Former Romania sevens player Tony Pisaroglu argues that Romanian rugby needs an overhaul


Opinion: Why the Romanian rugby federation needs new management

When Alin Petrache became president of the Romanian rugby federation ten years ago, players and fans had high hopes that he would take a strong international programme to the elite level. But Petrache, a former member of the national team who went on to play professionally in France, has been a catastrophe for Romanian rugby.

A team that was ranked 13th in the world in 2006 has in recent years been trounced by Germany and Spain – once viewed as sparring partners.

A sign that it won’t get better is that Romania’s junior teams — the cornerstone of the future — have had a disastrous record in international competition.

The crowning blow was World Rugby disqualifying Romania from the 2019 World Cup having fielded an ineligible player in the Rugby Europe Championship, which acted as a qualifying tournament.

Related: Russia qualify for 2019 World Cup in place of Romania

Romanian fans were furious that their national team had failed to make the World Cup after competing in the previous eight tournaments.

Petrache quickly went on the defensive. He contended that his management team wasn’t asleep at the switch — that it did look into whether the Tongan player concerned was eligible. It simply misconstrued the complicated eligibility rules, he said.

This wasn’t good enough for former players and fans. The fact that he shrugged off the fiasco as “just one of those things” deepened their anger.

Why the Romanian rugby federation needs new management

Man at the top: Alin Petrache is president of the Romanian rugby federation (Getty Images)

Petrache’s critics contend that his attempt to duck responsibility for the Word Cup debacle is part of a pattern — that he has also failed to assume responsibility for the overall decline in Romanian rugby on his watch. Not only has he refused to accept accountability, they say, but he has failed to offer specific reasons for the sport’s decline — which would be a necessary starting point for fixing the problem.

Particularly disturbing is the federation’s failure to maintain junior rugby’s health. Rugby has long been a path to success for Romanian youngsters from modest circumstances, especially those from rural areas. It has given many youths opportunities in business and public life that they could never have dreamed of without rugby.

I am one of those rural youths whom rugby has helped. It opened the door to me having a successful career in business and public affairs. I am eternally grateful for that, and want to see it continue for youngsters with roots like mine.

Petrache has brushed off the criticism with pronouncements that he is considering new initiatives to restore Romanian rugby to its former glory. But, again, there is no detail on what these initiatives would be and these vague statements have failed to mollify fans and former players.

In fact, dozens of former players are so upset about Romanian rugby’s deterioration that they have signed an open letter calling for Petrache to resign right away — five years before his tenure as president is set to expire in 2024. Without an immediate management change, the letter contends, Romanian rugby may be relegated to also-run status for many years to come.

Those who signed the letter say that the end of the Petrache regime is part of a three-pronged programme that is needed for Romanian rugby to bounce back. The other prongs are a concerted effort to develop home-grown Romanian talent once again and attracting new investors and sponsors to the sport.

Why the Romanian rugby federation needs new management

Flying the flag: Romania fans at the 2015 World Cup in England (Getty Images)

I have now joined those calling for his departure.

Rugby has been a source of Romanian pride for more than 100 years. To restore that pride as quickly as possible, the Romanian rugby federation needs new management — people with fresh thinking, a grasp of international best practices in sport and the business of sport, and an ability to adapt to changes in the game.

It’s crucial that new management look to the future of Romanian rugby rather than stay rooted in the past.

In addition to leaders with fresh ideas, the federation needs to make a more concerted effort to develop home-grown players, starting at a very early age.

I know it is standard these days for national teams to bring in talented players from abroad. The justification is that top imported players give a team immediate punch that they would not have otherwise. But this is often done at the cost of failing to develop home-grown talent.

When I think about the dynasties in sport — teams like Barcelona in soccer, the New York Yankees in baseball, and the New England Patriots in football — I see great players and coaches, yes. But I also see enlightened owners and team management.

The same is true of national sport associations — like the Romanian rugby federation.

A series of sterling management teams kept Romanian rugby in the upper echelons of the sport for decades.

It can regain that status — and soar higher — with new management. And the sooner, the better.

Tony Pisaroglu is a former Romanian rugby player who competed with the national sevens team and is now vice president of the Bucharest-based crisis management firm H5 Strategies.

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