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Grassroots Club Rugby: Recovery after Covid-19

Volume 726: debated on Thursday 26 January 2023

6. What recent steps her Department has taken with the Rugby Football Union to help support the recovery of grassroots club rugby following the covid-19 outbreak. (903257)

Supporting grassroots sports is a key Government priority. It brings communities together and makes people happier and healthier. Through the sport survival package, rugby union received £160 million to ensure the survival of clubs at all levels during the pandemic. That was specifically designed to help those grassroots clubs. In addition, Sport England offered £23 million to support rugby union during the pandemic.

Local rugby clubs play a vital role in encouraging a healthy lifestyle, bring communities together and provide young people with an opportunity to develop friendships and skills for life. As the Minister knows, the pandemic has proved ruinous for many clubs, with clubs local to me in Ilford, Dagenham, Barking, Romford, Chingford and Wanstead all facing either closure or significant difficulties. The president of my local club, Ilford Wanderers, told me:

“We aren’t just losing players; we losing wholesale teams.”

That has been compounded this week by the controversial changes to the amateur games rules for rugby union regarding safe tackle height, announced without consultation. I seek the Minister’s assurance that funding will be ongoing and he will work with the Rugby Football Union on financial support to save those community clubs and ensure that this fantastic game, in all its forms, continues for many generations to come.

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the significant contribution that rugby union makes in many of our communities. I pay tribute to the many thousands of volunteers who give up their time to ensure that these clubs survive. We work constantly with the RFU and Sport England to ensure that the best assessment is made of support that is needed for the sector. I will continue to do that and raise the points that he highlighted.

I welcome the news that more than 200 grassroots rugby, football and boxing organisations across England and Wales are to be awarded £5 million to put on local schemes. Does the Minister agree that, apart from the obvious health and wellbeing benefits, these schemes help to keep vulnerable young people out of antisocial behaviour and crime?

My hon. Friend is right. The power of sport is significant and far-reaching: it helps with health and wellbeing and, as he rightly points out, can be a great avenue for helping people not to be tempted into areas of crime. That is why grassroots sports will be a key focus of our sports strategy.

We all love the game of rugby football union. In Wales this week, the Welsh Rugby Union was accused of sexism and misogyny. It is shocking and, unfortunately, reaches throughout the culture of Welsh rugby. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State reach out to the Welsh Government to provide their support and give the right guidance on setting up an independent regulator?

Sexism, misogyny or any prejudice has no place whatever in any of our sports. As the hon. Member knows, sport is devolved, but I will reach out to colleagues in the Welsh Government and have a discussion about that. I am absolutely clear that our sports strategy will have inclusion at its heart.

First, may I congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on last month becoming the new president of the Rugby Football League? I suspect that your form of the game will see a big influx of new players as the English Rugby Football Union seeks to rewrite the rules of the union game.

Does the Minister agree that, given 75,000 players, coaches and supporters of the union game have already signed a petition rejecting the new rules, the RFU should think again, work more collaboratively with the grassroots across all the home nations and ensure that all steps taken to improve player safety are consistent and workable and do not lead to a player exodus?

My right hon. Friend raises an important point that a number of colleagues have already raised with me. As he will be aware, national governing bodies such as the Rugby Football Union are responsible for the regulation of their sport and ensuring that appropriate measures are in place to protect participants from harm and serious injuries. I can assure him that we continue to work with sports bodies, including the RFU, to ensure that player safety is prioritised, and I will certainly raise the points he has raised in my next meeting with it.