Grassroots rugby is set to see a bounce back of players, coaches and fans post COVID, according to the latest Fill Your Boots survey.
With a potential way out of these unprecedented times, there is hope for the grassroots game, a game many thought would fade away in the circumstances.
Of the respondents to the FYB survey, 99% of which were British or Irish, 77% said they would return to normal playing practice – a huge vote of confidence in the benefits rugby can bring both on and off the field. Some also suggested that they would take up the sport, while nearly 5% say they will not return to the sport as a player.
“I can see no reason to stop, and a return to rugby will be part of a return to normality,” one said. Another stated: “I think the measures put in place will make it safe, and it’s good exercise and good for my mental wellbeing.”
However, when you compare this survey to our last (July 2020), the number of respondents who say they’ll return to the sport has fallen by 10%, nearly 20% now saying they’re 50/50 about returning (up from 11% in July)
It is uncertain as to when grassroots rugby will return, yet many of the respondents are hoping for a date around September. “I love the game, it offers so much more than just playing rugby,” said one person who was eager for a grassroots return. Another said: “My son plays U7s and the values he learns on the pitch are spot on, the club is a great part of the community.”
Despite the optimism for a 2021/22 season, over 92% of the 360 plus respondents said the elongated break could damage the sport, with 73% of respondents certain of this. “No training can be done during lockdown and fixtures cannot be played, people have found other things to do on weekends,” said one respondent. Another said: “The club I play for has lost numbers big time”.
“About a quarter came when we were allowed to play. Now with another break, those that were chunking it before lockdown will most certainly not come back. Those that were on the fence will now go too.”
In an open question surrounding the biggest grassroots challenges post COVID, the common consensus was finances and player retention.
Grassroots rugby clubs are the bastions of local community, they, like other sports clubs and community centres, are the centre of wider, communal families. With such an uncertain future, these clubs could face closure, a removal of a community asset many won’t see until it’s gone.
During, and post, COVID, grassroots clubs will need the help of everyone in the local community. With that, they can become that family and communal hub we have become used to over the countless years prior to these unprecedented times.