Bartek Rys (PZR) : Polish rugby need a big team in Warsaw

Bartek Rys, member of the Polish union board since 2014 was recently appointed as president of the competition committee. He’s also the president of Wroclaw rugby. He talks about the intriguing emerging Polish rugby.

First, could you make a picture of Polish rugby before the start of 2017 ?

There is 5 to 6,000 registered rugby players in Poland. Sevens is the most popular form of rugby in the country. Near 60 teams are playing sevens. Eventually they will play fifteens in the future. The number of clubs is growing as we see more teams coming in the second league (3rd level). Rugby lost in popularity as volleyball, handball, football and speedway became bigger. We developed several programs at school including tag rugby program which reached 15,000 children each year. The number of registered young players is growing, even more with broadcasting of the Olympic games, Champions Cup and Challenge Cup.

Is there enough educators to welcome the new children ?

The national coach Blikkies Groenewald is introducing a program for the development of coaches. Since 2013, we are getting retired players or active players to become coaches for younger groups and eventually for seniors. This is growing.

What could you say about attendances at rugby stadiums ?

A lot of stadiums have been or are being built in Poland. The audience for the national team is bigger than before. Ekstraliga isn’t as popular yet.

What the state of finances in the clubs ? Public funding used to be important.

Club funding is a mix between public and private funding. In Ekstraliga, 6 or 7 of the 8 clubs are receiving money from the local authorities. They’re also trying to attract private sponsors. The best exemple of mixed funding is current champion Budowlani Lodz.

Are the union finances in good shape ?

Organizing Grand Prix Sevens cost us a little bigger than we thought but we won’t have any loss. We’re trying to have better fundings from public investors, Rugby Europe and sponsors. We get funds from the ministry of sports to cover the expanses of our national teams, especially the junior teams. We don’t get a lot of money from the National Olympic Committee because we’re too far from a possible qualification for 2020.

The president of PZR (Polish union) changed in the end of November. What could you say about Dariusz Olszewski ?

Only the president changed. The board is the same. Dariusz Olszewski is facing some challenges. The political situation changed in Poland, the new government is not keen to support sports. Dariusz Olszewski will have to fight for every penny.

What are the reasons Polish season is moving to spring-summer period ?

Ekstraliga playoff were played during Grand Prix Sevens, so clubs didn’t release the best players for the national sevens team. Now the season will end in October to fix the issue. Now Ekstraliga avoids the long winter break during the season. Clubs will have to overcome a lot of issues, we are quickly going to see the consequences of this move. Ekstraliga will start on March 25th, the final will be in the end of October. We chose to not play on the 11th of November,  because we saw the date wasn’t popular among the fans during last Polish Cup final. The formula will be a home and away round-robin with the best four teams qualified for the semi-finals. Now, the national team will have longer training camps up to 10 days.

Do you think some Polish clubs will soon turn professional ?

Budowlani Lodz is near to become one. We hope other clubs will follow. Having Premiership satellite clubs in Poland like Timisoara Saracens is one of the solutions. Also, Polish clubs could play overseas in a kind of Baltic Cup. Our clubs should try to play in the Challenge Cup Qualifying Competition. A fourth European club level would be necessary for nations in the Rugby Europe Trophy. It would bring more fans to rugby.

Harlequins recently launch a £7.5m bond to fund global growth ambitions. Could Poland be a target ?

The board of Ekstraliga will discuss about this in January. Budowlani Lodz could be a target. I will suggest it to the president of Budowlani. I will be keen to contact Harlequins and Saracens about this. We had an excellent cooperation with Exeter Chiefs during our youth selection training camps. We also have discussions with Sale Sharks, Glasgow and Edinburgh for eventual cooperation. Our U18 team is invited to a four nation tournament in London with Irish Exiles, Welsh Exiles and Sweden U18 to be held in April.

How do you explain the largest city of Poland, Warsaw lacks top clubs ?

Warsaw rugby is split into four small clubs instead of two big one. It’s a big problem for Polish rugby. Record title-winning side AZS AWF is currently at the third level. They got quite big sponsors and should come back soon in Ekstraliga. Legia Warsaw is building a junior team. Skra Warsaw have financial problems. Frogs play to have fun. Poland need a strong team in Warsaw. A good team in the capital would be a good promotion for rugby and for Extraliga. In the end, if Warsaw play other European teams, it will be better. The number of players is growing in Warsaw because many players come from other cities to work. Clubs will succeed with a strong strategy to grow their own players.

Is there any recent initiative about development of rugby in the youth ?

NBA player Marcin Gortat launched rugby classes in Poznan, Lodz and Krakow with basketball and volleyball classes. He thinks rugby is one of the most attractive Olympic sport.

What were Blikkies Groenewald’s recent actions for Poland national team ?

Blikkies Groenewald introduced a program for each national team player to focus on his development. We already monitored progress in Dubaï Sevens. Rugby Europe Trophy game on February 18th against Portugal will be a good test for the national team.

How do you explain the gap between national team big audience and quite small playing numbers ?

The promotion of the national team is quite big right now. National team manager Maciej Brazuk got sponsors around the national team. Eight national team matches were broadcasted on TV. It attracts people. Clubs aren’t doing that so well. I’m preparing a guide for manager and presidents about how to organize games, how to attract fans, children and future players. We need to work on the way of thinking sports. We need to be competitive among the other sports.

What can you say about the situation of rugby in Wroclaw ?

The club is slowly growing. A lot of new players are coming from other sports. We’re focus on building a regular junior team. This is a quite hard environment because Wroclaw American football club is champion of Poland and compete in the Champions League. Youth rugby is also growing. Every semester, kids are joining youth teams thanks to the tag rugby program.

Do you plan future national team games in Wroclaw to promote rugby ?

We already talked about this. We would play in Wroclaw if we play against Germany. That would be the perfect place to play Poland vs Germany.

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