The changing face of Rugby Union

Canterbury Rugby League CEO Nathan Godfrey

The Canterbury Rugby Football Union is a legacy-driven organisation, established in 1879 it has a reputation for producing world class players and coaches. In my first year as CEO, I’m proud to walk past a trophy cabinet that now includes the Super Rugby trophy, and both the Men’s and Women’s NZ Championship cups.

My leadership philosophy is based on the Japanese proverb – Kaizen – which simply means continuous improvement. Our high performance culture is built around trusting our succession plans. This starts at academy level where 92% of our talent is converted to the professional environment, many going on to wear the All Black jersey.

Rugby has always enjoyed a lofty position in NZ society, but the game is preparing for a paradigm shift as it seeks to reflect the changing needs of a diverse population. After a number of high profile incidents last year, NZ Rugby conducted a Respect & Responsibility review which has challenged the culture of the game. As a young Chief Executive, I certainly view this transition as an opportunity to make a significant contribution to the future direction of rugby including a strong focus on gender diversity and inclusive leadership. This starts at governance level, evident in the CRFU Board recently approving my recommendation for the appointment of our first Female official in 138-years to the position of Vice-President.

Earlier this year we also launched the ‘We All Bleed Red’ anti-discrimination campaign, supported by a number of high profile individuals, and in doing so we became the first rugby union in NZ to tackle an important societal issue that transcends the game of rugby. Having worked across 3 codes including the AFL and A-League, I’ve certainly experienced first-hand some of the positive work being done in Australia to not only call out this behaviour but more importantly celebrate diversity.

My team have also been tasked with developing and commercialising alternative game products that appeal to the next generation. This thinking is based on a series of focus groups conducted with millennial students, who want to see more ‘pop-up’ style festivals and social connection as part of their rugby experience, replacing the structure of traditional Tuesday/Thursday training and Saturday afternoon game.

I’m honoured to lead Canterbury Rugby, but ultimately we are all just custodians, and my goal is to hand this torch over with a brighter flame than when I received it. I read a book recently called Legacy which shared a few insights into the All Black culture, and the message was that peak performing organisations change when they are on top. That time is now… fortunately I’m a change agent!

Nathan Godfrey
Canterbury Rugby Football Union