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


Memorandum submitted by Sport England


  1.  Sport England has responsibilities in leading and co-ordinating the development of sport in England. Its work is shaped by its objectives of having More People involved in sport, providing More Places to play sport, and seeing sportsmen and women winning More Medals through higher standards of performance.

  2.  Sport England welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Committee's inquiry into Professional Rugby. This memorandum looks at Sport England's relationships with Rugby League and Rugby Union, their perceived strengths and weaknesses, and the ways in which the two sports are approaching the future.


  3.  As two of the most important activities in England's sporting heritage, both Rugby League and Rugby Union receive support from Sport England. This applies to all levels of the games—from encouraging young people into starting (and continuing) participation to supporting the elite game.

  4.  Although the focus of the inquiry is Professional Rugby, Sport England believes that, as with all sports the elite elements of the game are not isolated. Successful English rugby teams depend on effective grass-roots development and a wide base of players. In turn, healthy participation rates are reliant on success and media coverage at the top level.

  5.  Although there are obvious similarities between the codes, each has a distinct and individual style and tradition; indeed, these styles and traditions have been evolving for more than a century. In practical support and liaison terms, the two codes are treated as separate sports but, of course, we encourage and, if necessary, will facilitate close co-operation and working between the two, as we would with any sports which share common issues of concern.


  6.  After many years of a major gulf existing between the codes, it is pleasing to see that their relationship has improved vastly in recent years. Examples of closer ties include the inter-code games between Wigan and Bath, plus the 2000 Rugby League Challenge Cup Final being hosted at Murrayfield. The staging of England's Rugby Union World Cup qualifying games in Huddersfield and the London Broncos sharing The Stoop with Harlequins show that the two games can live alongside each other. Inter-code player movement can be positive but also divisive. Often in the past the differences in amateur status caused difficulties and the introduction of professionalism into Rugby Union led to increased traffic in player transfers. This situation has settled down considerably recently as tolerance and financial reality have hit home. Both codes benefit from the cross-fertilisation of ideas as coaches are now free to move. Indeed, the former Rugby League coach Phil Larder has been employed to improve the defence of England's Rugby Union team—with excellent results.

  7.  There is always room for improvement in relationships and Sport England will always provide assistance for this. As with all popular sports there is an element of competition between them as the potential markets are considered finite. This might apply to people playing or spectating, to broadcasting coverage, or to attracting sponsorship and advertising income. Sport England tires to substitute "in-fighting" between sports with the promotion of all sports collectively to the public, Government and/or business. Individual sports have much to gain by working together and sharing costs and experiences.


  8.  Sport England believes that the organisation of Rugby League has been improved considerably in recent years with the establishment of the Rugby League Policy Board (RLPB). We were instrumental in bringing together the organisations which constitute the RLPB—most importantly the Rugby Football League (RFL) and the British Amateur Rugby League Association (BARLA). These two governing bodies separately run the professional and amateur sides of the game and, when relations have been strained, the sport of Rugby League has often suffered.

  9.  The RLPB evolved from the former Negotiation Committee, which was chaired by the former Sports Council, and has begun to overcome many difficulties by producing and implementing an integrated Development Strategy for all aspects of the game (helped by support from Sport England)—a process which has involved detailed consultation and education exercises.

  10.  The prime result of closer working is the development of the RLPB's Youth Commission, with representatives from RFL, BARLA, the Student Rugby League and English Schools Rugby League. A single Player Development Model has been devised which involves linking schools and amateur clubs and providing pathways into the more elite levels of the game.

  11.  Shining examples of how co-operation can help include:

  11.1  one modified-rules game for children;

  11.2  an integrated coaching scheme with associated qualifications; and

  11.3  the selection of a single Great Britain under-18 representative team.

  Previously, the RFL and BARLA had operated separate systems for all of these, which meant that, at a very early stage, young players were channelled into professional or amateur paths. Now, with much closer co-ordination between local schools and clubs—both amateur and professional—young players can complete their initial development in the sport and then follow the path of paid professional or keen, and often highly talented, amateur participant. Three sports development officers (including one in London) have been funded by Sport England to develop youth Rugby League.

  12.  The sport has made significant progress in promoting equity in the game, with the RFL appointing a Women's Development Officer in 1998 and launching a very successful anti-racism initiative. "Tackle it". This is a 13-point plan aimed originally at the professional clubs but now broadened into the amateur game too. It receives great support from Abi Ekoku, the Chairman of the Rugby League Professional Players' Association, and the players at the top level. It has also been helped by the appointment of Ikram Butt as a Development Officer in Bradford (Ikram was the first Asian player to represent England). Rugby League is heavily involved in the Sport England/Commission for Racial Equality "Sporting Equals" projects to combat racism.

  13.  Rugby League receives substantial amounts of Sport England Exchequer grant-in-aid to help develop the sport's infrastructure. To fund development officers, (including the first for women's Rugby League) and the education and training of coaches and match officials, we give the RLPB around £150,000 per annum. Additionally, a grant offer of £129,500 for the 1999-2000 financial year has been made to BARLA. This funding includes support for 2.5 development officers, working to improve the infrastructure of the amateur game, especially in membership development. The RFL has also received a grant of £45,000 in 1999-2000 towards the employment of a Director of Player Development.

  14.  From the Sport England Lottery Fund, the Rugby Football League receives around £170,000 towards its World Class Performance Plan—the Sport England initiative which promotes elite sport in this country. This funding supports the employment of the sport's Performance Director (the former Great Britain international Joe Lydon), and the senior English teams for items such as acclimatisation camps and sports science and sports medicine services. There are no subsistence payments to players because of the professional nature of the elite game.

  15.  At a lower level, there is the opportunity for Rugby League to be incorporated into Sport England's World Class Start and Potential programmes, which are Lottery Fund revenue initiatives to find, nurture and develop young talent. These may be linked with proposed Youth Academy schemes from the RFL. A feasibility study looking into proposals for a National Centre of Excellence has also been conducted, linking with the UK Sports Institute, and with possible use of network centres in the Yorkshire and North West regions.

  16.  Rugby League is not a rich sport, especially in comparison with football. It is essential that the governing bodies and Rugby League clubs impose expenditure limits which do not exceed their likely income. Run efficiently, though, it can be a viable and successful professional sport. At the top level, there is sufficient popularity to support a limited professional elite—although it may be necessary for expenditure control systems (such as salary caps) to be put in place. Much of the income from the large Sky TV deal to televise Super League Europe (SLE) has been spent on players' salaries, a situation which may not be sustainable in the long term. This is despite the success of the RFL in acquiring sponsorship, such as the £1 million-plus invested by the Lincoln Financial Group for the Rugby League World Cup 2000. Rugby League will have to find alternative non-tobacco backers in the near future.

  17.  The game's tenuous financial position was highlighted by the SLE clubs' rejection of an RFL proposal to introduce a 4 per cent levy on SLE income to contribute towards grass-roots development of the game.

  18.  Sport England believes that the professional structure needs to be retained beyond SLE into the Northern Ford Premiership. This is to prevent stagnation, with the retention of promotion and relegation, subject to promoted clubs meeting minimum standards for facilities and financial strength. Other possibilities include franchising and the establishment of feeder clubs for the larger clubs from the amateur and youth elements of the game, especially in development areas (such as the Midlands and South East) outside the game's traditional heartlands.


  19.  The fact that there is only one governing body covering all parts of the men's game in Rugby Union does not guarantee harmony. The internal wrangles in domestic Rugby Union have been well documented over the last couple of years. Sport England believes that the personality changes at the top of the relevant organisations such as the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and English First Division Rugby (EFDR) will lead to better relations. Already improvements are apparent: fixture lists are being drawn up at an earlier stage and, with English clubs ready to re-enter European competition next season, there will—we hope—be an improvement in England's standing with the International Rugby Board and other rugby-playing countries. Better procedures for the distribution of income by the RFU have been implemented, with the clubs receiving more—as well as a £2 million investment in youth support by the RFU.

  20.  These improvements are a result of better management at the RFU, to which we feel we have made some contribution. Sport England has worked hard with the RFU to implement much tighter governance of the sport, with significant restructuring of the RFU's staff and the introduction of much improved performance development procedures. Whereas there were major administrative problems at the RFU, we now believe that suitable financial and monitoring systems are in place to ensure that an organisation of this size is run properly.

  21.  The financial position of the RFU is dominated by the £38 million loan it secured for the re-development of Twickenham, which is repayable by 2003. The stadium was built without any contribution from the public sector. The RFU needs the England team to continue its recent successes so that income can be generated, probably through debenture renewal to relieve the burden of the loan. The RFU would like to increase the use of Twickenham and is involved in negotiations with Sport England and the London Borough of Richmond to agree an expanded fixture list which would be acceptable to the local community.

  22.  The financial position of the RFU means that it is, in the near future, unlikely to have sufficient resources to fully fund a World Class Programme. Because of this, Sport England is working with the RFU to develop a Performance Plan which can be submitted to the Lottery Awards Panel. As with Rugby League, any World Class Performance support will be restricted to RFU infrastructure support for the range of England teams at the top level, with fewer than 60 players in the programme. Their professional status will preclude any individual subsistence support. The Rugby Football Union for Women (RFUW) does receive World Class Performance funding, of around £700,000 including subsistence support, to underpin the England teams.

  23.  The area where the RFU would be looking for substantial support is in the World Class Start and Potential Schemes. Preliminary eight-year programmes have been drawn up to implement the talent identification and development programmes. Any funding from Sport England would focus on the first four years as after that the burden of the Twickenham loan on the RFU would be relieved, so it would be much more able to contribute to the cost of its World Class Programme.

  24.  Sport England gives the RFU up to £150,000 in grant-in-aid, to fund sports development officers (SDOs) to develop and promote the men's game. We have worked with the RFU to develop a comprehensive and integrated structure of SDOs throughout England. This hierarchy consists of an SDO Manager, nine Senior SDOs and 42 field staff—one per local region. We also fund the RFUW to the tune of nearly £100,000 in Exchequer grant-in-aid. It is thought preferable for the good of the development of Rugby Union to keep separate organisations for the two genders, but with strong links and many overlapping policy areas. The development of women's Rugby Union is a major part of the established targets for the sport. These targets are required to be achieved for the payment of grant-in-aid.

  25.  Other conditions in the funding agreement concern the production of an Equal Opportunities Statement which covers gender, race and disability issues. Agreement on the statement is imminent and proposals for its implementation are being discussed. It is hoped that a policy on tackling racism in Rugby Union can be disseminated before the Rugby World Cup later this year.

  26.  Sport England has also given funding of £37,000 towards the cost of producing a facilities strategy for Rugby Union: the work is currently in hand.

  27.  As befits a sport of Rugby Union's standing in England, it is included in many of Sport England's sports development initiatives. It is a key sport in the Millennium Youth Games programme and is included in the template for our new Lottery-funded Active Sports programme, which will support young people as they develop their initial participation in sport into better performance.

  28.  The Sportsmatch sponsorship scheme has been implemented through the clubs, with Saracens and Harlequins having particularly strong programmes embracing school, youth, education support and elite development. The role of volunteers in the sport is properly recognised with full involvement in Sport England's Volunteer Investment Programme and participation in Running Sport, to educate and train administrators, officials and volunteers.

  29.  The key issue for the RFU, RFUW and Sport England is that we want better quality, not just more quantity. This means better participation, better coaching and better equity awareness. The professionals are very much involved with passing this message on to the community. Players of the stature of Jon Callard (at Bath) and, perhaps even more so, Zinzan Brooke of Harlequins (in South West London) and Francois Pienaar of Saracens (in North London and Hertfordshire) work extremely hard in this respect. When two of Rugby Union's all-time greats are developing the sport in England, rather than in their native New Zealand or South Africa, we know we are on to something good.

  30.  Many of the financial problems facing domestic rugby have come from over-paying players. There just is not enough money to fulfil the big-money contracts—and there are not many who are of the stature of Pienaar or Brooke. The authorities have recognised this and the Mayfair Agreement, signed last year, sought to address the problems. Initiatives such as salary caps are aimed at solving the financial difficulties, but the Agreement also included important issues such as limiting the number of games played by the top players with longer recovery times and enlarged squads, but paid more realistically.


  31.  Both codes have benefited from Sport England Lottery Fund capital awards to help fund the development of facilities. Since the Lottery Fund was established, in 1995, Rugby League has received 22 awards totalling £4,632,675 with a total project cost of £6,066,793. (10 examples of Lottery-supported projects are given in Appendix A). In the same period, Rugby Union has received 99 awards and grants totalling £21,449,438) towards project costs of £33,805,749. (Similarly, 10 examples are listed in Appendix B). These awards have been made mainly to smaller clubs, because of restrictions on the eligibility of professional clubs as profit-making organisations. Although all levels of the sports benefit at least indirectly from investment in the grass-roots, the Lottery Act 1998 has given Sport England the ability to help support strategically important elite sporting facilities—meaning that the top end of the games will see direct benefits too.

  32.  The Sport England Lottery Fund has contributed £120 million towards the redevelopment of Wembley Stadium, which will stage the most significant events in the Rugby League calendar (such as the Challenge Cup Final and international fixtures).

  33.  Sport England expects all the top governing bodies of sport in England to produce comprehensive facilities development strategies. These will enable the governing bodies to identify, and focus on, their priorities for facility development and will also form the basis for prioritisation of applications to the Sport England Lottery Fund. As mentioned above, Sport England has started working with the RFU and RFUW on the production of the Rugby Union strategy with the appointment of consultants to produce the agreed strategy. Work on the Rugby League facilities strategy will commence soon—in partnership with the RFL.

  34.  The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport recently announced the relaunch of the Sports Ground Initiative, which will make the professional Rugby League and Rugby Union clubs and first-class counties eligible to share in a £10 million fund for stadium improvements. This is similar to a pre-existing scheme for Nationwide League and Football Conference football clubs. At this moment, a great deal of work needs to be done in finalising the details of the scheme, with issues regarding eligibility and levels of funding to be established.

  35.  The development in Wigan of the new Robin Park stadium, which Wigan Warriors RLFC will share with Wigan Athletic FC, is an excellent sample of the high quality facilities which will become available to rugby, following on from the McAlpine Stadium in Huddersfield.


  36.  This memorandum describes the key aspects of Sport England's activities in supporting both the rugby codes. Whilst the inquiry is charged with investigating the future of professional rugby, we have emphasised the importance of all sports development objectives—increasing participation for all, upgrading facilities, and improving the chances of our top performers. Sport England would be happy to provide more detailed information on the issues discussed in this memorandum or, alternatively, brief the Committee further on any aspect of the work we are doing to ensure that England has More People involved in sport, More Places to play sport, and More Medals being won through higher standards of performance.

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Prepared 14 December 1999