Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport

  1.  This is an exciting time for rugby, both League and Union, and the Department welcomes this opportunity to contribute to the Committee's inquiry. We are looking forward to the last major sporting event of the 20th Century, the Union World Cup, which comes to Cardiff on 1 October and is being shared with the rest of the Five Nations countries. The centrepiece of this event will be the state-of-the-art new Millennium Stadium in Cardiff which has been built with the help of £46 million of Lottery funding from the Millennium Commission. Not to be outdone, Rugby League is to host a reinvigorated League World Cup in the year 2000. The northern hemisphere is shaping a new look to the Five Nations competition with the inclusion of Italy from next season, and English clubs are to rejoin the European Cup this season keen to impress.

  2.  This inquiry comes at a time of consolidation for both codes of rugby following upheavals which have affected the game to differing degrees. Union's move to professionalism and League's break from a winter tradition to a summer programme have changed the nature of both codes, profoundly in the case of Union. One effect of these changes has been the ushering in of a wholly positive era of exchange between the two codes which will be of specific interest to the Committee after the recommendations in their 1995 report into the relations between Rugby Union and Rugby League. The removal of the virtual apartheid operating between the codes is warmly welcomed, and the celebratory exhibition matches between Bath and Wigan in 1996 under both codes were a fine demonstration of the new approach in action.

  3.  Rugby Union is moving forward as a professional game. There have been, and continue to be, difficulties as has been very recently shown with Richmond, London Irish and London Scottish, but there are many positive things which have been overshadowed by the headlines. Clubs, such as Saracens, are developing effective outreach schemes which are working to tie the game into local communities, creating both new supporters and new players. Sport England are supporting the Rugby Football Union's (RFU) network of rugby development officers with direct funding of £110,000 per year and have greatly improved the management coordination with the introduction of nine senior regional development officers. These officers have a specific brief to promote the game of Rugby Union in schools and communities, expanding the base without which no sport can prosper, whilst also ensuring that rugby is available to all.

  4.  Rugby Union has received considerable support from the National Lottery Sports Fund. To date there have been 98 capital awards amounting to £21.1 million pounds towards projects costing £33.5 million. Sport England are currently working very closely with the RFU on the preparation of a World Class Performance Plan, to be completed by August or September, which is predicted to provide £2 million per year over an eight-year period, through to 2007. The women's game is going from strength to strength with the support of Sport England who currently provide £95,000 per year to the WRFU's central funds. The Secretary of State and the Minister for Sport both attend matches to demonstrate their full support for the game and to help to broaden media coverage. Clearly there are financial difficulties at the RFU after their huge investment in renewing Twickenham to a world class stadium. Steps are, however, being taken to ensure that servicing this investment should not be allowed to interfere with the development of sporting excellence.

  5.  Capital funding to Rugby League from the Lottery to date has encompassed some 22 awards, worth £4.5 million pounds supporting projects totalling £6 million. There has been support for developing players as well as capital funds, and this year has seen an interim award of £130,000 towards new performance directorate costs awaiting the submission of a full plan around the end of this year.

  6.  A further source of support has been Sportsmatch—the Government's Sponsorship Incentive Scheme for Sport designed to increase the amount of commercial sponsorship going into the previously neglected area of grass roots sport through the principle of pound for pound matching funding. Sportsmatch has awarded over £2.35m to 292 Rugby Union projects, and £1.37m to 63 Rugby League projects, in England since its inception in 1992. Together with the matching commercial sponsorship, Sportsmatch provided £4.7m and £2.74m of new money for Rugby Union and Rugby League, respectively.

  7.  Rugby is also set to benefit from a £65 million Lottery programme over the next four years aimed at modernising sports stadia across the country. Rugby League teams in the Super League and the Northern Ford Premiership and the Union's Premierships One and Two will be able to apply to Sport England for advice and funding on how to improve both safety and comfort at their grounds.

  8.  Finally, the growing commercialisation of sport will continue to throw up new challenges and opportunities to the rugby authorities. For the Government's part, the Minister for Sport stands ready, as always, to offer any advice and support which he can to the rugby world.

June 1999

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