An unprecedented investment of £30 million into community rugby union has ensured that every English club has survived the pandemic. The Government has been warned, however, that any further delay to the easing of lockdown restrictions could leave the full restart of the grass-roots game next season on a knife-edge.
A total of 512 community clubs have received grants totalling £18.2 million from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport from the winter support package. It has now been confirmed that a further 129 have applied for loans totalling £11.5 million in what has been hailed as the “biggest single investment” into the grass-roots game.
The Rugby Football Union says it was able to persuade the Government to repurpose some of the loan facility that had been offered to the governing body directly to its clubs, not only to improve cash flows for some but, in the majority of cases, to improve their facilities and assets.
“We are extremely grateful to the Government for their support and for recognising how severely community rugby has been hit by the pandemic,” said Steve Grainger, the RFU’s rugby development director.
“In many cases, clubs have faced a double blow. They have not simply lost match income but also, as asset-owners, have faced significant outgoings on overheads while not being able to open facilities to generate revenue.
“The collaboration across the game has been humbling to watch and could be the difference between a club staying afloat or not. As a result, people across the country can continue to enjoy a sport they love and local communities can enjoy the social benefits provided.
“We thank everyone involved who put in so much time and effort to help secure the largest single investment the community game has ever seen.”
Dougie Hall, Berwick RFC representative on the Northumberland rugby committee, described the club’s grant as “an absolute godsend”. He added: “It has given us a future that we may not otherwise have had due to the impact of the pandemic.”
The RFU is now engaged in talks with the Government amid concerns that a further delay in the easing of lockdown restrictions beyond July 19 would jeopardise preparations for the return of scrummaging and mauling in the community game and led to a postponement of the start of the season.
“We are saying that both from a player retention and a player welfare point of view, those dates now are pretty critical,” Grainger said. “We have got to work again collaboratively with the Government to try to understand what the triggers are to get scrums and mauls back.”
A further delay, admitted Grainger, could lead to a setback to the full restart of the community game or a continuation of the hybrid game without scrums and mauls.
“We’ve got to make sure we get the right medical input to that,” he said. “We’ve got to see how coaches feel as well. You will be looking at 16 months since front-row players and forwards will not have scrummaged, so we have to make sure it is right for them going back into a season in which they will be playing every week.”