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Rugby World Cup 2015

Volume 764: debated on Thursday 10 September 2015

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to maximise the grass-roots impact of hosting the forthcoming Rugby World Cup.

My Lords, the Government are working closely with the Rugby Football Union to ensure a lasting legacy from the Rugby World Cup. It is working to spread the game’s popularity—notably, by improving clubs’ capacity and by offering more young people the opportunity to play rugby, especially in state schools.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her reply. Many of us are very much looking forward to the forthcoming Rugby World Cup, which will be the first major international sporting event in England since the Olympic Games. Is the Minister aware that way back in January 2012, before the Olympic Games, the then Minister for Culture, Media and Sport declared that the Government would promote at least 1,300 partnerships between schools and rugby clubs, making it easier for young people to play sport after their education? Can she elaborate on what has been done with those initiatives?

My Lords, the Rugby Football Union is well on its way to meeting that target by 2017. It has 960 new links between clubs, schools and colleges in its targeted work. In addition, it has 104 women and girls’ club sections with a new school/college link. The RFU is taking the game into state schools, reaching 130,000 state school pupils in the past school year. I do not know whether noble Lords have seen today’s Financial Times, which describes the Rugby World Cup as:

“A tonic for rugby’s grassroots”,

and highlights the extra £15 million likely to become available for grass-roots rugby.

My Lords, will the Minister give some thought to those at the other end of the grass-roots spectrum—that is, the veterans? Is she aware that a veterans’ tournament for parliamentarians who are involved in the Rugby World Cup is taking place next week, starting in Rugby? If any care to come down to watch, we are also playing at the Richmond athletics ground on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The parliamentary rugby match is an excellent example of grass-roots rugby, demonstrating over the past 20 years that rugby can be enjoyed by people of all ages. I understand that the noble Lord has regularly distinguished himself in those matches, and I wish him and the team well—and every success for England as well.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is a joy to know that the Rugby World Cup is on terrestrial television—unlike the cricket, which suffers from the fact that a whole generation of young people, unless they have Sky, never gets the opportunity to see it on television?

I agree with the noble Baroness. The Rugby World Cup is on ITV; the final is an A-listed event. We all look forward to a strong few weeks of television, and joy, whoever gets through to the final stages.

My Lords, I am sure the noble Baroness made a mistake when she simply referred to supporting England in those matches. The Scots among us, the Welsh and even the Irish will also want her congratulations; I am sure that she will want to give them.

Also, do the excellent plans that the RFU has for those legacy activities extend to women players? The participation figures for young women in rugby are still very poor and they need to be supported.

Of course, I wish Scotland, Wales and Ireland very well as well. When Scotland do extremely well, I will think of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, with his fashionable new beard. As noble Lords can imagine, I feel some passion on the subject of women in rugby, as of course does the Minister for Sport, who herself plays football. England women won the 2014 World Cup, and the RFU’s women and girls strategy, launched in September 2014, has built on that. Participation is up by a third, demonstrating a track record of success. Of course there is more to be done, but the RFU is focused on that and it is part of their excellent lead-up and legacy plan.

My Lords, will the Minister encourage the English rugby team to maximise its impact on the grass roots at Twickenham in the match against Wales?

My Lords, declaring my interest as a co-chair of the All-Party Group on Ticket Abuse, will my noble friend agree that apart from a home nation—preferably England—winning the World Cup, a good way of maximising the grass-roots impact is to back the RFU and England 2015 in their campaign to stop online operators of secondary markets illegally fleecing supporters of the game? I hope my noble friend will also congratulate the RFU on its patience in waiting on the touchline for the Government to launch their statutory review, which was in the Consumer Rights Act, and has to report by May of next year. When will that inquiry be launched?

I thank my noble friend for his comments about the RFU. Certainly a lot of professional work has been done, which has focused also on fraud, which is important. As I explained to him earlier this week in another part of the House, we are very much on track to start this review, and we hope to make an announcement very soon about the chair and the terms of reference. It will be an important review, which will be able to take into account the successes and the problems that are found with ticketing for this very important Rugby World Cup.

My Lords, is the Minister confident that all disabled rugby fans who wish to attend a World Cup match will find that the facilities in the stadiums are there, appropriate and in sufficient quantity for them to be able to do so?

My Lords, this is an important point. I do not know the answer, but I do know that in our consultation on the strategy for sport we have a theme that is all about safety and well-being. We are looking at that area and of course have debated it in the context of the noble Lord’s Private Member’s Bill. My impression is that the RFU is very alert to this problem, and I will certainly pass on his comments.