Six days ago we watched the final game of the rugby world cup 2015, and a fantastic match at Twickenham stadium between New Zealand and Australia. At one stage it looked as if the All Blacks might run away with it, but the Wallabies staged a magnificent comeback to close the gap. At the end the New Zealand team, with kicks from Dan Carter, were the worthy winners of the Webb Ellis cup. While memories of that match and the entire tournament are fresh in our minds, I wanted to reflect on that from the perspective of the country as a whole, and particularly of my constituency with its unique association with the game, and consider the tournament’s impact on the game of rugby union.
The tournament touched all parts of the UK, and almost 2.5 million tickets were sold for matches up and down the country, from Twickenham in the south-east, to Cardiff in Wales, Manchester and Newcastle in the north, and Exeter in the south-west. Across 11 host cities, record numbers turned out to experience the thrill of the rugby tournament. Members whose constituency played host to a world cup match or a fanzone will know the buzz, and city centres and venues came alive, benefiting pubs in particular—reports already show uplifts in the profits of different pub chains of between 6% and 33%. More than 1 million people visited the official fanzones, and it is predicted that the tournament will have contributed almost £1 million to the UK economy, with overseas visitors alone having injected £869 million of revenue into the UK. The Office for National Statistics charted a 1.9% rise in retail sales last month.
Rugby enthusiasm was widespread, and more than 100,000 of the tickets sold were child tickets for aspiring fans who were watching the game for the first time. It is one thing for a tournament to sell tickets to rugby enthusiasts such as me, but it is something else when a broader group of people are touched.
I commend my hon. Friend for everything he does to support rugby union. He mentioned places that hosted world cup matches. Does he recognise that my constituency hosted the mixed ability rugby world cup this year, which was held in the same year as the rugby world cup? Does he agree that that was a great success and a great way of getting more people to play rugby? We should look to replicate that in future years.
My hon. Friend is right, and there are many versions of the game such as “golden oldies” for older players, tag for younger players, and mixed ability rugby is another game coming forward.
This country had 460,000 visitors, and I am confident that they will go back to their home countries and speak with high regard for the spirit that the game of rugby engenders. That spirit was shown remarkably through the efforts of the world cup volunteers—6,000 people formed the pack who directed fans from train stations and entertained them at fanzones. Their enthusiasm helped to build the celebration. Between them, the 23,000 volunteers covered 240,000 volunteering hours. Quite simply, the tournament could not have taken place without them.
People engaged with the world cup away from the stadiums in different ways. The final was watched by an estimated world audience of 120 million. In the UK, 11.6 million viewers tuned in to the game on ITV, the largest rugby audience and the highest peak audience for a sporting event since the 2014 soccer world cup.
It was not just a rugby tournament. As my hon. Friend said, the festival of rugby encouraged rugby events—not just games—of all shapes and sizes. In my constituency, on the theme of “Rugby’s got balls”, rugby sculptures were on display, supported by Rugby Borough Council. As part of the festival, we had the parliamentary rugby world cup, a tournament for MPs. Seven nations participated. Once again, Australia walked away with the cup. I pay tribute to the many Members of the House who got their boots and shorts on, and to the sponsors, who enabled us to have such a successful tournament very much in the spirit of the game.
The Rugby Football Union has announced the financial success of the tournament. Some £250 million was raised from ticket revenues, with an £80 million surplus. That money is already finding its way down to the grassroots game. It was the most digitally engaged tournament ever, with social media activity throughout the tournament. The #rwc2015 hashtag was used twice a second and the official world cup app was downloaded 2.8 million times in 204 countries.
The tournament will be long standing in the memory of my constituents in Rugby, where we have a long association with game—it goes back to 1823, when a young man called William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran during a game of football being played on the Close at Rugby school. He was a Rugby lad, and broke the rules to create the characteristic feature of a game that was taken around the world by former pupils of Rugby school. With the town giving its name to the school and the school giving its name to the game, my constituency has long called itself the home of the game. There is a little bit of an argument against that view—some say that the home is where the administrators are based, which, as far as the English game is concerned, is Twickenham—but it is indisputable that my constituency is the birthplace of the game.
In recent years, we have not done as much as we might have done to celebrate that. In my maiden speech shortly after my election in 2010, I spoke about my wish, as a former rugby player and an enthusiast for the game, to improve the connections between the town of Rugby and the game of rugby. It was clear that the big opportunity would come during the rugby world cup 2015. In 2010, 2011 and 2012, a number of people—councillors, council leaders and town centre traders who were alert to the commercial opportunities—got together to plan what the town might do during the world cup. Shortly after my election, people were coming up to me and asking, “Mark, what are we going to be doing in Rugby for the rugby world cup?”
We went out and made relationships, and secured equal status to host cities. Rugby was a host city—it was the only host city without any games—and hosted a fanzone for the longest period throughout the tournament. It ran from well before the opening ceremony. Only today, I attended the very last event in the tournament—a conference held by Coventry and Warwickshire chamber of commerce—before the semi-permanent structure is taken down. The contractors turn up tomorrow.
Why did Rugby do that? We wanted to increase the numbers of people coming to our town and benefit the businesses within the borough. We wanted to provide something for local residents and promote civic pride. Rugby is one of the fastest-growing towns in England and we wanted to enhance national and international awareness with a view to attracting longer-term investment into the town.
As I mentioned, we did that by making the fanzone and the rugby village the focus of activities throughout the eight weeks. Not only could people watch the matches on big screens, but there was art, culture and entertainment to appeal to the community as a whole. Some of the best events I attended in the fanzone did not involve watching the matches. We had a fantastic one-man play about the life of Ray Gravell, a famous Welsh rugby player; only the other day, we heard a rugby-based electric string orchestra play; and we had a fascinating talk on the history of the game and how it transmitted itself around the world. People are saying to me, “What are we going to do now our fanzone has gone? What are we going to do now the world cup is over?”
Some 40,000 people visited the fanzone, of whom 25,000 came to watch the matches. Alongside that, we arranged a schools programme attended by 3,000 children from 50 schools across the constituency. Local rugby clubs are benefiting from that now, through a substantial and sustained increase in the number of inquiries from young players.
We have put rugby on the map. It enjoyed national and international promotion as a result of the efforts, help and support of Visit England and England Rugby. I am sure that anybody who watched the opening ceremony will remember the television footage moving across the town to land on Rugby school, where a re-enactment of the opening game took place. All of that gave our town a massive profile.
We have established strong links with external organisations, including World Rugby and the RFU. Over the last few weeks, we have welcomed four delegations from Japan, where the 2019 tournament will be held, and we are building up relationships there. While it is early days to report figures from local businesses, I have spoken to one local trader who told me that his trade during the tournament was up by as much as 250%.
In addition to the pack that England 2015 put together, Rugby as a town put together its own group of 100 volunteers who welcomed visitors, assisted with the delivery of the programme and signposted for our many visitors. Just as when someone visits someone’s home they try to smarten up the place beforehand, Rugby made a series of improvements and investments before the tournament, including improved street furniture and better coach parking, and I think we are one of the first towns in the midlands to have free wi-fi across the town. So we are confident we have met our objectives of increasing visitor numbers and spend and providing facilities for local people. I take my hat off to Rugby Borough Council—the council leadership and council officers—for delivering something special for the town. As I said, people are stopping me in the street and telling me what a wonderful job we did in welcoming people to Rugby throughout the world cup.
When we put on tournaments such as the rugby world cup it is important to increase participation in sport, and that was a big objective of the RFU, which has already committed £25 million from the profits generated during the tournament to ensure a meaningful legacy. That money will go into new facilities. Some £10 million has already been committed to investment up to 2017 so that those who play the game have a quality experience with modern facilities—I often played the game in scruffy and tatty conditions. In my own county of Warwickshire, £350,000 is being invested across 18 projects. It is also important that we get the right level of coaching and refereeing. Across the country, the RFU has invested £1 million in new coaches and referees. People volunteered for those very important roles at fanzones across the country.
We have spoken about the importance of getting more youngsters playing the game. It is important that if someone visits a stadium and watches a game or sees something they enjoy on television, they are made welcome by clubs if they then choose to play. One way of doing that is to introduce rugby in more state schools, and that is happening. Some 400 state schools are getting involved with the RFU’s flagship three-year “All Schools” programme, which is training teachers and older students to deliver rugby by linking with local clubs. In my constituency, three of our secondary schools, Bilton, Avon Valley and Harris, have linked with their local clubs, Newbold-on-Avon, the Old Laurentians and Rugby St Andrews, with after-school sessions taking place at the clubs. The RFU has an objective to introduce rugby to more schools—from the current 400 state schools to 750 of them.
One of the game’s problems happens when people play in their younger years, but then get lost to the game as other attractions, often including girlfriends, come along. There is a real effort going on to bring back people lost to the game in the 16 to 24-year-old age group. In my constituency, Newbold-on-Avon rugby club has been involved in a targeted delivery to bring back some of those players.
My hon. Friend Philip Davies referred to other versions of the game. Touch rugby, for example, can be played by older players, and there is a relatively new version of the game known as “walking rugby”, which enables people of even more senior years to continue to enjoy the excitement of handling the ball and playing as part of a team. Some 261 touch centres have been set up at 147 clubs, 75 colleges and 39 universities.
Another key objective has been to extend the game around the world. One feature of the 2015 world cup was how the second tier nations—those that have been playing the game for a shorter time—have raised their standards, so that the gap between them and tier 1 has become much narrower. We did not have games with results such as 100 points against nil; we had some pretty exciting games, and none more so than the Japanese game against the South Africans in the early part of tournament when a tier 2 team really gave a fright to the mighty South Africans. That engendered a great deal of interest in the game. Georgia and Romania are part of a project to get more people playing, and seventeen European countries are working together to address the challenges to increasing participation. There is also the legacy oversight group whereby members from the worlds of business, sport and government come together to spearhead progress and identify further opportunities.
We had a great tournament this year, and the rugby world cup 2015 had a massive impact, boosting our economy, increasing the perception in the world of my town and furthering engagement with the game. We were very pleased in Rugby to welcome the visitors and place our town and my constituency in the best possible light. The RFU is taking the opportunity to leave a positive legacy for English rugby for future generations to enjoy. Now that the tournament has concluded, it is time to turn our sights on 2019. We look forward with great interest to what Japan holds in store for us in 2019.
I am grateful for the opportunity to reply to the debate called by my hon. Friend Mark Pawsey. However, I first want to congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on gaining the Back Bencher of the year award from The Spectator. I was lucky enough to be at the lunch where you were awarded this honour not once, but twice, even though you had to tear yourself away from your parliamentary duties. It is good to see you back in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I had an extremely undistinguished rugby career, but I now realise that I was ahead of my time because at the age of 16 I was playing “walking rugby”. I am now aware that it is a game that I should adopt when I am 65! I had a brief appearance in the first 15 when somebody passed me the ball and the biggest bloke in the school failed to tackle me, but I was quickly relegated to the third 15 where we racked up some astonishing scores for the opposing team.
My hon. Friend has raised some interesting points about the tournament. It was indeed described by the chairman of World Rugby as the
“best-attended, most-watched, most socially-engaged, most commercially-successful Rugby World Cup”.
It is important to point out from the outset that my hon. Friend has been very engaged with this tournament, both within his constituency and on a national level. It was good to hear from him about the benefits a local economy can gain from a major national or international event such as this one. It was also important that he reminded us that that does not happen by accident; it takes the hard work of people such as him and others to make sure that it is realised.
The town of Rugby, as the birthplace of the game, played an important part in the tournament and was the proud home of it. It hosted several events. The successful fanzone, to which my hon. Friend referred, brought visitors from far and wide to the Webb Ellis Rugby Football Museum, and it was also good to hear about some of the arts and cultural events that took place, that being my main remit. The excellent festival of rugby that accompanied the tournament involved 1,000 events across the country, which were attended by more than a million people. There were concerts, street parties, sport tournaments and exhibitions. Indeed, my hon. Friend went so far as to mention the seminal
“Rugby’s got balls” exhibition, featuring giant rugby ball sculptures. However—although I may have missed it—I do not think he mentioned the “Rugbeards” portrait exhibition put on by a local flower shop, featuring men with flowers in their beards,.
I must, of course, offer my congratulations to New Zealand as champions. I was, sadly, at the game in which Australia put England out of the tournament. I must also offer my gratitude, and that of the Government, to England Rugby 2015, which ran a brilliant, highly professional tournament. It did a fantastic job selling tickets for all the matches, including those featuring the tier 2 nation games. Eleven cities in England and Wales hosted 2.5 million fans over six weeks—the largest number of fans ever to attend any rugby world cup. Wembley hosted two consecutive matches which broke rugby world cup attendance records.
My hon. Friend mentioned the pack, the 6,000 volunteers who, as he said, were crucial to the fans’ experience. It could not have happened without them. Many of the volunteers were recruited from the rugby community in England and Wales. It was great to see people who play such a big part in the sport at the grass-roots level being rewarded with the opportunity to play a part in the biggest event in their sport.
Of course, the wider legacy issue is not just about engaging and rewarding those who are already passionate about the sport, but about inspiring new fans and new players. The Rugby Football Union developed detailed plans before the tournament to capitalise on the event and take advantage of the huge amount of enthusiasm that it generated. As my hon. Friend said, that included spreading the game in schools, especially state schools which have not traditionally played rugby. The programme has reached 130,000 pupils, and I am delighted to say that a third of them are girls. As a result, 3,000 young people have joined rugby clubs, and are playing the game regularly. The mini and junior sections in clubs tend to be pretty strong. There are 150,000 registered players and 6,000 teams in the 6-to-13 age bracket. Tag and touch rugby tournaments aimed at youngsters are becoming incredibly popular.
As well as attracting new players to the game, the Rugby Football Union has strong legacy plans to strengthen the infrastructure that surrounds it. It is improving facilities by means of a £10 million investment, and investing in the people—the coaches, referees and volunteers—whom we need to sustain the enthusiasm of the new players.
As we saw at the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games and last year’s Tour de France Grand Départ in Yorkshire—I am not sure whether that is the Yorkshire pronunciation—the east of England and London, major events in the UK can reach far beyond these shores, bringing significant benefits, including visitors and investment from overseas. It is estimated that nearly half a million international visitors came to England and Wales to watch and take part in the rugby world cup tournament, generating about £1 billion of additional spending in the UK. I am sure that all those visitors had a wonderful time. That is another illustration of the links that can be created by a great sporting tournament, which can have an impact not just on the sport itself but on tourism, our economy, and arts and culture—the wider brief, as it were.
I thank the Government, and my hon. Friend’s Department in particular, for the support that they gave to the mixed-ability rugby world cup, which took place in my constituency. Will he join me in placing on record our thanks to Gerry Sutcliffe, the former Member of Parliament for Bradford South, for all the hard work that he put in to help to make that tournament a success, and will the Department continue to play a role in trying to encourage more mixed-ability rugby and more world cup tournaments in the future?
I endorse what my hon. Friend says, particularly about the role of Gerry Sutcliffe, who retired at the last election—although you probably would not know that, Madam Deputy Speaker, because every time you go in a bar in Parliament, you find Gerry Sutcliffe. In a sense, we have the best of both worlds, with a new MP for Bradford South but Gerry still very much with us.
I am sure the sports Minister, my hon. Friend Tracey Crouch, would be delighted to visit my hon. Friend Philip Davies to see some of this mixed-ability rugby. She might be approaching the time at which she will need to take maternity leave, but if she can fit it in before then, I am sure she will take the opportunity to do so.
I was pleased to hear that the RFU signed a deal this week with the American National Football League to have additional matches take place in Twickenham. The recent matches at Wembley have demonstrated the UK’s passion for the sport and we look forward to welcoming more fans and more teams to London.
One of the key points about that is that it enables England games to be taken away from Twickenham and to be played in the provinces. Does the Minister agree that the world cup has shown that there is an appetite across the country for first-class and international games in all locations?
The rugby world cup did show that. Obviously, Cardiff has a major stadium where rugby is played, as does Wembley, and huge enthusiasm was shown in Manchester and at many of the other stadiums where rugby games were played. The RFU and other national sporting bodies might want to consider that in the future when considering how to engage with fans across the UK.
It is also worth pointing out what a great calling card a tournament such as this is for the country that is lucky enough to host it. The final was seen by 120 million people all over the world, and my hon. Friend mentioned the extraordinary game between Japan and South Africa, which was viewed by 7 million people in Japan who might not have expected to see the result that they did. It might not surprise my hon. Friend to learn that 25 million people in Japan watched the game against Samoa, which Japan also won. That was the highest ever TV audience for a rugby match in any one country and created huge exposure for the UK in a key tourist market. What the rugby world cup has done for tourism should not be underestimated.
We used the opportunity to welcome international business visitors to the UK. UK Trade & Investment led a global investment conference and ran a business festival throughout the tournament, and we also had business events across the regions, ensuring that the positive effects of the tournament reached businesses all over the country.
My position was hooker. I do not know the quality of the current hooker in the parliamentary rugby team, but if he or she is failing to come up to the mark, I will happily take their place.
I mentioned my colleague, the sports Minister. Unfortunately, she was unable to be here today, but I know that she would want me to mention her strategy for sport. She published a consultation, which has been very well received, and we have had more than 3,000 responses. It is important to note that that strategy will examine how major sporting events have a huge impact on the UK and how we can continue the brilliant developments that are happening in rugby thanks to the rugby world cup.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby for bringing this important issue of the rugby world cup legacy back to the House. It was a great honour for me, when I was a junior researcher working in the Conservative research department, to work with his father, an absolutely great man, so it is a great honour now to respond to a debate called by him about this fantastic tournament. It is essential, now that the event is over—I pay tribute to my speechwriter for this—that we do not take our eye off the ball. We all recognise the fantastic work that has been done so far, and I am confident we will be celebrating the tournament’s legacy long into the future.
Question put and agreed to.