (editor’s note: our own analysis shows only six clubs as we do not think Coltshire have three lady players graded above a 7 per the most recent grading list). However, one of these clubs is not Rugby who would not be able to run an A grade team and would have three male players graded above an 11 not playing in A grade, though two of them, as noted in the email, would not be UK players. Barry is the UKPA’s CEO but the email was circulated via his email account that he uses for dealing with club issues as a member of Celyn Polocrosse club and gave no indication it came from him in his official UKPA capacity.
So what does it all mean? There is a lot of information in all these emails and too much information can be just as useless as too little. It muddles the brain and makes one forget the key points. So let’s try and get back to those key facts and issues. So these are our four key points for this argument, our own analysis of them and finally our opinion of each one.
1) Was the timing fair?
The UKPA first said that this Mixed team rule would come in a week before the season started, it was not half way through the season as Rugby have stated in their email. As Rugby have correctly noted there were a lot of rumours before that point but there were also a number of indicators (such as the club council vote) that the UKPA would not push ahead with it. However, they did and they did announce it before the season began. Is a week fair notice to the clubs and membership?
Our opinion: The rule was brought in too late and was unfair to Rugby who had planned their season by that stage.
2) Has the UKPA done enough to try and help Rugby?
The UKPA has clearly taken steps to try and soften the blow of this rule change. It has known they have suggested to Rugby they could borrow players from other clubs and there have even been rumours that they could be permitted to get some of the Irish lady players over to play for them.
However, it would seem that the sad fact is that these steps do not actually really help Rugby who wanted to field a competitive A grade team this year and have said a number of times that they wanted it to be a true Rugby club team. Even if they were willing to capitulate on that point and borrow some lady players, could they actually get the players they need? For all the numbers that can be quoted the simple fact would seem to be that there are really no good lady players in the UK to borrow. Barry’s own analysis shows that there are just 28 lady players graded above a 7 in the UKPA. Of those probably only half are truly proven A graders, the rest are a combination of youngsters and B graders who would frankly struggle to step up.
No club will lend its best players to Rugby and all the other top teams have at least three experienced A grade lady players who are used to playing together, those clubs being Kent, Cotswold and Celyn. Welsh Dragons have two very experienced players and they could put a younger player in as a two if they needed to. Vale Impi also have three good lady players. Coltshire are included as one of the A grade clubs but as far as we can see from the most recent grading list they only actually have two lady players graded above a 7 (editor’s note: we think Kim Myers might have been included a girl….).
Our opinion: The UKPA has tried to help but in truth it can’t really solve the problem it started except by retreating fully. Instead it is trying to find a way out of the situation but there really is no satisfactory way out. If Rugby had to borrow they would end up with a mixed bag of B graders who would not offer any real resistance to the A grade ladies sections of the top teams. It’s one thing to write on a bit of paper that there are 4 spare lady players in the UKPA, it’s quite another to put three of those four lady players together for the first time and sending them out to play against the likes of Charlotte Pykett and Rachael Gayler. Not only would they receive a sound thrashing its also possibly dangerous. One would imagine in these circumstances Rugby would probably rather not play at all.
3) Does it matter if Rugby don’t play in the A grade?
Does it really matter if Rugby don’t play in the A grade? According the analysis there would still be plenty of A grade teams and as three of Rugby’s players are Australian does it matter if they don’t get a game?
Firstly, one question that the UKPA has not answered is what will happen to these players if they can’t play in A grade? At Rugby’s own tournament Rugby split up its A grade team between it’s B and C grade teams and promptly won both grades quite easily. Therefore, would they have to do the same for Nationals? Is that fair on the B and C grade teams who have worked all season to have a shot at their own grade at the National championships?
Secondly, the fact Rugby flew their Australian players over for the season. They wanted to field a strong A grade team, they also wanted to improve their club by having players over to coach and develop their youngsters and also they wanted to push up the level of polocrosse in the A grade again by importing some foreign talent. A lot of people have been heard to bemoan the decline in quality of the A grade in recent years and some people long for the days of the likes of Jamie Grimmond, Shane Hill, Todd Weston and Shaye Williams.
Our opinion: It does matter, it will affect other grades if Rugby have to play down the grades and it is slightly ironic that now a club has flown in a number of Australians again everyone starts to say that what really matters is bringing on young UK talent.
4) Can the UKPA afford to fall out?
Polocrosse is a small sport, in the UK there are few enough players as it is. Do the UKPA really want to look back and say “We excluded players from playing our sport”? Does the UKPA really want to fall out with one of its member clubs?
Our opinion: No, polocrosse is meant to be a friendly and welcoming sport and this situation seems a slightly ludicrous one to us. In all honesty, Rugby’s Australia contingent and their A grade team in general is not strong enough to challenge for the A grade crown at Nationals, it has lost on the few occasions it has played this year to mixed teams and there is no reason to think that it would actually be able to beat the likes of Cotswold, Kent and Celyn, even if they fielded mixed teams against Rugby full six of men. The UKPA should let them play and then bring in a new rule for next year if they want to go ahead with Mixed teams.
The EGM will be held on Saturday the 3rd of August at 7pm during Midland Tournament in the club house.