WRU CEO Martyn Phillips says club rugby is preparing for ‘the greatest of comebacks’ as he predicts post-pandemic progress ‘through a lens of hope’ in the latest Welsh Rugby Union Status Update – plus a new £600,000 fund is announced and much, much more:
There is no doubt the pandemic has presented challenges, sacrifices, heartache and anxiety.
We are under no illusions about the reality of the last three or four months. That said, without getting too philosophical, we can choose to view our future through a lens of hope or one of fear. You don’t need to watch too much TV news, or read too much media or social media, to get your daily dose of fear!
So, whilst there are tough days ahead, and inevitable challenges as we transition to life with the virus supressed or defeated, I would like to talk about our hopes rather than fears. We have a vision for how life can be for us in Welsh rugby if we believe that good things will happen. Rest assured everyone at the WRU will graft shoulder to shoulder with you to bring the game back stronger – we will leave nothing on the pitch.
During challenging times, it can be difficult to see beyond the day-to-day. However, I have been struck recently by how rugby in Wales can not only survive this pandemic, but could thrive. I am sure many of us have been through a process of re-assessing what really matters in life.
Family, health and well-being are obviously front of mind, but equally the value of community, of social interactions, of our local environment and being part of a larger social circle feel important now.
In many ways, rugby is ready made for this moment. The health benefits of sport are self-evident, but what is a rugby club if not a welcoming, social community hub?
What is a rugby club if not the product of the collective efforts of players, coaches, referees, volunteers and families?
What is the roar of the Principality Stadium if not the sound of our communities celebrating our collective Welsh identity? Rugby will be back.
And rugby will be better if we all put in place the things we have learned during this hiatus. So, from positive and hopeful perspective:
- Our players will have missed playing and will be itching to get back out there with their team-mates. We also have a gilt-edged opportunity to recruit new players who will be looking to be part of a team and who will be looking for the camaraderie that a team sport like rugby provides
- Rugby is the ultimate social, team sport and nothing will compare to the return to that sense of “Hwyl”
- Lapsed player who have stopped playing may want to pull the jersey on again and we will provide the welcome
- Our coaches at all levels will have had time to plan, time to learn and will return with new ideas, having developed new approaches and with new energy
- Our volunteers will have missed the sense of purpose that volunteering brings, that chance to put something back into our communities
- Better still we can embrace new volunteers who will have endured months of relative isolation, who will be keen to be part of something purposeful and where new relationships can be formed
- We have learnt some new practices in lockdown. We have held many video conferences and webinars. In future we may still sometimes need to travel for a meeting or coaching workshop, but now sometimes we can conveniently get this done from closer to home
- We have missed the sense of belonging that only a rugby club can bring. That sense of community, being part of something and shared experiences with our team-mates
- All of our staff at the WRU care about the game and we are all itching to get back into our workplaces, back into clubs, schools and colleges to engage and excite about all that rugby brings
- Rugby clubs are the most welcoming of places, open to everyone and we have an opportunity to be the venue of choice to bring people back together for the ultimate “Social” experience
- Welsh rugby’s mantra has been a “Jersey for all”. Whether it be 15’s, 7s, touch, tag, walking, disability or mixed rugby we have a game for all
- We have over 300 clubs, we span all of Wales and we can be the most inclusive sport in the country. We can embrace all of society, men, women and children, regardless of background with a safe and welcoming place to come
- he pandemic has been a financial reality check. We have had to cut our cloth accordingly and we have the chance now to take that new mentality into our new world and to genuinely live within our means. We can choose to not take payment for amateur players into our new world. It’s in our hands.
- We have many great rugby partners and many great commercial partners who have stuck with us through the tough times. We have the opportunity, as we wait to resume playing, to build plans for a successful shared future
- Life will be more “Local” for some time. We can set our clubs up to be the sport and social hubs in our communities as we all look local for our leisure time
- As people stay local, our clubhouses have the potential for more events and celebrations than ever before
- Some people have used lookdown to be more active than ever and will be looking for physical activity in groups rather than as individuals. Some people haven’t been active enough and will be looking for somewhere to get active. We have a game for all
- We all recognise the positive impact that physical activity and the sense of belonging rugby can bring to our mental health. We can be there for those who need to be with others, to have someone to talk to and somewhere to go when we need company
- There is a backlog of professional rugby to fit in. We can go and support our local teams or meet at the clubs to watch the games together
- We know that club volunteers have been busy painting, fixing and maintaining. How positive when we are up and running again to return to clubhouses that have been given an overhaul.
We plan to work together to make our clubs a safe place to visit – the detailed process we are undertaking will make the rugby club and all associated activities as safe as possible for you to return.
Patience – we are playing the biggest waiting game of all. We understand club frustrations but we can use this time wisely (deal with everything that you didn’t have time to do before) to prepare our clubs for the greatest of comebacks when it is safe to do so.
We have a brilliant sport that is at the heart of our communities. Life after this pandemic Will never be the same and it can be better than it was before. There are many, many factors that mean we can come out of the other side of this crisis stronger than when we went in. This is why we have committed a further £600,000 to member clubs today, further details of which are below, taking the total amount of emergency funding for clubs to more than £1m in the last six months.
If we believe all of this is possible, we plan as clubs for the opportunity and work together, I’ve no doubt the game will continue to grow and get stronger.
Martyn Phillips WRU CEO