The Welsh Rugby Union, through the guidance of its Community Game Board, has taken a safety-first approach to the return of community rugby and has been determined from the outset to try to play a part in the fight against the covid pandemic in Wales with player safety, the long term return of the community game and the health of our communities front of mind.
Processes for our safe return have been shared with clubs and the rest of the rugby family in Wales, starting with a preparation phase at the beginning of June, where clubs nominated Club Operations Managers to be the point of contact between club and Union on all matters in relation to the return to rugby.
There was an education phase with detailed webinars and education on various elements of preparing for the return – from pitches and facilities to covid-specific first aid training, detailed support on organising rugby training within the new guidelines, the need for all players and parents of young players to complete an online World Rugby covid awareness course, and financial support and advice for clubs. All clubs received £1, 000 in April and then a further £500 from the emergency funding pot over the summer towards the purchase of any PPE, cleaning materials or similar to allow them to return to training. This week all WRU full member clubs have received £1,000 and the district clubs £600 – this is a first instalment of their 2020/21 core grant. They’ll be receiving information in the next couple of weeks regarding payment of the rest of their funding for this season which will include the core and development grants as normal, plus additional emergency funding to help them through the current situation. In total, the WRU has allocated an additional £1million to community clubs over the past six months between Storm Dennis relief and emergency Covid funding alongside their regular WRU core grant instalments. In addition, the WRU Club Development team worked closely to support and advise clubs and helped them access more than £2.5 million from Sport Wales, Welsh Government and other external funding sources.
Online registration and sanctioned return to small group training began on August 1, which now involves strict protocols with regards to attending training sessions themselves – the need to complete a symptom checker on WRU Game Locker before attending any training session, rigorous hygiene and sanitisation measures, social distancing in line with Welsh Government guidelines, small group training bubbles. Additional support has been provided on a number of levels including to coaches.
The Welsh Rugby Union is proud of how the rugby family proactively took on board the necessary measures and is grateful for the support of parents and volunteers in ensuring a safe environment for players and coaches. Indeed, more than 37 000 players have already registered with the WRU for this season which is, in part, a vote of confidence in their club volunteers and the safeguarding systems brought in.
When local lockdowns are imposed by Welsh Government, our approach is to temporarily suspend rugby in that area. The rationale for this is that rugby environments ordinarily bring people together who might not otherwise come into contact with each other. This is usually a great unique strength of the game, but a challenge at a time when community transmission needs minimising.
Once the suspension is in place, the WRU continues to review the situation taking into account a number of factors at work in the area, including the local trajectory of the virus, as well as supporting information gathered on our Covid tracking network and local intelligence.
Armed with this information and having provided the clubs with a window of opportunity to reassess the effectiveness of their internal protection measures, the next step is to discuss the situation with the impacted clubs. An online meeting, including a reminder about the protocols established at clubs, provides the platform for discussion with clubs to understand their opinions and concerns. This has already taken place with Caerphilly Local Authority clubs and the temporary suspension of community rugby in Caerphilly has now been lifted with immediate effect following regular reviews of the situation there and three weeks after a local lockdown was imposed. Clubs and teams of all ages in the area may now return to training within the current return to rugby guidelines if they feel they can provide a safe environment for players, coaches and volunteers. We have taken a number of factors into account when reviewing this situation including local intelligence around rugby clubs, the trend of coronavirus in the Local Authority and importantly, we have consulted Club Operations Managers and volunteers from all of Caerphilly’s rugby clubs. We will continue to review the temporary suspensions imposed in other Local Authorities where local lockdowns are in place until the conditions are such that rugby can safely resume. Clubs then have the choice whether to return to training and will be supported by the WRU whether they choose to re-open or not.
There is no blueprint on how to answer the challenges Covid 19 has created for our sport. There is no desire to stop people playing rugby nor to stop children from being active. Equally, there is no desire to increase transmission or to potentially add to the burden of health service. The suspensions are intended to be temporary and aim to limit community transmission at critical points in time.
Operations Director Julie Paterson said, “We are grateful to all our volunteers, coaches, parents and players who have gone above and beyond throughout this process to get players back on the pitch. We know from speaking to them that they want to get back to training – when it is the safe and responsible thing to do in their area. The suspension of rugby in areas where local lockdowns are deemed necessary is a short-term measure that is reviewed regularly and we are pleased that after three weeks, we can lift the restriction on clubs in Caerphilly County Borough to return to rugby activities – if they feel they can provide a safe environment for rugby. We will continue to support them in whatever choice they make.”
Community Director Geraint John added, “We know community rugby is a hugely important factor in the health and well-being of our players, coaches, volunteers and supporters. Our intention throughout has been to manage a return to rugby that is safe and sustainable in the long term. We are grateful for the support of the clubs in helping us to do this. We know clubs in the Caerphilly area will be thrilled to get back to rugby training within the current guidelines and we will continue to review the situation in all other areas where community rugby is currently suspended.”