Sheila Begbie reflects on the COVID-19 crisis

Sheila Begbie reflects on the COVID-19 crisis

Scottish Rugby’s Director of Rugby Development, Sheila Begbie MBE spoke to the media last week to reflect on the current COVID-19 crisis and how Scottish Rugby and the Rugby Development Department were working to support clubs across Scotland. Here is what she had to say:

On the Club Hardship Fund, established by Scottish Rugby to support rugby clubs across Scotland with an additional funding pot of £500,000.

“As of 22 April, we’d had 27 clubs apply, to a value of circa £200,000. The kind of support that we’re seeing clubs requesting is around retaining their staff – that’s been by far the biggest majority of clubs are looking to apply for through both the Club Hardship Fund and the government Job Retention Scheme.

“We’ve also got other clubs that are looking for support around their utilities, so they’re looking (help) for gas, electricity, water and waste.

“Some of the clubs are looking for ground maintenance support, so really looking to make sure that their pitches are maintained over the period when the clubs are closed. There are some clubs that have external bodies that come in and do their ground maintenance for them so they’re looking for us to provide some support there.

On potential club closures

“We were quite clear that we didn’t want any of the clubs to go to the wall as a result of COVID-19 so at the moment we don’t have any intel on any clubs that are potentially going to go to the wall. We hope that doesn’t happen and as I say that’s why we’re looking to invest in clubs so that we can support them through this period.

“We will review it (the £500,000 CHF) once we get into June. We’re keeping close to the information coming through from the UK and Scottish governments and Dr James (Robson) is keeping us abreast of any new developments that are happening so we will review, we will reflect on what’s happening and we’ll make whatever decisions we have to make in terms of supporting clubs.

“So we do have to look at each club in terms of its own demographics, what the issues are, so we’re not applying a ‘one size fits all’. We are aware and we have our Regional Directors that are working with clubs. We’re getting information back from our staff as well around the situation that some of the clubs are in.

On the process to deliver the Club Hardship Fund to clubs

“The applications will close on the 30th of April (so no funds yet approved) so if we could we would obviously love more clubs to make an application. We will sit down and look at all of the information that’s come in and make a decision so that we can try and no, will, pay the clubs in June in terms of any investment in from CHF.

On players being lost to the game during the Covid-19 crisis

“We are looking at ‘what do we do when we’re almost ready to come back to playing rugby?’ At the moment we’ve been working on engaging with coaches to try and make sure that we’re continuing to engage with our staff. I do have to say that it is a potential risk that people walk away from the game. We hope they don’t – it is looking at how/ what do we do when we’re at the start of (rugby) being back, to have a safe situation where player welfare is at the forefront of what we’re doing when we actually start rugby again.

“Whether it’s a big ‘kick-off’ that rugby’s back or whatever so it is something that we’ve been talking about in the department in terms of ‘how do we do something to kick the season off?’

On the impact of people being furloughed

“We communicated with the clubs last week around the fact that a number of our staff had been furloughed so we got approximately 33 staff that have been furloughed and we’ve got about 20 people plus that are still working in the department so we’ve got a fixture across the department in terms of all of the senior – Head of Operations, Head of Coaching, Head of regions etc are all still working.

“All of our regional directors are still working within the region – we’ve communicated that the regional director at the moment is the point of contact if they need anything from us, so we’ve got staff working, we’ve got administration staff working just to make sure that we keep things ticking over, because for the past while we’ve been working really hard to get the funding for Club Sustainability Awards, our travel money out to clubs. The minimal operating standards – that’s been key for us to get that out to clubs in April. We would normally see that in May. We’ve given money agreed to clubs without asking for anything else just to make things a little easier for them.

“I’d say the majority (of applications to the CHF) are in the ball park of £4,000. What we have said to clubs is while the amount maximum is £5,000 in extenuating circumstances it can be more than that. So we have had clubs that have applied for more than £5,000 as well.

On the decision to close the 2019/20 season as null and void

“I would say that we did go through a process. Our preference would have been to complete the season and we did have options for that, but then when the impact of COVID-19 became quite apparent, we recognised that was not going to be possible, so what I would say is that we did go through a consultation with the clubs so we had 108/146 clubs engaged in the process through the convenors of the various committees.

“The clubs were presented with the various scenarios and by far the biggest percentage of people in the clubs wanted a null and void season. So the issue is that we’ve gone with what the majority of people wanted and of course we knew that whatever decisions we made we were going to impact on somebody so from our perspective, that’s the decision that’s been made and I know that both Biggar and Dalkeith did appeal the process.

“Equally, we are aware that both clubs are speaking to other clubs and looking to reach a resolution, so I think from our perspective that we’ll wait and see what transpires.

“Just over 50% wanted null and void. The next biggest support came in using the final positions at the point of closure of the season, and that got less than a quarter of support from clubs so from our perspective we asked the clubs what is it that they want and the biggest majority of clubs had come back and told us what they wanted.

“What I would like to say is that in the future from our perspective, I have asked Vicky Cox, who’s our competitions and compliance manager, to speak to the appropriate people within Scottish rugby to, to really just reflect and review the process we’ve gone through and where we can to make improvements.

“I would say that we will come out and we will discuss with the clubs what the process potentially could be so that if we have to deal with something like this in future, that we’re all comfortable that we’ve got a process we’ve agreed on and that it’s quite a robust process. We are reflecting on the process, I absolutely want clubs to be part of the process of deciding what this would look like in future.

On the allocation of prize money from the 2019/20 season

“We’re actually looking at the prize money at the moment and because of the null and void decision, we’re looking at what we do with the prize money. Whether we do something that benefits all the clubs – something like because clubhouses haven’t been used and the threat of Legionnaires disease, support all the clubs; or to make sure that showers, when clubs are back up and running, that nobody gets (that) from the water or anything that’s been lying in the pipes so we are looking at different options of what we might do.

On the resilience of clubs in the crisis

“When we announced CHF, we had a number of clubs that wrote to us to say ‘good idea however we’re pretty sustainable’. I would say that most clubs if I’m being honest are focussed on getting through this virus. We have had unfortunately some deaths (in the club game) so I think that the rugby communities are trying to support each other to get through at a pretty scary time.

“I know there are some committee people going into the clubhouses every so often to make sure that everything’s safe and ok, and we’ve got some clubs that are doing some great work in the community in terms of delivering parcels to old people and some clubs are doing stuff like training sessions in the back garden, coaching sessions and webinars. There’s been a lot of creativity and I’ve got to say that I think our clubs have fantastic in the work that they do.

“We will look at that money (prize fund) and absolutely that money will not go back into the big pot; that money is ringfenced for the club game.

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