Tag is winning fans as the game for all
The Scottish Rugby Union, having secured a pound;150,000 sponsorship package with the Ford Motor Company, is steering down a new avenue to "revitalise the way that rugby is introduced into schools and clubs throughout Scotland".
Tag rugby - an extension of touch rugby - has provided an introduction to rugby and the hope is that youngsters will go on to play the full version. Tag rugby festivals have taken place in Stirling and Edinburgh in recent weeks as part of a three-year programme. At the end of last term, more than 550 primary and secondary schools from all regions of Scotland, who had already attended their local festivals, took part in the national festival at Murrayfield.
"The SRU has adopted Ford Foundation Rugby as the official introduction of the sport to young children between the ages of seven and 11," confirms SRU chief executive Bill Watson. "It is suitable for boys and girls to play together as it does not permit body contact.
"We're committed to rugby at all levels. The junior players of today are the internationalists of tomorrow. It is essential that we provide them with all the support and encouragement we possibly can."
With so many small-sided, adapted sports around for schoolchildren, the SRU cannot afford to be left behind. Rugby has suffered in the past from the assumption it is only for the biggest and strongest at school and the SRU believes that, as with American football, the best way to lure children is through a non-contact version of the sport which also enhances basic running and passing skills.
Kevin Griffin, Ford's District Manager in Scotland, believes tag rugby addresses a critical social issue that is relevant to all parents with young children.
"Through Ford's partnership, SRU development officers are able to deliver increased equipment and coaching to schools at grassroots level and give children the chance to experience the fun and excitment of rugby and local competition," he says.
As many as 40,000 schoolchildren in Scotland have been introduced to the non-contact version of the game already but it is not just the number playing the game that is impressive. The SRU says that the game crosses cultural barriers and gives ethnic minorities in Scotland the chance to get involved.
Studies in England have shown that there are cultural barriers to participating in sport. One of those barriers is modesty, where it has been shown that Muslim children have been put off participating in sport because they have to wear "inappropriate" clothing, which is contrary to their traditions and beliefs, or to shower communally. Clothing can also be an issue for some Sikh boys, who feel uncomfortable participating in sport when they have to wear a turban.
Some children go to the extent of skipping classes to avoid physical education.
Tag rugby is a game which girls and boys can play together without religion being an issue, say organisers.
"There are a lot of children, particularly in inner city areas, where their religion does not let girls come into physical contact with boys," explains Rachel Barber, senior account manager of Activate UK, which promotes the game.
"Where dress is an issue and girls of certain ages must cover up, tag rugby is a perfect game as belts with flags can be put over clothing, so there is no contact.
"The game has proved really popular with PE teachers as anyone can play it and boys and girls can play together."
A recent report for Sportscotland, Sport and Ethnic Minority Communities: Aiming at Social Inclusion, by Scott Porter Research and Marketing, outlines other factors contributing to the relatively low participation of ethnic minorities in school sport. One is teachers' attitudes which "conflict with the norms of the prevalent society". The report quotes previous research in England as saying that "traditional" attitudes of teachers were unwittingly acting as barriers.
Another obstacle can be the attitude of parents towards their children's involvement in sporting activities. It has been claimed that some ethnic minorities favour academic studies for children ahead of sport, especially as they go through secondary school.
But there is an increasing number of opportunities for ethnic minorities to play sport, with initiatives such as a weekly Sikh boys' football session at Glasgow's Kelvin Hall and a Scottish Asian Sports Association has been set up.
What tag rugby hopes to do, however, is to cross the cultural boundaries and allow children the chance to play alongside each other, no matter their religion.
For more on Ford Foundation Rugby and tag rugby contact Rachel Barber at Activate UK, tel 020 7720 9272