So we've won the rugby World Cup...

16th January 2004 at 00:00
So we've won the rugby World Cup. But where will the next generation of players come from when they are closing pitches in my area?

Ted says

When you think of the pleasure that the England team's victory brought to millions, not all of them rugby fanatics, it would be tragic if the game faded through lack of facilities and opportunities. Cricket has been blighted for these reasons, and all sports and activities can learn from this.

There are several issues here, of which loss of sports facilities is a major one. The sale of assets that benefit children, such as pitches and indoor accommodation, comes as a result of schools and local authorities being under pressure to sell off their equity for the sake of cash gains.

Some of these precious facilities have been carefully garnered for decades, only to disappear when enough tenners are brandished - a short-sighted policy since lack of fitness and obesity are major problems.

Another factor is the over-emphasis on basics in education and on collecting data that appear in league tables, which thus accords second-class status to the arts, sport and games, and makes them appear dispensable. The argument for keeping them appears weedy when supporters cannot show how they will improve league table position, even though schools that have a broad and balanced curriculum do better than those hammering the basics all day long.

If you hear of pitches being sold off, or if your own school's facilities come under threat, protest vigorously. It is too late once the bulldozers arrive. Involve parents and pupils as they are the voice of the community; teachers on their own will often be ignored. Most of all, make the best possible use of any facilities you currently have, so that no one can argue they are an unnecessary luxury.

You say

It's all about politics

The next generation of players increasingly will come from where they've predominately come in the past: private schools and selective, grant-aided schools in affluent areas.

This increasingly mendacious Labour government will accelerate the trend by cold, psephological calculation. Other than south Wales, there have never been many votes for Labour in traditional rugby union-playing areas. New Labour will not alienate its new allies in business by making it difficult for property speculators to buy the green space for housing and commercial development in town areas, which school playing fields and municipal sports fields represent.

To be fair to the rugby unions, they are attempting to encourage players from outside traditional communities, and a number of comprehensives are trying to restore the sport. But, the cost of kit, unavailability of pitches (and goals!), and transport problems make it difficult for interested youngsters to participate.

Alasdair Macdonald, Glasgow

Grassroots rugby is fertile

If you watched the coverage of England's victory parade you will have noticed that the third coach carried members of the RFU administration and representatives of grassroots rugby. One of these, John Drew, chair of Hertfordshire Youth Rugby, is a primary head. He's worked hard to promote the sport and would be the first to say "get children playing and involved in rugby via your local club". Thousands of children around the UKplay competitive mini and junior rugby on Sunday mornings.

Many clubs work closely with local schools through the Active Schools Programme. I've been coaching mini-rugby for seven years at school and club level; the sport teaches children how to win graciously and lose with magnanimity, to respect the decisions of referees and to develop qualities of leadership and teamwork. We play district representative tag rugby and have had great success at the Hertfordshire youth games.

Rugby at grassroots is thriving and England's success will see it grow even more. The next generation of worldbeaters are out there training hard - just like Jonny!

David Peel, headteacher, The Russell school, Rickmansworth

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