Importance of grassroots rugby discussed at Senedd
Chris Haines ICNN Senedd Reporter
The importance of grassroots rugby in Wales was debated at the Senedd amid concerns that community clubs could close due to increasing energy costs.
James Evans, who represents Brecon and Radnorshire, said Wales’ passion for the game is most evident at grassroots level.
Lifeblood of Welsh rugby
The Conservative has played for Gwernyfed RFC in Talgarth since a young age and still dons the green-and-black shirt most Saturday afternoons.
Mr Evans, who has been sporting a black eye from playing over the past few weeks, told the Senedd: “We are very lucky here that we have countless clubs, schools and communities that foster a love for the game from a very early age. These grassroots initiatives are the lifeblood of Welsh rugby, nurturing talent, instilling values and providing a sense of belonging that extends far beyond the rugby field.”
The former councillor said local clubs have consistently supplied the national team with some of its brightest stars, such as Mark Jones, Dan Lydiate and captain Jack Morgan.
Mr Evans also stressed the mental and physical health benefits of playing rugby. He shared: “I know from my own personal experience that my mental health is boosted by playing for my local club. It creates that sense of belonging, camaraderie and it also has physical health benefits.”
The shadow health minister highlighted campaigns raising awareness of certain health conditions, such as testicular cancer and motor neurone disease, through the sport.
The Conservative also raised the challenges faced by grassroots teams, with limited resources in terms of finances and infrastructure posing obstacles.
Mr Evans pointed to increasing inclusivity and diversity in the game, with many clubs boasting teams for women and disabled people.
His colleague Samuel Kurtz focused on the invaluable role of local businesses which often sponsors clubs as well as the backroom staff, parents and supporters.
The MS praised the Pembrokeshire Vikings, a mixed ability side, which includes disabled people and won a final at the Principality Stadium in recent weeks.
Tom Giffard hailed the explosion in women’s and girls’ rugby: “This stat blew my mind: in 2015, 170 women and girls were taking part in rugby – by 2018, that was 10,000.”
The Tory said his partner, Abigail, has just started playing for the Porthcawl SheGulls.
Luke Fletcher, a fellow South Wales West MS, played for Tondu and Pencoed growing up, clubs that have produced Welsh internationals.
“Obviously, I didn’t make the cut,” he joked. “James Evans and Sam Kurtz can tell you why after seeing my performance on the pitch for the Senedd rugby team.”
The Plaid Cymru politician pointed out that many do not own their pitches nor club houses as he urged the Welsh Government to help secure the future of grassroots rugby.
Dawn Bowden, the deputy minister, who is responsible for sport, highlighted some of the support made available to grassroots rugby.
She said Builth Wells and Tref-y-Clawdd rugby clubs in Mr Evans’ constituency benefited from more than £112,000 from an £8m-a-year Sport Wales fund.
The deputy minister highlighted the Dysgu WRU programme, a free online resource, which aims to help community rugby thrive.
Ms Bowden said many rugby clubs were part of the Welsh Government’s warm hubs network, which aimed to mitigate fuel poverty amid record-high energy prices.
She added that Sport Wales – which will receive an extra £1m over two years – has made £25,000 grants available to help clubs fund energy costs or upgrades such as solar panels.
Ms Bowden warned: “The threat of grassroots clubs folding is a significant concern, so we are monitoring the situation closely.”
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