RUGBY league star Jodie Cunningham is backing funding provided by National Lottery players to further help grow the sport and ease issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The England and St Helens player spoke at Ashton Bears, a rugby league club awarded £24,176 of National Lottery funding through the Rugby League World Cup 2021 CreatedBy Grants Programme.
Cunningham was in attendance to highlight the excellent work of the club in expanding its women and girls programme, with the Bears now boasting four teams and 85 active female players.
So far, over £500,000 has been distributed by The National Lottery-supported CreatedBy Grants Programme to nearly 30 Rugby League clubs and community schemes.
"I'm really excited to be here alongside The National Lottery to celebrate all the work that Ashton Bears do to support the women and girls’ game," said Cunningham.
"I'm not sure we would have had half the success we have had over the last two years without National Lotteryfunding through the Rugby League World Cup 2021 CreatedBy Grants Programme. I think the last two years have been the best two years for growth of women's and girls' rugby league by every measure.
The funding has been invested into the club to provide two new pitches giving more playing capacity and more opportunities for women and girls to play the sport.
"Ashton Bears' work has been brilliant, and I think it is so important that we celebrate the work that goes in from these community clubs to grow the women's and girls’ game.
"There are lots of people who are working really hard to get behind the game, but it takes incredible volunteers and people who give up their time."
Last year more than £1M of National Lottery funding was used to support the Rugby Football League in England, with National Lottery funding of more than £5.7 billion invested into grassroots sport since it was established in 1994.
And National Lottery players have been vital in helping to save the women’s game during the pandemic. Almost the entire women’s Rugby League 2020 season was lost to the Covid-19 pandemic, which risked interrupting the significant momentum across all formats of the girls’ and women’s game.
The National Lottery provided the support required to recommence the Women’s Super League and between 2022-2027 over £9.3M of funding will be used to support the development of Rugby League, with more than £1.8M being invested this year.
Cunningham added, "Last year, we were still feeling the effects of the pandemic and restrictions being in place.
"Without the support, we would not have had that elite end playing, but also we would not have been able to provide the necessary funds to community clubs to allow them to adapt and change things so those opportunities are there at the grassroots for girls and women to play rugby league.
“I think the support from The National Lottery and its players has been absolutely vital, and that continued support over the years will just allow us to reach our potential and get even more people playing."
The National Lottery is an official partner of this year’s Rugby League World Cup. The partnership includes National Lottery players providing £750,000 of vital financial support to communities across England through the RLWC21 CreatedBy Grants Programme, while funding has also helped save the Women’s & Girls’ game during the pandemic.