Mon, 24 June 2024

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Scrum down, level-up

3 min read

The Rugby League World Cup (RLWC) is underway, teams from around the globe have gathered in the birthplace of the sport, the majority in the heartlands of working-class communities of our northern towns and cities. Rugby League is coming home, and there is much to celebrate and marvel at, both on the pitch and beyond.

Since its foundation in 1895, Rugby League has always been ground-breaking and the RLWC is no exception.  For the first time the event will stage simultaneously the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments.

The tournaments themselves are competition at the pinnacle of the sport, and it promises to be spectacular. But the event is so much more, it is laying the foundations for the future of the sport, for communities, regeneration and levelling-up through its social impact agenda and its legacy.

Supporting the summit of the professional sport is the underpinning of the community game, because at its heart Rugby League is about people and communities.  Week-in, week out, local communities come together to support their clubs, their local kids’ teams and young players.  Giving of their time, money and energy.

Imagine what this energy, and this social value, linked to the right investment could achieve.  The transformational power of sport can be used to promote learning, attract employers and investment into places with huge untapped potential that are crying out for levelling-up.

The RLWC has been leading the way with a trail blazing social impact programme that has generated £26 million of investment in equipment and facilities, volunteering, mental fitness, education, culture and an international development programme.

The facilities investment has transformed clubs into hubs of their communities, hosting education classes as well as more social events. It has widened access, enabling more people to connect and take part in physical activity.

In my own constituency I have seen how the return of Bradford Bulls to their Bradford home at Odsal Stadium, after a short stay in Dewsbury, has created the hope of possible resurgence in Bradford. Building on this, the dividend from the RLWC and Bradford being awarded the City of Culture in 2025, we have put together ambitious plan to the government’s Levelling Up scheme for a world-class training complex for elite sports with a Rugby League Skills, Training and Education centre to serve the people of Yorkshire and the North.

Even before England and Samoa kicked-off in the opening match of the tournaments, 36,000 children had benefitted through the RLWC’s partnership with UNICEF on the Rights Respecting Schools programme.

Men’s health charity Movember is an official partner of RLWC and has already helped thousands of young athletes to learn about mental health and resilience. While the international programme has helped to double the number of women’s teams supported.

As can be seen sport is so much more than the competition – regardless of the delight and disappointment experienced by players and supporters alike, sport brings people together. It is a rich cultural asset and force for good in our society that can help transform the fortunes and unlock the potential of towns and cities – especially in left-behind communities.

This an opportunity that must be seized.

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