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From the grassroots game to the global stage: National Lottery players have huge impacts on Rugby Union

8th October 2023

While the best Rugby Union teams – including the four Home Nations – compete for this year’s World Cup, the Chairman of the game’s governing body World Rugby reflects on the huge and positive impacts from money raised by National Lottery players over three decades.

Two men (Bill Beaumont with President Macron)
Bill Beaumont with President Macron at RWC23 opening ceremony (2023).

The earliest ever rugby union related funds from the National Lottery happened to go to Bill Beaumont’s local club, Fylde RFC. Bill’s now the figurehead of the global game, as Chairman of World Rugby, but he’s still got one foot in the grassroots of his hometown club: “I live just under a mile away. So, it's still very much close to my heart, Fylde Rugby Club.”

Back on 17th March 1995 rugby union had yet to turn professional, so every penny of the £137,500 awarded was significant. That funding covered Fylde’s ‘clubhouse development including improvements to changing facilities’.

“I was at Fylde at the time,” Bill recalls. “We've got a fantastic clubhouse now, but we've still got the changing rooms and the gym that was established with the [National] Lottery funding. I can remember it being done. It's amazing how long ago it is 'cause I've had three sons that have all played at the club over the years. Many, many years.”

If you don’t know of Bill’s illustrious career, he played rugby for Fylde, near the Lancashire coastline, through the 1970s and went on to captain England and the British & Irish Lions in the 1980s. Bill became more of a household name in the 1990s as a much-loved captain on TV’s A Question of Sport. Today he’s the figurehead of rugby union’s global governing body, World Rugby.

Ever wondered if National Lottery players have impacted on rugby, like they have Team GB at the Olympics? Or the Lionesses in football?

Some impressive stats can be mined from the National Lottery’s rugby related data (available here). After Bill’s beloved club became the first ever beneficiary, nearly 5,000 more grants have boosted rugby union across all its forms, at all levels, right across the UK. Fylde’s clubhouse improvements have been echoed by over 60 more clubhouses newly built or improved.

National Lottery funds have supported over 1,000 rugby clubs across the UK. Over 450 wheelchair rugby teams, athletes, or projects, have been supported, and over 100 women’s and girls’ rugby teams have been funded. Over 200 rugby pitches have been built or improved (e.g. drainage) and more than 50 have been lit up by new floodlights. That’s all specific to rugby union (there are other compelling stats for the alternate code of rugby league). In addition, there are some notable large-scale projects and investments, for instance £60M raised by National Lottery players built the iconic Principality rugby stadium, Cardiff.

A plain bar of data about  National Lottery investment on sport
Plain bar data about National Lottery investment on grassrots communities to athletes.

Countless positive impacts on rugby clubs and their local communities have rippled across the UK since the National Lottery started in 1994. And Bill says that a reflection on these impacts is timely, especially as the game faces many challenges such as player welfare, revenue raising, winning over new audiences, and boosting popularity among schools.

“What we need to do is continue with the help of people like yourselves at the National Lottery, and obviously the unions' [national governing bodies] funding to keep funding the grassroots game. And that will encourage more people to go down to rugby clubs. Rugby clubs are a great source of enjoyment and fun,” says Bill. “It's a great team game for bringing people together.”

A qoute of a man (Bill Beaumont) at the World Cup opening ceremony
Bill Beaumont at the World Cup opening ceremony, Paris (World Rugby, 2023).

For sure, the fans of rugby union and a global TV audience are together savouring this year’s world cup in France. While the global stage dominates the sports pages and beyond, the grassroots game is what drives it all. Bill agrees. “Look, you don't have an elite rugby if you don't have grassroots rugby. Quite simple. Where does every single player start off? At grassroots rugby or a school. Grassroots rugby is essential for girls and boys, men and women. That is our rugby DNA.”

For a glimpse of how rugby’s grassroots links with the global stage, see the map below offering a snapshot of the huge impacts from the £30 million raised every week for good causes by National Lottery players.

A map of the UK with data about National Lottery funding impacts on rugby clubs and communities.
National Lottery funding impacts on rugby clubs and communities across the UK.

2023 is a special year for rugby, marking the 200th anniversary of a young man, William Webb Ellis, picking up the ball during a game of football at Rugby School (stay with us) and running with it, ball-in-hand. So, what are Bill’s hopes for the tournament?

“Excitement. As a tournament you wouldn't know who's gonna win it. There'll be twists and turns and surprise results. I can see it being very close… any team will stand a good chance.”

And beyond? “I'm looking for exciting play. The kind of excitement that will get girls and boys down to the rugby club and playing this game.”

On Bill’s closing thought, National Lottery players can feel pride in a final factoid: there have been over 1,000 junior rugby club and rugby in schools initiatives breathing new life into the grassroots game.