200 vs 2
Two hundred. That is the number of adult football sides who played fixtures, travelling length and breadth of Scotland from early August to late December (majority without any testing protocol)
Two. The number of adult rugby sides who played in the same period (both under full testing protocols)
This equates to: 100 x more participation.
All or Nothing
This even more stark contrast is the amount of youth football played versus youth rugby during that period.
This equates to: infinite more participation
Worth a pause for thought?
I think so.
But before I say a word more I want to agree some ground rules.
Public health comes first. Covid is a proven and hideous killer. We have to protect the NHS from overload. Social distancing and full lockdowns, with clear rational defined start and end dates, work.
Nothing I am about to write challenges that.
Yet as we look ahead to the summer months, I ask that if:
- The R number falls and stays below 1 – as it is today.
- Cases continue to drop and reach a test positive % equivalent of last July – currently at September levels.
- Vaccine roll-out continues successfully – all over 70’s vaccinated at time of press.
Then we, and by “we” I mean the SRU, must present the case for youth rugby to be played in between April and June. At minimum by the U18 sides for whom this will be their last year of youth/school rugby.
They are the next generation of club players and national players in whom the future of our game depends – do we want to retain them or lose them? The evidence is compelling that the sport easiest to ‘give up’ is Rugby.
Recognising the risk
Now, does Rugby have marginal more risk of transmission than football? Yes.
However, is it less of a vector for transmission than illegal house parties, poor workplace hygiene, Xmas get togethers and crowded shops? Yes, yes, yes and yes.
Does local U18 rugby present less of a risk than hundreds of adult football teams untested and unmonitored travelling in coaches from Ayrshire to Fife and Aberdeen to Stirling? Unquestionably yes.
Yet the SFA got ALL youth football allowed and we gave our youth absolutely nothing save for some restricted internal club training sessions.
In hindsight, it is clear that in August, September and October the youth rugby sides could and should have played. They were at school and mixing socially. Cases were low. The R number was low. It mattered not a bit.
So if – and it remains an if – those better numbers are in place by April/May, why would we deny a group of young men and women a handful of games in the sun, local/regional only, before summer break, given the clear expectation is that by August all sport and culture will have returned off the back of the vaccine roll-out and manageable case loads for the NHS.
Of course, if the data doesn’t support it then we don’t do it, but if there is a window for participation at youth level then let’s grasp it, like the SFA did back in August.
SRU must step up and do the same.
If the opportunity presents let’s not miss it again.
- This opinion piece was penned by a guest writer who has been active in Scottish Rugby for a decade. As a parent, coach, club official and latterly match official.
- The Offside Line’s grassroots rugby coverage is supported by Macron Store Edinburgh (Colin Campbell Sports), suppliers of Macron rugby strips and teamwear.