Players governance scheme looks to charities


NEWS:WHAT TO do after rugby? For players who will have played all of their working lives as professionals in the game, an interesting scheme that serves a dual purpose for high-profile players and a range of charities was launched in Dublin yesterday.

Normally players are rolled out as visible supporters of charities and turn up to ad hoc events to support them and raise money. But an initiative set up by the players union, Irupa, and Boardmatch Ireland seeks to place players on the boards of charities so that they have a functioning role and a fixed commitment to the organisations.

Jonathan Sexton. Shane Jennings, Eoin Reddan, Leo Cullen and David Wallace are just some of the international players who will learn from and add to a selection of charitable organisations.

Sexton will attend his first board meeting for Headstrong next month where it is believed he will develop new skills from outside the sporting arena that will benefit him in his post-playing career and also raise awareness of suicide and the area of mental health. He knows nothing of how a company is run or how decisions are made at board level with his placement seen as a real educational opportunity for him, while Headstrong recognise his appeal to young people and his leadership qualities.

Similarly Jennings has been appointed to the board of Ronald McDonald House, Reddan to the board of the Irish Youth Foundation and Wallace to the board of the Special Olympics.

The recognition that sportsmen and women, who are the best in the world at what they do, have so much to offer seems so preposterously obvious that the wonder is nobody thought of it before.

“This experience is not just beneficial to charities,” said chief executive of Irupa Omar Hassanein. “It also provides players with an insight to the workings of major organisations at a very high level, where they can demonstrate their leadership qualities in a professional non-sporting environment.”

Boardmatch and Irupa are coordinating the placement of players onto the charity boards, many of them that include heavy hitters from the business and professional world. Graham Law, Google finance director, Greg Sparks, founder of FGA, and Danuta Gray, non-executive chairman of Telefonica Ireland, are members of the Headstrong board, while Bill Cullen, of television show The Apprentice, is chairman of the board of the Irish Youth Foundation.

“I think it’s different for a 20- or 21-year-old guy who hopefully is going to be doing a trade, a diploma or degree and is going to be educating himself,” said Jennings. “For guys in the game a while and out of the real world, we have to upskill and try and obviously learn how that world works. So it’s an opportunity for players as much as it’s an opportunity for boards. That’s how I feel anyway.

“I’ve definitely upskilled from going to meetings and understanding how certain things work, developing relationships and things like that. It really matters because you just don’t know what will happen in rugby.”

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