Sport England
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Lords praise rugby conversion

Sport England received praise in the House of Lords last week as the Rugby Football Union’s highly successful Go Play Rugby Scheme is set to be debated on Thursday.

The scheme surpassed all expectations of trying to convert 6,000 adults back into playing the sport and its largest funder was our National Sports Foundation with an award of £500,000.

The campaign actually smashed its target by convincing 9,500 players to return to the game between September 2007 and April 2008.

During the debate, Lord Pendry said: “I congratulate Sport England for its involvement in the Rugby Football Union's Go Play Rugby scheme - one of the first funders to do so.”

And he added: “We now regard it (Sport England) as being well placed to deliver a new era for sport. It is an opportunity, which of course is reinforced by the significance of the Olympic Games, to promote sport in England and across the United Kingdom.”

The Go Play Rugby scheme has been one of a small number of projects driven by national governing bodies that have reduced drop-off rates and succeed in attracting adult players back into the sport. Sport England has been involved from the outset .

The campaign had two main elements – a national media campaign to raise awareness and interest in playing rugby coordinated with local club based recruitment activity.

It primarily targeted 16 – 30 year olds who had previously played the game at school, college, university or club, so those who already had an interest in the sport.  It asked them what they thought of rugby union and what would encourage them back into the sport using qualitative and quantitative research methods.

Go Play Rugby demonstrated how a national recruitment campaign, underpinned by local support and delivery, coupled with the added stardust of the Rugby World Cup can increase participation and help to address drop-off.  

Sport England would encourage other sports to adopt similar approaches within their 09-13 sports plans.  

Sport England’s new strategy identifies three key outcomes; grow, sustain and excel. One of the key aspects of sustaining participation in sport is to reduce drop-off and retain players between the ages of 16-18.  We intend to work with at least five sports to explore how we can significantly reduce drop-off.

Due to the success of ‘Go Play Rugby’, Sport England has recently (8 July 2008) awarded further funding of £350,000 for a new RFU scheme called ‘Play On’. This is a follow on campaign and aims to retain more players in clubs than are usually retained each season (5,500 additional players staying involved over the course of the season).

Looking to the future, Lord Davies expressed his hope that the scheme will enable other sports to tackle drop off rates. He said: “The Go Play Rugby campaign was in many ways a potential template for other sports to tackle the phenomenon of people finishing in a sport too early when they would often benefit by returning to it.”

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