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 gamesfrom 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 teamwith 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 RLPBmost 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
clubsboth amateur and professionalyoung 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
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
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 Planthe 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
elitealthough 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 willwe
hopebe 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 moreas 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 staffone 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
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 contractsand
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
facilitiesmeaning 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 soonin 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 objectivesincreasing 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.