Pwyllgor Diwylliant, y Gymraeg a Chyfathrebu - Y Bumed Senedd
Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee - Fifth Senedd21/01/2021
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Bethan Sayed MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Carwyn Jones MS|
|David Melding MS|
|Helen Mary Jones MS|
|John Griffiths MS|
|Mick Antoniw MS|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Brian Davies||Chwaraeon Cymru|
|Jonathan Ford||Cymdeithas Bêl-droed Cymru|
|Football Association of Wales|
|Marcus Kingwell||EMD UK|
|Steve Phillips||Undeb Rygbi Cymru|
|Welsh Rugby Union|
|Victoria Ward||Cymdeithas Chwaraeon Cymru|
|Welsh Sports Association|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:29.
The committee met by video-conference.
The meeting began at 09:29.
Diolch, a chroeso i'r Pwyllgor Diwylliant, y Gymraeg a Chyfathrebu a'n cyfarfod y bore yma. Eitem 1 ar yr agenda yw cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau. Hoffwn i groesawu pob Aelod i'r pwyllgor, ac, yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 34.19, rwyf wedi penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd rhag dod i'r cyfarfod yn bersonol er mwyn diogelu iechyd y cyhoedd. A oes gan unrhyw un unrhyw beth i'w ddatgan yn y cyfarfod yma? Na, dwi ddim yn gweld bod yna.
Good morning and welcome to this meeting of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee. Item 1 on our agenda is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. I'd like to welcome Members to the committee, and, in accordance with Standing Order 34.19, I have determined that the public are excluded from attending this meeting in person in order to protect public health. Does anyone have any declarations of interest? No, there are no declarations.
Felly, gwnawn ni symud ymlaen at eitem 2, COVID-19 ac effaith y pandemig ar chwaraeon. Ers i fi fod i ffwrdd, mae'r pwyllgor wedi bod yn edrych ar faterion chwaraeon am y tro cyntaf, felly mae hwn yn newydd i fi hefyd. Ond croeso i'n tystion: Brian Davies, sef cynrychiolydd Chwaraeon Cymru, a Victoria Ward o Gymdeithas Chwaraeon Cymru. Croeso ichi i'r cyfarfod. A fedrwch chi gyflwyno eich hunain, jest ar gyfer y cofnod inni, plis? Diolch yn fawr iawn.
We'll move on, therefore, to item 2, COVID-19, the impact of the pandemic on sport. Since I've been away, the committee has been looking at sport issues for the first time, so this is new to me too. But a warm welcome to our witnesses: Brian Davies, a representative of Sport Wales, and Victoria Ward from the Welsh Sports Association. A warm welcome to you to this meeting. Could you just introduce yourselves for the record? Thank you.
Bore da, Cadeirydd. Fi yw cyfarwyddwr y system chwaraeon i Chwaraeon Cymru, a fi gwnaeth rhoi tystiolaeth yn yr inquiry cyntaf, so fi sy'n ei wneud e y tro yma hefyd, er nid fi yw'r prif weithredwr.
Good morning, Chair. I am the director of sport systems for Sport Wales, and I provided evidence in the initial inquiry, so I'm doing it again this time, although I'm not the chief executive.
Good morning, Chair. My name's Victoria Ward, and I'm the chief executive of the Welsh Sports Association, and this is my first time.
Wel, diolch yn fawr am ddod, Victoria, a dwi'n gobeithio fyddwn ni ddim yn rhy galed arnoch chi o ran cwestiynau. Rydyn ni'n gyfeillgar fel pwyllgor yn gyffredinol, dwi'n credu. Ond croeso ichi yma heddiw. Os yw hi'n iawn efo chi, gwnawn ni symud ymlaen yn syth at gwestiynau, ac mae Carwyn Jones yn arwain ar y cwestiynau heddiw. Diolch.
Well, thank you very much for joining us, Victoria. I hope we won't be too hard on you in terms of our questioning. We're a very friendly committee, generally speaking. But a warm welcome to you. If it's okay with you, we'll move immediately to questions, and Carwyn Jones has the first questions this morning. Thank you.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Good morning, both. If I could just start by exploring the current lockdown rules and ask you: how do you feel the lockdown rules have operated over the past few months, and, building on that, do you think there should be a difference in terms of the rules for exercise and perhaps community sport on the one hand and elite sport on the other? So, an opportunity for you to give your views and perhaps suggest any changes.
Yes, thank you, Carwyn. Vicky, if you don't mind, I'll go first. I know it's supposed to be a lady's prerogative, but—. I think, Chair, Carwyn, you can only describe the current lockdown situation, really, for sports generally as being paralysing—certainly at grass-roots level; I'll come back to the elite. Elite has been treated differently already, but that is really only about 1 per cent or 2 per cent of the elite population itself in terms of sport, because that is being treated differently. It's been a roller coaster, I'd suggest, for governing bodies, clubs, participants, parents et cetera, with various degrees of permissible activity at different times. It can become confusing at times, but I think the new control plan that was launched pre this lockdown is helping. It does give clarity about what you are able to do at different alert levels. It needs to be backed up with good and detailed guidance from Welsh Government, and that has been a problem at times, that the guidance has lagged behind some of the regulation, but understandably so with all the pressure on officials.
I'd also say that I think sport is such an important part of Welsh society, it does often reflect society's general reaction to events, and therefore I'd say that sport is pretty empathetic to the public health crisis. But frustration and impatience can grow over time, and, as you reach further into any period of lockdown, that starts to become evident. But also, because the health situation is so dire at the moment, the sports sector empathy is strong. And, while schools are still closed, I think there's also a strong understanding of why sport is restricted.
I'll come back to the elite bit. There is a difference in elite restrictions, and we're tasked with designating that elite status to athletes in Wales to allow them to have special dispensation from the regs, but it is only for a very small number, and we are talking literally less than 200, maybe around about 200, athletes. So, it's not a great deal.
Thank you, Carwyn. The Welsh Sport Association is the representative organisation for the sport and leisure industry in Wales, and so this has been a real challenge for us in terms of what we do. But, unanimously I think, those leaders that we work with in the sport and leisure sector are fully behind Welsh Government in terms of the current severity of the situation in level 4, and haven't challenged—and I think rightly so—that we should be doing more, given how serious things are. However, once we get back down to level 3, I think there are some solutions that we would really like the opportunity to speak to Government about that could help immensely for well-being.
Thank you, both. Brian, you just touched on this when you were speaking. That's on the alert system, the alert level system, and if I can ask you both: are those appropriate, the different levels? You seemed to indicate, Brian, that the situation had improved from where it had been. Perhaps you could expand on (a) if I've got that right, and (b) how that's happened.
Yes, I was referring to the control plan that was issued before the last lockdown, which was really clear at a very high level about what would be permissible in general terms at changes to the other levels. And I think the sector really welcomed that; it does help them plan. The problem would be that the current guidance is also fairly high level, and I think there could be an argument for the guidance developed by officials to be a little bit more detailed at each alert level. I think the sector would really welcome that, because that planning I talked about can only be made better and more effective if there's that more detailed guidance available. So, I'd suggest there is a requirement for some work to be done in that area of developing guidance to back up the control plan. But I'm sure Vicky will back this up. There was a lot of uncertainty previously, and a lot of second guessing what was going to happen, and the control plan has taken out some of that second guessing that was needed.
Okay. Victoria, how have you seen it?
Yes, it would certainly be helpful, and I know we've had the new guidance now to go with the control plan, but there's a real nervousness about interpreting what that says, and there can be various ways of interpreting that. So, crystal-clear clarity would help; not just to help sports make the right decisions, but also for practical reasons, like they need to make sure their insurance is valid, and, when you don't have that clarity, and there is too much room for interpretation, sometimes sport can't happen because insurance companies are too nervous to ensure that they cover that. So, I think that's a real challenge. And also ensuring that the guidance comes out quickly after the regulations have been changed—that's probably caused the greatest amount of stress among our member organisations through this process. But, hopefully, now that we have the coronavirus control plan and a bit more clarity in terms of the levels, that will improve.
Thanks, both. Finally from me, then: how have you been able to help to shape the regulations in terms of sport? What sort of input have you had? When I say 'input', I mean input the Government—what sort of engagement has there been?
The engagement's been excellent, to be honest. I pay tribute to the WSA here for the way they helped set up the four groups that we established to explore the regulations and the situation as it was panning out for sports and communities, and those groups have continued to meet. So, we have an elite and professional group, an indoor group, outdoor group, and a facilities group, and Vicky and her colleagues have done an excellent job of co-ordinating those groups with our support, and those groups have been tasked with making recommendations, exploring the issues. And as a system—not perfect; no system is in this kind of situation—I think it's worked very well; I'll let Vicky explore that in more detail, if you like.
But what I would say as well is that the dialogue with Welsh Government officials has been excellent. They have been available—that hasn't always been the case pre-pandemic—they have been open, they have been honest, and they have looked to support where they can. They have a difficult line to traverse, in that they obviously sit between Ministers, public health officials and lawyers, and I think, on the whole, they've done our sector proud, really. I commend the work that they've done. There's not many of them, to be honest, and they're also looking after the cultural side, not just the sport side, so they are being pulled in all sorts of directions. So, on a personal level, I think the dialogue and the opportunity to influence has been good, but, Vicky, do you want to say more?
Sure. So, right at the start of the pandemic, we ensured that we continued to communicate with everyone, so we set up a programme of business continuity seminars and they still happen once every three weeks, in line with the review. So, we've gone through everything there in terms of business rates and, certainly, sport fell through the gaps in terms of the business rates relief right at the start of the pandemic, as did other social businesses. And Welsh Government did listen and we got that changed. I think there's probably a bit more work to do on that as we move forward.
So, we've been able to make sure that we are giving the information to people as and when they need it. It's a good job we can't go out and have a social life, because, frankly, we wouldn't have enough time at the moment, given what we need to do to support the sector and the phased-return groups that we have—we have leisure trusts, we have local authorities, we have got governing bodies, gymnastics clubs—all sit on that to help us shape our plans and they will be working with us now into the next few months, so we can look at what it's going to take to get our sector back to full fitness.
Thank you. Diolch, Cadeirydd.
Diolch. Brian, can I just ask quickly, before I move on—you said there were 200 elite athletes that were able to get support. Is there more that you would want to get from this? Are there more athletes that need to be active in what they're doing, because it doesn't seem that that's very many? I just wanted to cover that quickly.
Yes, sure. Just to be clear, obviously, that doesn't include professional sports. So, the professional sports, such as rugby, football and others—netball, Celtic Dragons—they have dispensation by virtue of the fact that it's their profession. So, we're really—in the 200-odd, we're talking about amateur athletes, really, and the priority has been given in this current alert level 4 to those that have got Olympic/Paralympic aspirations and pending Commonwealth Games Birmingham 2022 selection events. So, it's a small number, because the bar has been set very high.
To answer your question, 'Would we like more?' Of course we would. We get a lot of pressure from governing bodies and athletes to be able to do more, but, as I said as well earlier, sport is very empathetic to the current public health crisis, and there is frustration, but it's an understandable situation for most. If it changes, we'll change quickly with the powers that we have.
Ocê. Diolch am gadarnhau hynny. Mae hynny'n help mawr. Symud ymlaen at yr effaith ar chwaraeon a gweithgarwch corfforol—David Melding.
Thank you for confirming that. That's very helpful. Moving on to the impact on sport and physical activity—David Melding.
Diolch yn fawr, Cadeirydd. I would like to look at physical activity rates first and then, really, the resilience of sports clubs and sport businesses. So, if I can start with physical activity, Sport Wales, very helpfully, has been conducting surveys at the beginning and then in the autumn during the pandemic and, obviously, they've got long experience of reflecting on data in this field. And I suppose the headline is a surprising one, and that's that physical activity rates have not fallen off a cliff; indeed, they've maintained their long-term trend. But there's a lot below that headline, and I just wonder if both of you would like to reflect on participation, particularly by age and gender and income, socioeconomic situations, where poorer communities typically do not have as much access to open space and the like. So, what do you take from the data at the moment? Perhaps we could start with Brian Davies of Sport Wales, who conducted this survey.
Yes. Thank you, David. Yes, we conducted two surveys, as you said, by ComRes, and Sport England has also released its own survey. That's the latest data, obviously, for England, but the stats are comparable, in the main—its active lives survey last week—and it does mirror, as I said, much of what we found. Children's activity levels have reduced, interestingly, more so with teenage boys than girls. Girls seemed to have been able to adapt quicker and maybe more easily, but, having said that, the challenge is that they're still not doing the same levels; it's just that the differences are greater with teenage boys.
In terms of adults, there's plenty of evidence that there have been increases in running, walking and cycling even, despite the winter months, but overall what I would emphasise—and I emphasised this on the first ComRes survey in the first inquiry, is that there is a worrying trend in terms of widening the existing inequalities gap, so we are talking about the intersectional issues between socioeconomic backgrounds, the BAME community doing less physical activity.
All these issues have been compounded because of this pandemic, for lots of different reasons other than just lockdown. Some of the packages we've launched in support—the public packages—have been targeted at trying to look at some of those barriers, because they're so deep rooted, some of them, that some emergency schemes are not really going to address them sufficiently, and targeting those areas was part of our new strategy. I guess if the pandemic's done one thing, it's evidence that that was the right thing to do, but we've got so much more work to do in that area, and we will continue to do it. The pandemic itself has highlighted the challenges we face as a society.
The last thing I would say is that, for many people across Wales, sport and physical activity have been a release for them from these challenges, but these communities, if they're not finding physical activity, they're not finding salvation either from the pandemic, so it's a really vicious circle for them. And as we come out of this health crisis, what we really need to do is redouble our efforts to work with health and work with education, to make sure physical activity is part of the solution going forward, long term, not just a reaction to an event.
It really has shone a spotlight on the inequalities in our country. All the way through this, our political leaders have talked about the importance of staying active as a central point, really, from the very beginning of the crisis—encouraging people to go out for a run, encouraging people to go for a bike ride. That's really great if you can afford a bike, or even if you can afford a pair of running shoes. Some of the stuff you will read, the advice, if you're going to go out for a run, 'Make sure you've got good shoes on your feet.' Well, for many of us, that's fine. Right at the start, when we started to release sport again and some sports were able to open because of the nature of them, because they could be socially distanced, such as golf and tennis, I was really pleased to see how quickly the private sector took that on and the private golf clubs and the tennis centres were able to open again, and that's really positive. But the local authority facilities and the municipal facilities didn't move at the same sort of pace, so, again, it was showing that, 'It's okay, if I can afford to be a member of a private club I'm now able to be active doing what I'm doing again.' But if you can't, then that doesn't happen. So, there are some really hard questions that we need to ask ourselves in this country, and, when we start to reboot sport, they have to be central to its recovery.
I think those are very interesting answers, and there are many supplementaries I could ask, but I'll just focus on one, as I have got a few other questions to get through. On your long-term work amongst disadvantaged groups, those that have lower levels of activity compared to the average for the population—BAME groups and the socioeconomically deprived and so forth—has your long-term work been set back considerably, and is this a real concern for you in the future?
That's a very good question. It's been a real tightrope for us to walk in terms of reacting to the situation and putting in place—. For example, we've put in place four new funding schemes in eight months. Now, for a public body, that's unheard of. It's normally glacial in terms of innovation and putting new things into place, so credit to our staff for having done that. It has come at a cost of not being able to focus on some of our long-term plans, but not purely so. We are trying to make sure that we are doing things that are for the long term. We're in the middle of a business planning exercise with our leadership team so that we can give assurance not only to our board, but to Welsh Government that we are focusing on these long-term issues, as you've said. Our strategy, as was written and agreed with the sector, is getting an airing as soon as possible, and starting to show benefits to our communities, but it is difficult. I can't hide the fact that some of our staff—. They might not be front-line like NHS—fair play to that kind of sector—but they are starting to wear, they are starting to get tired. They are really giving everything that they can to the sector in terms of being agile, being flexible, but also trying to be forward thinking and long term. And I would pay tribute, in the same vein, to the partners we work with because they're facing the same issue. They too want to look forward and be innovative and adapt, but they're having to be reactive, and that's the situation we're in, in all honesty.
Thank you, Brian Davies, for that. John Griffiths MS just has a brief supplementary, if that's okay, David Melding.
Yes. In terms of what you've said, Brian and Victoria, about really learning lessons, whether it's relationships with health or schools or more generally, I just wonder what engagement you've had with Welsh Government around that. Because Jeremy Miles has been doing work, hasn't he, on building back better and how we can learn lessons and make improvements going forward, drawing on the experience through the pandemic. So, have you been able to input into that work and, as far as you know, have your messages been taken on board?
We've certainly had input at a very high level. Our chair has met with Jeremy and the group that Jeremy has established. There have been discussions at that level. I'd have to check how far down the chain of command, if you like, things have come and the people tasked with improving education and health initiatives between Sport Wales and the other agencies are going. I know that we want to, but I would have to check how far we've been able to. So, I can't give a definitive answer now, John. But take it from me, it is an area that we definitely want to play a more fundamental role in.
Reimagining the school day has been something that we have been encouraging for a long time in terms of community access to facilities and children being able to stay on at school. We're not asking teachers to do it; we're just asking the educational sector to reimagine how children can take part in physical activity once the school bell has rung. So, it was something we were definitely doing pre pandemic, and I'd need to check how much more we've managed to do.
Thanks. If you can get back to us, that would be great. Victoria, did you want to respond to David Melding's question? We do need to hurry up a bit, because of time, but, thank you.
Again, a very good question and I'd say no, it hasn't set us back at all, from our perspective. I think it's actually accelerated it. Our whole strategy is about developing a more resilient sport sector, so this has really helped us. We're grateful to Sport Wales and to Welsh Government for the funding that came very quickly to try and protect much of sport. It's certainly a lot greater than it is in the other home nations at the moment. So, we are able to protect more of our sports and facilities, but what we really do need to focus on is building a more resilient sector. So, if you look at the way that that works, those community clubs and smaller governing bodies for sport, for instance, haven't been particularly affected because if you're only hiring the local sport centre to play hockey or netball, financially this hasn't affected you because you just don't pay for it and you're able to hibernate until it's time to come out. Those bigger organisations and those that have got the overheads of facilities have been challenged, and it's really important that we look at that, but making sure that we build a more resilient sector has got to be the top priority when we come out of here.
It is apposite, because my next question would be on the resilience of various organisations, not just sports clubs, but also businesses. I just wonder where your main concerns are. I mean, are they at the elite level, are they at the regional or the community level, or are there other factors that we need to be very aware of, like geography? Are there, for example—I'm just suggesting this—remote rural areas that may be finding that their sporting organisations are in particular difficulty? What sort of assessment have you made of resilience?
Victoria, did you want to go first this time?
Yes, sure. I think protecting communities is a big issue, particularly those that are currently losing their facilities because they've been closed since the start of the pandemic, which has been the case in Ceredigion, for instance—there hasn't been a swimming pool open within 80 miles of Ceredigion since last March—and that proves really difficult for communities to deal with. We need to also make sure that any facilities that have been repurposed now do come back to sport. When we start looking at things like the consultation around transport, we're talking about building 20-minute communities. Well, we can't build 20-minute communities if people haven't got anywhere to exercise and stay fit, which will obviously promote their well-being.
Good question, David. What I'd say is that they're not mutually exclusive, all these things; they tend to be interlinked. What we don't want to do is focus on one thing more than another, and certainly not an elite at the expense of community sport. They are interlinked, and we need to look at them all. There are some priorities for us, for sure, and the fact that our younger generation have really missed out on some important social activities, social development, physical development, needs to be at the forefront of our thinking when we come out of lockdown. Hence the emphasis earlier on the education piece. It needs to be central in the school setting when the school settings come back. How can children be active? How can they improve their social skills and everything that they've missed out on?
I would also say we need to be careful. We do hear a lot about how these are missed opportunities and they'll never be recovered. I don't think that's the case. We're resilient. People are very resilient, but we need to make sure we give them the opportunity to recover. People won't automatically recover. They can recover better and well provided opportunities are made available to them, and that is at the elite end as well as the grass-roots end—the same principle.
Okay, David, unless there's something quickly to come back with.
Well, I was just going to say, perhaps briefly, because they've referred to this, in terms of the Welsh Government support—which I think, generally, we've been complimentary about—is there anything in terms of the existing income support that you want to say, and how fit for purpose is this going to be for future investment, because when the bounce-back comes we could then embed inequalities if we're not careful?
That's a really good point. That is the bit we have to avoid. We're obviously working with Government now. I know Vikki—. We were on a call with governing bodies and partners last Wednesday where there was real concern about the future. The pandemic doesn't end at the end of this financial year and, therefore, we need to work with Government about how we can support everyone in the sector to make sure that we can provide these opportunities that I talked about and that they can survive. So, close working needs to continue. Government have an open ear at the moment, but, of course, finances will be what they will be, and we will certainly fight the corner for our sector because we think it's such a fundamental, proactive part of the solution as we come out of this pandemic.
Ocê. Diolch. Symudwn ni ymlaen, felly, at Mick Antoniw, a chymorth.
Thank you. We'll move on, therefore, to Mick Antoniw, and support.
Thank you, Chair, and, of course, that leads me quite comfortably into the issue of finance that I wanted to raise. I'll try and composite a number of questions around this. The finance that's been made available so far, if I just summarise it as I understand it, is the emergency relief fund, which was about £550,000 right at the start. It then went on to the sport resilience fund of £4 million, the Be Active fund of £4.5 million. So, that was the first phase of about £9.5 million. We then went on to September 2020, when we had the sport and leisure recovery fund of £14 million. I wonder if you could outline how effective that money has been, how it has been used, what the problems have been with it, how much of it has been allocated, and give us a general picture of the financial support and how that has worked, please.
Gosh, you have combined a few questions there, haven't you? But I'll do my best. I think they're good questions and they're fair questions. The total funding that we've allocated, either new funding or repurposed funding that Sport Wales had, comes to, if you do the sums on your numbers there, about £22.7 million. The reality is some of that has been quite easy, in a sense, to get out, because we've supported existing national partners with the funding they need to adapt, to protect, and to progress. So, that's gone out quite easily. But for us, what we've done, unusually, is made a lot more funding available to a general populous that we don't already have a direct relationship with. So, we opened up a Be Active Wales fund, which was open to anybody, provided they weren't a private profit-making organisation, and that fund has seen different iterations in terms of what it was trying to achieve. And, as I said earlier as well, there was a focus on looking at the elements of society that were suffering most—so, some of those intersectional issues, BAME and socioeconomic deprivation.
I would say we've still got a tranche of that funding left available, but we're launching, today, a new element called the freelancer fund—the second part of the freelancer fund. Just before Christmas, we gave funding to the freelance sector, made it available, the first in the UK to do that; no-one else has done that across the home countries. We had quite strict eligibility criteria that supported just under £1 million worth of support to freelancers in the sport and leisure sector that delivered direct activity in Wales. They mustn't have had any other support at that point in time—that they'd been ineligible for other support. That's what we were told; that there were elements of the freelance sector that had had nothing. So, we've given just under £1 million to that sector.
Today, we're launching the second phase of that, where, even if you've had some income support through central Government, you are still eligible now for this second phase of the freelancer fund. We anticipate substantially more than £1 million going out through that fund, and once that's closed—it's open for a fortnight, and it's not a first come, first serve. It is a private provider fund going to launch, looking at those profit-making organisations like gyms, where we're trying to provide some support for those who haven't had any support from relevant parts of our sector previously either. So, a roundabout answer: we've probably distributed around about—without being completely accurate—65 per cent of the funding within the last quarter. So, there's a challenge ahead, but I'm confident, with these new funds that are launching now, we will have distributed the funds by the end of the financial year in the areas they were earmarked for.
Thank you that; that's helpful information. One of the key objectives, obviously, is the maintenance and support of grass-roots sport and so on, the community-based sport. How have they benefited? To what extent have funds been directed towards them to ensure their survival, and what are the particular challenges that they continue to face? And I do wonder a bit about about the fact that there is still a third of the funding not allocated, or being allocated, et cetera. Does that indicate that there has been a weakness of applications or a lack of information about how to apply, how to gain access or whatever?
If I take the first one in terms of the community support available, the Be Active Wales fund has been the primary source for community clubs et cetera to apply, but we've also supported governing bodies, and some governing bodies have also allocated some of that resource down to that level of their membership. We've allocated around about £2.2 million of the Be Active Wales fund, and that has all gone to community grass-roots organisations. I'd have to dig out the exact stats, but it's something like around about 900 supported applicants, who would all be different entities. Football has been a big beneficiary of that, but that's what you'd expect; there are far more football clubs than any other type of clubs at grass-roots level. So, around about £2.2 million has gone, through the Be Active Wales fund, and we've supported governing bodies, not only with protected funding they would have had annually, but also £2.5 million worth of additional funding for, primarily, grass-roots activity that they're responsible for.
In terms of the application process itself, we've recently simplified it a bit. So, we've probably taken on board some comments, maybe from the Welsh Sports Association and others, about how easy it is to use our systems and mechanisms. But we have a very small team in the investments team, and they've worked diligently to try and get these funds up and running. As I said, four new funds in eight months is quite a challenge, but we're open to challenge and we've also adjusted the scheme, the Be Active Wales scheme, to try and make it a bit simpler for people to apply.
It would be helpful, actually, if we could have a note that sets out how much has been allocated et cetera, that gives a sort of breakdown. That would give us a picture as to how effective it has been. But, obviously, you're in discussions with Government about future phases, about the future challenges and so on. Could you update us on what is happening there, what discussions are taking place? What do you think is actually required? What are you actually putting forward that you think needs to face up to the challenges and the cross-interests—education, health aspects as well—and how that might work?
Victoria, did you want to speak first? Is that okay?
I can speak on the finance; probably Brian is the best person to speak on the specifics in terms of those funds, because, obviously, they manage those funds. When we look at £22 million, I think Sport Wales have done a great job in terms of getting money out into communities—that has been a challenge to turn that around so quickly. That's good, but when we look at the wider context of sport, £22 million doesn't touch the sides when you start looking at the bigger facilities, the loss of income from spectators from professional sport. And I know my colleagues from football and rugby will be on straight after us in the second part of this session; I'm sure they will explore that with you further. But even when you look at community sport, the value of volunteers in community sport—if we had to pay them, it would cost this country £300 million a year. So, when you compare that with an investment of £22 million, you can see the country is more than doing its bit, and it's important that we keep those people engaged. So, we do need to make sure that we protect our facilities, and probably the biggest concern is the prospect of post-pandemic austerity hitting. It's obvious that Governments are not going to be able to continue to pump this kind of money indefinitely. The one big ask would be to give some financial security and a longer term commitment than one year. It's something we've been asking for as a sports sector for quite some time now, because you can't plan for the future if you don't know what's happening in nine months' time and your funding could fall off the edge of a cliff. So, that is a particularly important point.
Brian, briefly. We have to move on, I'm afraid.
In the immediate term, we're working with Welsh Government on a spectator package fund, which I'm sure you'll hear more of, as Vicky said, from our colleagues in football and rugby. That's been an interesting process and, obviously, some of the figures there are significantly bigger than our normal annual budget that we distribute to sport. So, it will be interesting to hear what they have to say. Secondly, what I would want to emphasise is whilst £22-odd million has been issued through Sport Wales to support the sector, there are also plenty of other schemes that the sector has benefited from, including the local authority hardship fund, which got off to a sticky start, I'd say, with support for trusts in terms of the leisure sector facilities, but has been invaluable. So, that, the furlough schemes, the business schemes, the economic recovery fund schemes—sport has also benefited from those initiatives as well, and we mustn't forget that. The £22 million on its own may not look a significant sum, but I'm fairly sure the sector has benefited far greater than that.
Ocê. Diolch, Mick Antoniw. Sori, mae'n rhaid inni symud ymlaen nawr. Mae gan John Griffiths gwestiynau ynglŷn ag ailddechrau gweithgarwch yn ddiogel.
Okay. Thank you, Mick Antoniw. I'm sorry, we do have to make progress now. John Griffiths has some questions on safe resumption of activity.
Diolch yn fawr, Gadeirydd. I'll quickly get on to those—I know, as you say, time is short—but I just wanted to ask a quick follow-up to Brian, really, in terms of leisure trusts. I'm familiar with Newport Live; they have a lot of facilities and they do a lot of work with grass-roots clubs, and the infrastructure they have, the capacity they have, very much supports grass-roots activity. In fact, they're also doing a lot, now, with health around coronavirus and providing facilities for vaccination. Previously they've been—and still are—doing work around long COVID rehabilitation. So, I just wonder if that sort of rounded role of leisure trusts, do you think, has been properly reflected in the funding that's taking place up to now.
That's probably one for them to answer, really, John, but what I would say is that going into this pandemic, the leisure trust area was something that was, and still is, embryonic. It was a situation that was born out of austerity, to be frank, with facilities being removed from local authorities into another vehicle, really, for lots of good reasons—mainly financial, though. What it has done is opened our eyes as an organisation to what they are capable of doing and how agile they are, but how vulnerable they are as well. The difficulty we've got is that not all local authorities did that, and some still own and have responsibility for the entire leisure sector in their locality. What we mustn't do is penalise those by focusing entirely on the leisure trust sector. We need to be fair to those local authorities that retained the responsibility. But I have been impressed, John, I have to say, with the way leisure trusts have been agile and responsive. They're really passionate, as you'll know from Newport Live, and I know from plenty of meetings through the WSA with the people involved, and really want to make a difference to society, and that's impressive. We're getting value for money, I'd suggest, through those kinds of entities. Going forward, we will continue to work with them, but we also need to be mindful that the local authorities that don't have trusts need equal attention as well.
Okay. Thanks very much for that, Brian. A few questions from me, then, on spectator events and how we get back to that activity. Firstly, when did the sector last meet with the Welsh Government to discuss the resumption of sporting events with spectators and how they can be safely recommenced?
As a sector, I don't think we've met with that one topic in mind, but as Vicky said earlier, there was a business continuity call last week with over 100 people from different areas of the sector on it, including Welsh Government officials. Plenty of things were debated. Spectators themselves are a particular issue that a few sports have an issue with, and those have, through us, presented evidence to the Welsh Government to request support. We're getting close, I'm told, to a solution there, but the economic situation with regard to it is massive. It's a huge impact. Haven't we all missed being able watch sports live in any capacity? It shows the value of it. Vicky sits on some of the event groups, which is a different type of issue in terms of spectators—it's more about participation numbers, the big running events, et cetera, and the challenges they face—so Vicky may have something to add.
There is a group that the Welsh Government sits on as well for major events—so, that's everything from your half marathons to your spectator events, the Royal Welsh Show, looking outside of the sporting context as well. Obviously, that industry has been decimated through this. There's been no opportunity to come back, because you're talking about mass gatherings. Trying to find solutions to that, I think, is really important, and if you link that back to some of the community stuff, just being able to get some small events or competitions going so that we can test more of those—. We started some test events, and of course, that programme has had to come to a halt given the current public health crisis. But getting small events back up and running and competitions would be crucial to then seeing those evolve into the bigger ones in the next few months.
Would you say it's clear now, in terms of the Welsh Government's policies, when and how spectator events can resume safely? Is that quite clear at the moment?
I don't think it's clear yet. I don't think it's clear to any of us what will continue to happen with the pandemic. The Welsh Government certainly have been honest about that situation. The one thing that I have particularly liked—perhaps not all my colleagues will have—is the level of honesty. So, rather than, which has happened, perhaps, in other countries, there being big promises made that we're going to have thousands back in a stadium, all sorts of stuff, but then they're not able to deliver on those promises, what Welsh Government, I think, have done well is to manage people's expectations. It's not always what people want to hear, that's for sure, but they have managed the expectations. However, I do think we are in a position when we get back to level 3 to start having those gatherings. The regulations have been changed slightly to allow for larger gatherings of under-18s, and if we can start there, I think that would be a good place to start getting to the point where we can get spectators back into stadia.
Okay. Are there any issues that you'd like to bring to the attention of the committee in terms of Welsh Government's approach to the safe resumption of activity? Is there anything at all you'd like to highlight?
The sector knows what it's doing. It's safe. There was an article in WalesOnline about the technical advisory group report that was published a couple of days ago about sports facilities, and it was saying sports facilities weren't safe. But actually, what the TAG report was saying is, 'These are all of the issues,' and it was encouraging to read that, because our facilities and our deliverers of sport are doing the right thing. They're heavily self-regulated to ensure that they know who's coming in and out of their stadia. They're experienced at running events; they know how to make sure that everybody is safe in the clubs. Now there's no guarantee that anybody is completely safe, as the current environment shows us, but I think you can have total confidence in our sector that we are doing the right thing and ensuring that we comply, and go over and above to make sure that safety is top of our list of priorities.
Just quickly, have you ever made any arguments as to, scientifically, whether it would be safer for some outdoor exercise groups to reconvene as opposed to indoors? Is there any argument that that would be safer or not, or would you just say that you'd have to go down a tier to be able to open up anything, whether it's indoors or outdoors?
We would welcome the opportunity to see just tiny changes to the current regulations to bring us in line with the other home countries. So, in England and Scotland, you can meet outdoors with one other person, and that, if nothing else, we wouldn't ask for anything else, but if we could meet with one other person, the benefits that that would bring are huge. So, whilst we can't exercise indoors, I don't know about you, Bethan, but I'm not comfortable going out in the nights running on my own, but actually, if I could go with a friend from another household—because if you've got kids at home, you can't go out with your partner—I think that would be great. And for young people in particular, just to be able to go out, even if it's walking the dog with one friend, I think would make such a huge difference to getting them fresh air, keeping them active and helping with their mental well-being as well. I think if we could do that as a committee, that would be wonderful.
Well, it was just me wanting to get out with the pram and meet some other human to talk about those things. I think I said that in the press this week, though. Thanks. Last question from Helen Mary Jones. Diolch.
Thank you. We've touched on this already, so don't feel you need to add anything, particularly in terms of some of the responses to David Melding's questions, but I'm just wondering, both of your organisations: has the pandemic made you re-evaluate your roles at all, particularly in terms of the role you have in contributing to the promoting of public health in Wales? Has there been any reflection as a result of what the pandemic has shown us?
From a Sport Wales perspective, Helen, I'd say that it's shown us that our proposed strategy that we launched last year to focus on inequalities was the right thing to do. This pandemic, as I've said plenty of times now, has widened those gaps already, and therefore, it's given us strength of vocation to carry on with that strategy, I'm fairly sure. It probably has changed us a little organisationally in terms of our agility, which we always wanted to do, but of course, things have been forced upon organisations that previously may have been a little stiff. We're much more flexible now and we want that to continue.
The final thing I'd say is that it's heightened our resolve, really, to work with Government to emphasise how important the benefits of staying active are to our nation. It has really heightened our resolve to push that agenda with health and with education particularly. We want sport to continue to play a great role in developing the health of our nation and not just be seen as a side activity. It is a fundamental core activity to developing the health of our country.
I would really like to work much more closely with Public Health Wales. They've been particularly helpful for us in terms of the advice that they've given us; they've come on to calls to explain the situation to colleagues, but we do need to work more closely together, and I would like to see them using us as advisers to Public Health Wales to help with some of the health situations.
So, if you look at the exercise referral scheme, for instance, that hasn't come back online yet, and that does cause problems in terms of public confidence. We know that people in the top level who may be still shielding can't come back, but actually, starting to get those back will give the message to those that maybe aren't exercising as much as they could that that's there, and for us to expand the exercise referral scheme into other things. Not everybody just wants to be in a gym, for instance. So, actually, if they could work with some of our governing bodies on sports that would give them the opportunity to meet new people, be outside in the fresh air, I think there's a lot we can do and so that, I think, could be a real positive legacy of this coronavirus pandemic.
That's a really useful suggestion. Thank you. Thank you, both.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. Yn anffodus, dyna'r oll sydd gyda ni. Mi allen ni drafod hyn trwy'r dydd; mae e'n ardal mor bwysig, dwi'n cytuno, ac mi fyddem ni'n gobeithio gallu gwneud mwy o waith yn y sector yma. Diolch i Brian Davies a Victoria Ward am ddod atom, a byddwn ni'n cymryd seibiant o 10 munud. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Thank you very much. Unfortunately, that's all the time we have. We could discuss this all day; it's such an important area, I do agree with you on that, and we would hope to do more work in this sector. So, thank you to Brian Davies and Victoria Ward for joining us this morning and we'll now take a break of 10 minutes. Thank you very much.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:20 a 10:31.
The meeting adjourned between 10:20 and 10:31.
Diolch a chroeso nôl i’r pwyllgor y bore yma. Eitem 3 ar yr agenda yw COVID-19 ac effaith y pandemig ar chwaraeon. Hoffwn i ddweud 'helo' i'r tystion yma heddiw: Jonathan Ford, Cymdeithas Bêl-droed Cymru; Marcus Kingwell, EMD UK, y corff sydd yn llywodraethu ar gyfer ymarfer corff mewn grwpiau; a hefyd Steve Phillips, Undeb Rygbi Cymru. Croeso ichi oll atom heddiw i drafod y pwnc pwysig yma. A allwch chi plis gyflwyno'ch hunain ar gyfer y record inni y bore yma? Diolch. Does dim ots pwy sy’n mynd yn gyntaf.
Good morning and welcome back to this morning’s committee meeting. Item 3 on our agenda is COVID 19 and the impact of the pandemic on sport. I would like to welcome our witnesses this morning: Jonathan Ford from the Football Association of Wales; Marcus Kingwell, EMD UK, the governing body for group exercise; and Steve Phillips from the Welsh Rugby Union. So, welcome to you all to discuss this important issue. If you could introduce yourselves for the record. Thank you. It doesn’t matter who goes first.
I’ll go first. I’m Steve Phillips from the WRU. Hello, everybody.
Good morning. My name is Jonathan Ford. I’m the chief executive of the Football Association of Wales. Delighted to see you all again.
Hi. My name is Marcus Kingwell. I’m the chief executive of EMD UK, which is the national governing body for group exercise. Thank you for inviting me today.
Gwych. Diolch ichi oll am ddod. Awn ni’n syth i gwestiynau, os yw hynny’n iawn, oherwydd amser. Rydyn ni’n symud i gwestiynau gan Carwyn Jones. Diolch, Carwyn.
Excellent. Thank you all for joining us this morning. We’ll move immediately to questions, if that’s okay, because time is against us. And the first questions are from Carwyn Jones. Thank you, Carwyn.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Bore da, bawb. Good morning, everybody. Could I start by asking for your views on how the current lockdown rules have worked, as far as you’re concerned? Perhaps, just to explore a little further, how the rules have worked in terms of how well they’ve worked for community sport—so, for the amateur side, particularly for the FAW and for the WRU—and how well they’ve worked for elite sports. Has there been a significant difference in the way they’ve been able to operate? Thank you.
Any particular order?
Thank you. Okay, very happy to go first. I’m sure Steve will jump in, too. Again, thank you very much for the opportunity. How have the lockdown rules worked for us? You know, the pandemic—I’m not talking about the lockdown rules—firstly, the pandemic has been catastrophic. We all know that. It’s been catastrophic on every level, and every person here in this room, on this call, has been affected by it on a personal basis and on a professional basis, and our sport is no different.
Of course, last year, the initial lockdown was quite devastating, and the fact that we had to curtail our sport—you know that, we spoke about that last time around. I was delighted when, of course, we were able to work with the Welsh Government, through Sport Wales, through the Welsh Sports Association, on bringing back elite, which in our particular case was tier 1 of the men’s and the women’s, and then we started to work on the categorisation of what is called 'elite 2', which would have meant that we could have brought back tier 2. Of course, training was okay, youth was okay, because of course we were able to operate within the 30 rule for training purposes, and of course anybody under the age of 18. But the current lockdown unfortunately has meant, for the FAW, for football in this country, that all football is suspended, save professional football. You're aware of that.
So, the elite programme has been suspended and we are part of that service. At this moment in time, we have no football on a domestic basis and no football on a community basis. Clearly, the pandemic and the health and well-being of individuals is of paramount importance, so we respect those decisions, but we very much hope that we can work together to bring not just football back, but society back from these lockdowns in a safe and controlled manner, and we are ready to play our part and do so.
Thank you. Can I just come in there, Jonathan, just to explore one point and I'll ask Steve to come in as well, if he would? We know that professional sport is being played, but what is the status of the Cymru Premier? Semi-professional, as we know; it's the same for the Welsh premiership in rugby, but how is that categorised? I know the players are not fully professional—they're not in the Welsh premiership—but are they—? I notice the league hasn't been played, the same as it hasn't in rugby, but what's the reason for that? Is it professional or not?
It's a mixture, unfortunately, Mr Jones. So, we have at the top end of the top clubs, those that play in Europe—so, your TNSes, your Cefn Druids and all of those—they are fully professional; fully professional set-ups, fully professional staff, all players on full-time professional contracts. But at the bottom of the premier league, you've got a series of part-time professionals or amateurs, and in those particular cases, unfortunately, you go to the lowest common denominator. And, as such, because it's a league with teams playing home and away, we can't start football until, unfortunately, the elite programme—they're classified as elite—is back. That's why, obviously, your Cardiffs, your Swanseas, your Wrexhams are allowed. Some of our teams will be allowed—two or three teams will be allowed—but everything else goes. Of course, because they can't play the other teams, we can't operate as a league.
Just to pick up, Mr Jones, probably a similar answer, really. The live examples for us would be Pontypridd and Aberavon—that sort of sector of our game. It's the same kind of answer as Jonathan, really, because they're not pro, you can't really enforce the bubble because it's all about the player interactions. So, it's very, very strict at what I would call international level and, indeed, regional level, but it's very difficult to manage down at that level.
Yes, okay. Sorry, Marcus, I don't want to leave you out.
Yes, just a couple of things to add, really. The fitness sector, which is where I'm from, the pandemic has had a devastating effect. There are many businesses that have ceased to trade or are really struggling financially at the moment, large and small. For the fitness instructor, which is really our prime interest, some of those have managed to go online and deliver classes in that way, which was reasonably successful in the first lockdown. However, the public's taste for it is waning, and the numbers joining online classes is going down now; people have got over the novelty factor. So, this is really worrying. Fitness instructors have zero or very low income at the moment, and while there has been some financial support, this is an extremely difficult time for them. The same will happen for anyone, really, that takes their employment through a sport or physical activity job. This will be coaches and other types of professionals in the sector, who often are doing their work within small communities. So, it's grass-roots work they're doing, but it is part of their incomes and livelihood. So, to an extent, they're easily overlooked, but a very important part of Welsh society.
I'll go last, then, if you don't mind. Picking up, I've got a similar backdrop, unsurprisingly, to Jonathan, but I think I would probably split it in two, between grass roots and elite. I'll start off with the grass roots. Playing of the game is currently not allowed. Attending rugby clubs is not allowed. The well-being, physical and mental concerns are obvious. We've lost the overarching social aspects of rugby or sporting gatherings generally and, as we all know, as a people that's very important to many if not all of us.
One that's of concern is the impact on participation levels; it's not just players, it's coaches, volunteers, all the key ingredients of a rugby club, if you like. They're not yet fully realised, but the possible outcome here is extremely worrying, and mitigating the effect of the pandemic on participation is going to be a huge task for us going forward. We were chatting internally last week; we need some sort of boost strategy to get rugby and sport generally back on the agenda as soon as it's permissible to do so. I suppose, at its extreme, you could say that it's a risk to our culture.
We've remained committed to our hub officers and their activities in schools. We've allowed their role to go beyond rugby, which of course is the right thing to do during a pandemic, but we understand the importance of this when children are allowed back in school full time. I think we've said this before. We think our clubs pay a vital role in communities across Wales; we entered into the pandemic with some 300 clubs, and our ambition is to leave with about 300 clubs.
Turning, then, perhaps, to the elite, which in our speak is the international and regional game, as you know, attending the staging of events is not allowed. Our pro clubs play in cross-border competitions, which is challenging. You probably saw the recent cancellation of the champions cup matches in France. The protocols required to maintain a bubble around a national team—and we didn't return a single positive test during the Autumn Nations Cup—are very challenging. They're restarted back today with us, and are set to increase now, given the recent French concerns. Huge pressure on international players to protect the bubble. You're probably aware of Jake Ball's sacrifice, which I think is incredible. The women's under-20 six nations has been postponed to later in the season. And, of course, our ticketing business is non-existent, which has a knock-on effect on our sponsorship and massive challenges to our income lines. I think that might answer your questions.
Thank you all for that. I've only got—. Well, I had a second question, but I'm going to adapt it slightly, just to come back, perhaps, on what Jonathan and Steve have said. Jonathan, you said that the—. It seems to me that, if you look for a fully professional league, with fully professional teams all the way through it, you can enforce a bubble, but any league that includes part-timers or amateurs—it's impossible to enforce a bubble because they've got jobs to go to. Am I right in thinking, then, that in effect it's impossible to restart sport outside of the full-time professional level, because it's impossible to create the bubble that will be needed for the entire league? Would that be the right analysis, Jonathan?
From our perspective, I'd like to think we can, because we were doing that before this latest lockdown, and I think, if I understand it correctly, the elite programme will come back once we move from level 4 to level 3, and we're confident that we can play our role. We've got a very good relationship with all of our tier 1 and tier 2 clubs. We've even started talking about full-time testing in those clubs. At the moment, we do, of course, temperature testing and a lot of other very rigorous principles and processes that need to be adhered to in order to ensure that there are no or not too many cases. Like Steve, in our international set-up we've had zero cases. On our domestic basis, we've really kept control, and we have had one or two cases, but by no means what you've seen across the border. So, I'd like to think that we can come back, and we are very much looking forward to coming back. So, we can control it and we can put the bubble in place. Even though some of those people are part time, they do do testing, they do do their questionnaires on a daily basis, and they have to do that for a minimum of 14 days before they're allowed back on the field of play.
Thanks, that's interesting. Steve, the premiership hasn't been played at all this season, or indeed since March. Jonathan has outlined that possibility of the Cymru Premier, which is similar in terms of its structure, I suppose, to the Welsh premiership. Is there any way of creating that kind of bubble around the Welsh premiership so the games can restart?
It's going to revolve around the testing regime, because the risk with a bubble is the movement in and out of it, isn't it? To give you the extremes, at international level, the Autumn Nations Cup was the most recent thing we did. Don't underestimate the amount of time the players actually spent in the hotel. A day off was spent in the hotel; a day off was not spent going home. So, at a regional level and coming down, your risk is then—. When you're in the various training facilities, which are very, very well managed—testing in and out—the risk becomes when you go home. So, your wife might be a teacher or might be a nurse. So, that's where—. The moving in and out of the bubble is the risk. I suppose you could go down there, but the more movement between the bubble, the more you've got to ramp up the testing regime.
No, I get that. You mentioned Jake Ball—four kids, all in Australia.
Yes. He hasn't seen his last one.
Yes, I know; it's remarkable, really. Final question from me, really, and this might be something for all of you that you can answer quite quickly, and that is: how engaged have you felt with the development of the rules governing your sectors in terms of the engagement you've had with the Welsh Government?
Marcus, did you want to start?
Yes. We've done it, actually, through partners. So, we're really pleased to have the support of the Welsh Sports Association, who were in the previous session. I think they've been doing a great job advocating for sport and physical activity and having the discussions with Welsh Government. I know also that the professional body, the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity, has been having those discussions as well. I would like to make the offer for us to engage further. We'd be delighted to give more guidance around group exercise going forward, as we, hopefully, move from level 4 to level 3 in the not-too-distant future.
If I may, I'll echo some of Marcus's—I'm a director of the WSA, so I suppose a bit of a conflict of interest, but they have certainly done a very good job, together with Sport Wales. If I may—and I don't want to seem critical—there does seem to be a little bit of a disconnect sometimes between what we're talking about in the groups and then the policy as it's written and the communication around those policies. A very easy example for me, of course, is the number 30—you know, it seemed to be an arbitrary figure that was used across society and wasn't specific for sport. That number wasn't generated with any consultation. Certainly, whilst you may think, 'Okay, 11 on a field of play on each side—that's 22 plus a few others', we can't really play any sport, if you think about first aid and you think about safety and conditions. The number 30 is just arbitrary, and, of course, it certainly doesn't help rugby. So, a little bit more co-ordination directly with Government officials or those writing the policies would be certainly welcomed.
I'd endorse that. I think we—. In terms of setting the rules around the conditions, I think there's plenty of dialogue and interaction between us all, so I think that will be very much recognised. But it's also going to be difficult because you're trying to manage the crisis against a medical backdrop and people want to get back to play, so there's always going to be tension, but I think that the level of consultation is great.
Ocê. Symudwn ymlaen, felly, achos mae nifer o gwestiynau arall gennym ni. David Melding.
Okay. We will move on, because we have a number of other questions. David Melding.
Yes. I want to ask about the resilience of sporting organisations and businesses, and I suppose sub-elite is what I'm most interested in here. I just wonder what your fears are, because the return to participation could be very vigorous indeed, couldn't it? It's interesting, in your previous answers to my colleague Carwyn Jones, I think you assumed that it was going to be difficult to get people back, but I rather suspect it will be the reverse—that there'll be this surge back and the capacity may have been lost in some parts of the community. So, what sort of participation strategies do you have to manage the post COVID, or the vaccination period, I suppose, that we're now moving into, when there should be an opening up of society again?
Yes, thank you for the question, David. I think it's a mixed picture. The instructors are very keen to get back to teaching their fitness classes again, but they will be moving into a setting where the class sizes are restricted, which will then itself restrict the participation. There is a cap in level 3 of 15 people per fitness class, which is significantly smaller than what they normally might be. So, I suspect those classes of 15 will be full, so it'll give an impression of a lot of physical activity, but there'll be plenty more who couldn't get in and couldn't access what they want to, and my worry is, as we've seen from the Sport Wales survey data, it'll be the most disadvantaged in society who are not able to access those particular facilities. So, yes, there is certainly appetite for people to get back and get fit. As you all know, January and February is a key time for the fitness sector, with people's new year's resolutions and wanting to get fit and get trim again for the new year. That, we're hoping, might be not a new January, but a new March or April, perhaps. So, there is a degree of pent-up demand, but it will be capacity constrained, and that's the concern—for the people that miss out.
Thank you for the question, Mr Melding. It's a really good question; I'm really glad you actually qualified it with the 'sub-elite' as well. I think that everybody would recognise that the elite side of the sport will come back; those who are paid to play and make a living from the sport, clearly, will come back, those who are on a pathway will probably equally come back. They're not my concerns; my concerns are, ultimately, the group of people—and it's a large group of people—who enjoy our sport and enjoy it for health reasons and who are probably likely to have other choices available to them now and may well dial out. We are already experiencing a double digit percentage decrease in registered players, registered officials, registered coaches and volunteers, and it's not just participation, it's across the board that I'm seriously concerned. My colleague, Steve Phillips, mentioned this. We need a boost, and it's not a boost for the pro, the elite—it's a boost for everybody else, and that's where the Welsh Government also have got a massive interest with us, because that's the health and well-being of our nation going forward, and, if we have a group of people or a future generation that dials out of sport, we'll all be paying for this in generations to come with increased health costs in many, many years.
I'd endorse a lot of that. I think the—you know, it's multifaceted, the question, so you're absolutely right to ask it at the sub-elite level, because that's the risk. You're going to have children who could possibly have lost two years of—. I'm going to say rugby—it doesn't really matter what it is; school sport is the more important question. You'll then get people who—. It becomes a ritual. So, for example, when I was young, you played rugby because that's what you did, and you played and you did it and you played it, and that's what you did. Now, of course, there are a lot more—I'll call them distractions then, if I'm being polite, around these days, and there are other things to do than play sport, aren't there? I'm more concerned about people getting out of the habit and it falls into this kind of 'too difficult' category to restart. Don't forget as well—from a rugby point of view, and probably Jonathan's the same—how much we rely on our volunteers to run the clubs, because one of the things, interestingly, David, that I did like you asking was, 'Will you have lost capacity?' Well, we're going to extreme lengths to make sure we maintain our capacity, which is why I just want to say to you we're doing our damnedest to try and keep—. We came into this with some 300 clubs, and I'm hoping to leave with 300 clubs. That's, of course, where my capacity comes from.
Yes. Thank you for those very interesting answers. I think we're right to be very concerned about structural capacity being lost, because then that's hardwired in. And even if we did have a great appetite amongst people—which I think, myself, is more likely to be the challenge, because I think there will be a great hunger to get back into organised sports. But, of course, if the capacity is not there, you have a problem there, and you also have a problem if there's a habitual decline, which may be a factor, but I suspect that we may be surprised by the return to sport that occurs.
I wonder, on the capacity issue, then, are you seeing declines? Are you worried about any particular level of society—perhaps poorer communities, remote rural areas? Are there particular areas that cause you most concern at the moment?
Yes. Thank you. If I may, just to clarify one point, and it's really important, having people who want to play our sport is only one factor. Of course, it's really important that they want to play, because, without the participants, we go nowhere. But, in order for participants to be able to play the sport, we, obviously, need the core ingredients: somewhere for them to play—the facilities, as you mentioned—but you also need the officials and you need the coaches, because it cannot be administered and it cannot be taught safely in a controlled manner without those other ingredients. And what I think we're alluding to is that, yes, you're right, there may well be some demand, but we need to be able to supply that with the appropriate level of coaches, appropriate level of volunteers and appropriate facilities. Without those things, it all falls by the wayside.
Having listened to that, I'd add to that, actually, because that's—Jonathan's absolutely right. Because I was mentioning capacity in the context of I have playing fields available and I have clubhouses available, but Jonathan's absolutely right—that's only going to be as good as having match officials, volunteers, coaches et cetera, et cetera.
Marcus. Sorry, I know you're eager to get in on this.
Yes. That's quite all right. For me, this comes down to places and people, which are the two fundamental building blocks of all sport and physical activity. In the fitness sector, we've got gyms and other venues that will be going out of business, so the places will disappear. But I'm more worried about the people. If they decide there's no money to be made, they've lost too much money, what are they going to do to return to looking after the physical well-being of our communities? On a direct point, I think what's more likely to happen will be the consequences will be bigger in the rural areas, where there's less choice for people to seek out alternatives. So, yes, that's really my main concern, and also with the less well-off communities, where again they haven't got the financial means to pay for alternatives. They need low-cost accessible physical activities.
And my final question, and this is very much focusing on participation and capacity at sub-elite level: how do you think the availability of vaccination will change the models we may operate, and how comfortable would you be with some sort of vaccination requirement for participation? Or, perhaps if you're looking at gyms, those facilities that are not restricted to a certain number would be on the basis of participants having been vaccinated, and there'd be another facility for those who, for whatever reason, have not been vaccinated.
Can I come in for that one first, please, Chair? Thank you. It's a really interesting point. So, you could imagine a world where once the over-50s, let's say, have been vaccinated in phase 1, there's a great appetite from the over-50s to get back into sport and physical activity, and they could bring their certificates along and everything's fine and like it was in the old days. I think the reality will be more complicated than that, because to get activities together, you need a blend of people of different ages, particularly in fitness, That's the typical way that it works. So, allowing some people entry and others not, I think, will be difficult.
What we also need to bear in mind is, during the period of unlock, from August to late October, the actual prevalence of COVID within fitness facilities was extremely low—it was less than 1.4 cases per 100,000 visits. So, actually, the critical thing there was the spacing, the cleanliness and the ventilation, which worked extremely well. Yes, the vaccine is a great thing and it will make life easier, but, actually, it's about putting the correct protocols in place and making sure those are strictly adhered to, which, I think, will give a comfort of safety for all participants.
Helen Mary Jones, you had a supplementary.
Perhaps, Chair, if the other participants respond to David's question, I can come back in, because it's relevant to this topic but not directly related to—
Perfect. Jonathan or Steve Phillips.
[Inaudible.]—respond in terms of football and rugby, obviously we're talking about the adult amateur game in this respect.
Thank you. Two things from me, less reliant on the vaccine. Of course, as my colleagues have said, it's going to be fantastic when it's finally rolled out across all age groups, which will obviously take some time—probably the rest of this year—but I am reliant on the fact that I am primarily an outdoor sport and also a soft-contact sport. We've got to control a few of the players; I'm pleased we sent communication six weeks ago about goal celebrations. But, outside of that, we're a soft-contact and outdoor sport. So, whilst the vaccine will, I'm sure, help, I don't think it's going to be a prerequisite to coming back to football. The rest of the protocols, which are extensive, will however be and will remain.
Things like changing rooms, though, are an area, aren't they? It's not possible to say, well, you're outdoor mostly.
No, but most of our clubs at tier 1 have got four changing rooms, so we spread the individuals out. At a lower level, there is the ability, which is, as you would expect, when we're at the grass roots, as people turn up in their kit and they leave in their kit, so there aren't changing rooms. But, no, most of our facilities, certainly at tiers 1 and 2, have multiple changing rooms available to them, so you spread people out. I think it was wrong of the FA, our counterparts, to put cameras into changing rooms as celebratory moments, and, certainly, our protocols are much more stringent than our English counterparts.
I've probably got more challenges in this space, because of people being vaccinated and non-vaccinated. It's bordering on stating the obvious, but a scrum is going to no doubt present various challenges. How would people feel about four of the forwards having being vaccinated and four not? And, likewise, then, the opposition team. I think we have to factor that in, so we're probably going to see some sort of—. We need to be aware of, then, some concerns where people will want you to play the sport, but wanting to have the comfort that their team mates and/or, indeed, the opposition are in the same place as them. So, this is something that we're aware of. And, perhaps, to reverse Jonathan's point, we are not a soft-contact sport; we are anything but.
Okay. Helen, did you want to come in with your question?
Yes, I just wanted, going back to some of David's slightly earlier questions, to ask about the differential impact on men and women in terms of football, rugby and participation in physical activity. We were quite surprised, I think, to hear, in a previous session, that there'd been less of a drop-off in girls' participation than Sport Wales had expected, even though they were starting from a lower base, and I think, Mr Phillips, you referred to the fact that the Women's six nations has been postponed. So, I just wondered if there's anything additional you can share with us about that?
I'll just pick up on the six nations point. As a six nations, stating the obvious, there are six countries, and we work very closely together. So, the biggest challenge facing us was that, ordinarily, we, effectively, run three six nations tournaments at the same time. So, you've got the senior men's, you've got the senior women and you've got the under-20s. Now, against the backdrop of facilities, available staff, medical protocols, we just collectively thought it was going to be too difficult to run them all at the same time. So, it wasn't the case of risk to participation numbers at elite levels, it was more around how we can, as six countries, safely deliver three tournaments without putting undue pressure on ourselves. So, for example, if you're doing COVID testing, we're going to be, inevitably or probably, using the same resource. So, the rationale for us was more, 'Let's run the senior men's start to finish, let's start the senior women start to finish, and then let's start the under-20s start to finish'. That was our rationale.
From our perspective, I'm delighted to hear that news from Sport Wales. Clearly, they've got more of an oversight across all sports. I very much hope that we're saying that in six or 12 months' time. My analysis—and I think I spoke on this in the past—is we're delighted with the growth of the women's game. We were delighted that our women at tier 1 were part of the elite programme, and we will bring women's football back as quickly as we can, as we're allowed to, under the regulations and under the guidelines. My analysis—slightly more anecdotal—is probably the women's game is a bit more fragile, a bit more elastic. It's grown quite quickly, and I think it could easily contract as quickly, and I think we've got to probably spend more time, effort and money in order to attract those same women and girls back into the sport. Probably, on the men, it'll be a little bit easier. Those are my anecdotal thoughts.
Thank you. While the headlines from the Sport Wales survey were very encouraging about more teenage girls doing physical activity, on the overall figures between men and women—I've just found the report—females are more likely to say that they're doing less now, and men slightly more. So, it's actually, across the entire age group, been very detrimental to women. We've got to think, within group exercise, which is pretty much the most popular physical activity that women take part in, 80 per cent of the participants are female. So, with restrictions on that—and I fully accept them in level 4, by the way—it disproportionately impacts women. And if we look back through the history of sport and physical activity in an organised manner, there's been significantly more barriers to female participation across the board, and those are starting to return. So, I think, to an extent, this will be hard. We'll need to re-address those barriers again and make sure we're thinking through all the possible things that can help women and girls re-engage with sport and physical activity once the restrictions start to loosen.
Thanks. And I just wanted to indulge, as Chair, as well to ask you just two quick questions, Marcus. You mention the restrictions and the 15 in a class. Do you think that, where there is capacity in a gym or in a community centre, that could be lifted if it was safe? I know that I myself have been restricted from being able to attend if the capacity is full and there is no more space, and I've talked to some gym owners who have been frustrated by that. And, on the second question, you said that people were now less interested in Zoom. We're talking about women. I feel, when I've engaged in Zoom classes, that women have felt more comfortable, sometimes, than attending in person, because they don't have the self-image or the body-image issues that they have when they're putting themselves forward by going to a group activity. So, I am actually quite interested in why that phenomena is going down, because, from my experience, it seems to be quite successful, but obviously not from your data.
Well, thank you. First of all, on the capacity issue, we recommend a space of 3m by 3m around each participant for spacing, so it's over and above the 2m, to allow for the movement, and that in itself inevitably restricts the numbers you can have in a class. From our point of view and how we've dealt with this within England, that should be the constraining factor rather than an arbitrary 15, irrespective of the overall square footage of your venue. So, I think that's certainly worth looking at when we move back to level 3. Interestingly, in the previous rules, it was 30 per class, which actually is plenty; you're very rarely going to have a class in excess of 30.
On the online classes, this is recent information that's come through—this tailing off in the interest in taking part in them. I would say I totally agree, Bethan, that there is a real benefit for many people of online classes if they have other responsibilities in the home, caring responsibilities, or they may have a disability, they may live a long way from a fitness facility that they can use. So, there's definitely a future in digital delivery for this type of thing. It needs raising the bar in terms of its quality, it needs publicising more and we need to think, also, about the digital divide i.e. people who have poor quality broadband or who aren't able to use a computer or afford a computer to get online. So, there are more complications with this, but I think it's part of the answer, going forward, but not all of the answer.
Grêt, diolch. Mae hwnna'n ddiddorol iawn. Mick Antoniw.
Thank you. That's very interesting. Mick Antoniw.
Thank you. Yes, indeed, very interesting. The growth of online yoga, I think, is an example. I'd like to ask a few questions—
Are you indulging, Mick?
My son is—he occupies the space for me, so I have to struggle to get in, but that's another challenge.
I'd like to talk a little bit about funding, because there has been a whole series of funds and initiatives making funds available. Of course, much of it originally was survival funding, et cetera, when there was uncertainty as to what the future looked like, so we had the emergency relief fund, the sport resilience fund, the £4 million Be Active fund. We then moved on to a phase 2, more substantive, in September 2020, sport and leisure recovery fund, and so on. So, my first question is really, just broadly, how effective has that funding been. How have you made use of it? And I then would obviously like to lead on with the question about future aspects of funding, but having an understanding as to how it has worked so far would be helpful.
I don't mind going first, thank you. Thank you very much for the question. Firstly, thank you very much, it's been a lifeline. The sport resilience, the Be Active and the sport and leisure recovery funds have been funds that have been absolutely critical for all of the clubs. We've got the best part of 1,000 clubs, and we need to ensure that, obviously, they survive. They're the people who make football happen in the grass roots and the communities, so I'm pleased to say we've worked very hard to ensure that the communication of all of those grants that are available—. They have certainly been well communicated and, hopefully, well accepted. I know many, many clubs have taken the opportunity to apply for one or more of those grants and have been accepted, I'm pleased to say.
That said, it's not been enough. If you look at the losses that the football association are making and how we can support our clubs, we've had to rely on others. I'm pleased to say FIFA came through with a COVID-19 grant of the best part of $1 million. I'm delighted to say the National Lottery, likewise, came through. That money went through straight to our Premier League clubs, who are suffering on the basis, of course, that there are no spectators. So, that real critical match-day income that has been lost during this pandemic without crowds has been substituted somewhat with some of the grants that have been made available. But we, like others, are suffering. We've got the best part of about a 25 per cent decrease in our turnover this year. It's going to have a knock-on effect, and we will continue to, hopefully, see our way through this pandemic. But there are still choppy waters ahead, to be honest with you.
I'm happy to go next. First of all, I just want to endorse Jonathan—all the available funds that have been made available are very welcome. I think the dialogue has been good, the engagement, as the problem we're trying to fix is well recognised. But, a little bit like Jonathan, really, whilst I welcome it, it's probably not enough, and I think you're back into the kind of place that your average rugby club has been closed, it relies on local income and the local income is not coming because the game isn’t getting played, and it starts to get into a little bit of a circular argument. So we’re definitely in discussions with some of your colleagues about how we address that.
I think the other thing—I’m not sure who takes credit for this—is that things like the job retention scheme have been invaluable, the economic resilience fund has been a lifeline, and, of course, the other one—and I’m not sure whether it’s particularly a rugby issue or possibly for Jonathan as well—the rates relief has been of massive benefit to your average rugby club. And I think, coming back to, perhaps, Mr Jones’s point at the beginning, you’ve got scales of community clubs as well. So, you can have a very small rugby club in a very small but important community in part of Wales, and then you’ve got your bigger clubs and, of course, they’re feeling the pain a bit harder. So, I don’t know, picking on Aberavon, because it’s a very good, well-run club, both on and off the field—that’s the sort of club that does feel the pinch a bit. There's a sector there that we perhaps need to look at a bit differently. But I think, to answer your question, generally a big 'thank you'. The intent is great, I think the delivery has been great, but like most things, it probably could go a little bit further.
Can I come in, Chair?
Sorry. Yes, Marcus.
Thank you very much. To echo Steve and Jonathan’s points, there has been a good, comprehensive range of funding. The sport and leisure recovery fund has been very significant, and the hardship fund as well is supporting local authorities and their leisure trusts. However, the fitness sector is made up of a mix of public sector, private sector and individuals—the independent sector, if you like. And I think it’s the latter that have suffered. It was good to hear from Sport Wales’s evidence earlier that there will be a private provider fund launched shortly that gyms and so on can access. I think that’s absolutely critical. I think that Sport Wales have been very innovative in launching the freelancer fund. And, again, it’s particularly good to see that’s being extended. But, just to get that in perspective, the first round was for the freelancers who had not been able to access other funding, particularly the self-employed income support scheme, and then it gave them a one-off grant of £1,500, which is very welcome, but it’s not a livelihood. So, we’ve got to recognise that these people are often referred to as the excluded—and, again, this is not just in my sector, this is in a whole range of sectors; self-employed people who don’t meet the criteria of the self-employed income support scheme are really, really struggling. So, anything we can do to extend that, or working with Westminster to actually make looser rules around it, perhaps, so it covers more people, would be hugely beneficial for us. Many, many group exercise instructors are self-employed and are suffering as a result.
I’d probably add a bit by saying as well that all the great work that has been done is aimed at the community end of the game, or sub-elite, and I think just to share with you, we’re in very active conversations with colleagues of yours about how the pro game has suffered. So, for example, just talking selfishly for a moment, we were unable to have crowds in the Autumn Nations Cup, and that of course is very tough for us. And you’re probably aware that there’s been an announcement in terms of—I think they called it the winter survival package or something, didn’t they, to deal with sport in England. So, English rugby had a big boost out of that. I think the Scottish equivalent have done the same, Ireland have done the same. And, as I said, we are in very active, positive conversations with colleagues, and we’re optimistic of getting a positive outcome quite soon.
Sorry, Mick; Helen Mary Jones just has a quick supplementary.
I just wanted to ask Marcus very specifically—and perhaps if we haven’t got time to go into it now you could drop us a note—why have so many fitness instructors not been able to get either the UK Government or the Welsh Government’s self-employed support? I’m asking specifically because there will be a new round of the economic resilience fund, and it may be possible for this committee to make representations to the economy Minister that might enable some of those people to be included in that fourth round.
Thank you. That’s a very important question. I probably am best off dropping you a note about it, but some headlines are: they haven’t been self-employed for long enough to show the tax-return information; or they might be running their business as a microbusiness, a limited company with one employee, which, again, doesn’t fall under those regulations; and there are also some complications about other household income that’s coming in. So, where it’s a, say, husband and wife team, another income coming into the house, but maybe the wife is a fitness instructor—there are some eligibility problems there. But let me drop you a note on that, Helen.
Fab. Mick Antoniw.
I just pursued that because it does go to the diverse nature of, for example, health and fitness, gymnasiums and so on, and we know the link and the importance of that in respect of mental health well-being, for example. What I'd like to do is to pursue the finance issue, though, in terms of discussions that have taken place. Because what has emerged from what's been said today is that it is no longer just a question of how do you enable things to survive; it's going to be partly about how will we promote reconstruction, rebuilding of those areas that potentially we've been losing, as people, as you say, have been dropping out. How do we actually reverse that? I wonder what your views are in terms of the sort of financial support that should go forward to enable us to achieve that. What discussions are you having with the Welsh Government? What are the key things you think need to happen within any future areas of financial support?
Steve Phillips, do you want to go first?
There are two parts to that, again, aren't there? In terms of the community game, we were discussing this last week, as I said, Chair, and we need some sort of boost. For example, we are very much looking at—. Because we see a lot of people who haven't played rugby for 15 months, 18 months, all these awful things, and we are seriously contemplating, if it became permissible, playing summer rugby. So, that's a different thing altogether. It needs a reshape, and I think it'll be a great opportunity.
In terms of where would you need to focus your funding, I think it comes back to making sure the backdrop of—. We've still got all the facilities, so we've got the infrastructure of our clubhouses, so we need them to be still around, and I think then, I would sit alongside Jonathan, really, and basically say that you've got the capacity issue, which I think was David's concern, which of course comes from coaches, referees, and that's where your block could possibly come. So, I think it needs a form of financial support. It's probably something that we should do together, really, as opposed to targeting a particular sport, and what you would pick to target on, I think, would be availability of the infrastructure, I suppose.
Thank you for the question. I'm pleased we're looking forward, and hopefully—I don't want to speak too soon—there's little light at the end of the tunnel, with the vaccine, in the summer months. Like Steve said, we're looking at this sort of booster, and I've started to turn the creative minds at the FAW onto how can we ensure that there is a summer of sport—in our case, it's probably a summer of football; sorry, Steve—and utilising something like the Euro as a little bit of a kickstarter on that. It might be a little bit early in the summer; let's hope Wales progress through the tournament as they did once before. But we're really wanting to use that to try and bring people back. We all remember, of course, when Wimbledon is on, you can't get on a tennis court. How can we do the same to ensure that we utilise the summer months? Like Steve said, we're also looking at bringing maybe our season forward, because if this does come back in the autumn, and we have another surge in October, November, and we do find ourselves in similar lockdown situations, how can we ensure that we've prepared ourselves for that?
As to the general participation base, I'm hopeful that we can see up and down this country free access to sport—whether that's turn-up-and-train sessions, turn-up-and-play sessions—reigniting the enthusiasm of participants, officials and others to re-engage with our sports. We can't be a crèche, but at the same time, we need to make sure that there is a boost. Where am I looking for the support from the Welsh Government? To probably recognise the role that sport plays within society, and by doing so, if we can find some mechanisms—be it some funding mechanisms to ensure that the coaches or the facilities are available—to ensure that those sessions can be carried on, whether it's in Newtown or Bala, wherever it may well be, that we are doing everything that we can to encourage people to maintain that physicality, that physical lifestyle, less sedentary lifestyle, it will be of benefit to us all.
Thank you. I would say that really, the priority for funding, Mick, would be in the most deprived communities, in line with Sport Wales's new strategy. These are the areas that will suffer the most. We've learnt lessons from the easing of the first lockdown restrictions. About 30 per cent or 40 per cent of community venues still didn't open between lockdowns, mainly because they were run by volunteer committees and so forth, where, reading the guidelines, it was just too hard for them and they were too concerned. That led on to a second fear, which was the public saying, 'Well, if the venue's not happy to open, then maybe I shouldn't be exploring another venue, because, obviously, the COVID risk is too high'. So, I think we've really got to help those poorer communities get back on their feet, get their venues COVID-secure, give them the training and the grants they need to make that happen, and then the activities can run in these venues. Of course, it will be group exercise, but there'll be all the other kinds of social things that go on within community venues that will benefit. So, it's a real focused support that we need during the easing of the lockdown.
Thank you for that. I'm very impressed with the use of the phrase 'reigniting', because I think that actually begins to pull together some of those particular strands, and I think also, in particular, the issue of the focus in terms of those communities that will struggle most and have been most impacted and that, obviously, poverty and deprivation are factors. Can you perhaps just update, in terms of ongoing discussions with Government—are there ongoing discussions? Can you let us know what the framework of those discussions might be, and what specifically you've—? I mean, obviously, you've been putting these ideas forward, but the key two or three objectives that you want to see achieved out of Welsh Government.
Marcus, did you want to start?
We are slightly distant from the Welsh Government discussions, to be honest, Mick, and so we are grateful for the support of the Welsh Sports Association and others to help us have those discussions. But I would say the asks for us are making sure that when we go to level 3, physical activity in all venues is allowed within a safe setting, as currently proposed, and that this is put at the front of the queue as well, ahead of other types of business, because of the public health benefits that it brings. And then, looking longer term, actually, we need a plan around sport and physical activity that aligns it much more closely with public health, so that it's seen as part of the solution here for the physical and mental health challenges of the nation, and also part of resilience to future infections. Sport and physical activity have a huge impact on people's own immune systems, which needs to be taken into account.
Marcus articulated that perfectly. Thank you, Marcus. I'm in full support of everything you just said.
There's not much to add to that. Perhaps I'm probably closer to conversations. I am quite active with colleagues in the Welsh Government about maybe seeking the equivalent of what's happened in other countries, because our concern is being left behind, I suppose, and not level playing fields. But that's more targeted at the higher end. Wales internationally needs to be competitive, our regions need to be competitive, or else we can fall behind very quickly. So, we're very, very active in that space. I think it's just to endorse what everybody else has said, really. If we can get our community clubs through this, that will fix our problem, because then we'll always have the same infrastructure capability going forward, provided that we boost or reignite, whatever word we're choosing, and that we've got the volunteers, players, coaches to populate the said infrastructure. I think that's what our focus is—getting everything through and then we've got a chance of getting everything back.
Thank you, Chair.
I just wanted to ask perhaps Steve Phillips if we could have a note, because I know that some of your rugby clubs on a community level have been diversifying—it's only on a personal level I know this—because they've been offering baby development classes as opposed to offering their usual rugby offerings, because they've had to, like Llanishen rugby club—I'll give them a name check. Because that's a way then that they've been able to get income in a different way to relying on Government support. Are there other ways that your sector has been diversifying to try and find funding, as opposed to the conventional, which would have been perhaps people going to watch a game on a Saturday afternoon?
Oh, yes. In all fairness and all joking aside, we have created quite a few entrepreneur approaches. I think for a traditional rugby club, there is a bricks-and-mortar element to this. And, of course, to try and get that through, those are the overheads you're trying to protect. As I said to you earlier, rates relief is massively helpful. But, in all fairness, people have become very creative. In my local rugby club, there's now a takeaway Sunday lunch option. There's a lot of creative thinking, which we massively encourage there. I wasn't aware of your story, and I'm sure if I dig around I'll find a lot more, but they're to be applauded in terms of how innovative they've been in trying to fix the problem.
Yes, definitely. They've had to do it, as well. It's not been a choice, in many instances. Jonathan.
Thank you for the opportunity. It's a similar story, but what I would also say is we've got to remember that the bricks and mortar and the bar and the take and the hospitality is also a critical part, not only in that community but also for the survival of those clubs. And that additional spend is not just the tickets; it's the bars and it's the hospitality and the lunches that they provide, and that's where a lot of clubs survive through that income as well.
To be honest with you, and I think this is the bit that we're always mindful of, you're back then into Welsh society. It doesn't matter to me whether you congregate in the rugby club or the football club; it's just part of our culture. We've all been there or done it, and I was terribly guilty of it, but I think that's what we need to protect here. It's the heritage.
Absolutely, yes, to keep them standing and to keep them active so people have places to go in the future. We are running over time, but we do have some more questions, if you would indulge us and stay for 10 minutes. John Griffiths, you have some questions.
You're muted, John.
Diolch yn fawr. That takes us on quite nicely, actually, to this safe return of sporting events with spectators, and I have a few questions on that. The first one is: when was the last time, then, that the sector met with Welsh Government to discuss the 'how' and the 'when' of that safe return?
Jonathan Ford, do you want to—
Yes, I'll happily go first. John, obviously all of our meetings are through the WSA and Sport Wales, but we have been in dialogue, and we were one of the organisations that put forward the pilot programmes. I've been always very vocal about our role and the role that we want to play in bringing spectators back safely. You probably remember there was the initial roll-out where there were the four events with about 100 people. There was the second pilot scheme that was about to be launched before the last lockdown, and that was going for considerably higher, and we put applications forward in order to do that. I do that with real sincerity on the basis that I know that we can control it. We're privileged enough that we have grounds that are secure where you can temperature test people going in and going out, if need be. We can track and trace people, and we can keep people socially distanced in those grounds, and we can provide you with a great pilot programme to ensure the safe return for spectators. We're desperate to play our role within that, and we look forward to, hopefully, picking back up with the Welsh Government, as soon as we're able to do so, to prove that we can bring spectators back.
Our consultation process with Government aligns with Jonathan. Stating the obvious, it doesn't matter what sport it is, really, 'The players need the fans, and the fans need the players' is the way I always look at this. I went to the friendly match we had in France back in October, before the Autumn Nations Cup. I don't know if you've ever been there; I pretty much had the Stade de France all to myself. It was a surreal experience, and it brings back to you how much there is something wrong with this picture, if I can explain it like that to you. I think what we need to focus in on this—. These are observations. I think test events, and there have been fans in England—. I accept the usual response to that is because Wales tends to be in the higher tier level and therefore that becomes the consequence. Just a rugby story, it was great to watch: I think there were 2,000 fans in Twickenham watching the England-France final of the Autumn Nations Cup—great. I think that's where we need to be a bit careful here, again, with my fear of being left behind. If we're not doing test events—. You will make—. You know, there are risks of making errors in test events, because that's why they're test events. The sooner we get into that, the better. I'm very much with Jonathan. We need a strategy of how to do this. I very much share Jonathan's view that when they're with us—you know, just in the Principality Stadium et cetera—that is an environment we can control and manage very carefully, but I'm also cognisant of the—. It's the getting there that's sometimes the problem, so it's the train journey, or it's the three pints before the game, or whatever it is that takes your fancy. But I think that's where—. As long as we can manage the getting there, I'm super confident that when you're there, it's quite straightforward to deliver.
Okay. We've got the levels of lockdown now set out. We don't know what course the pandemic will take, but we have those levels that will react to the state of the virus at any one time. Would you say that you're sufficiently clear, now, in terms of, again, the when and the how of the resumption of sporting events with spectators? Is that sufficiently clear, or would you like more clarity one way or another?
Yes. I would certainly like a little bit more clarity. I know, obviously, the elite level will come back at level 3. If you look at spectators, I think it goes all the way to the lowest level; I think level 1 before full spectators—well, even before level 1, if I remember correctly. So, I do think there is a pathway to be played out. Clearly, there will have to be some form of pilot programme, but yes, it would be nice to know the progress that we can make as, hopefully, those tiers—we do climb back down to some sort of new normality. Because it is, as you know, a lifeline. We've managed to plug the gap a little bit for this season. I think everybody is probably expecting that there won't be any fans back until next season, but there are so many clubs, including the professional clubs, and I'm not talking just the Welsh clubs here, but I was speaking with Cardiff City, I'm in the same building as Cardiff City train in now, and they're in dire straits too and it's not very much longer that we will see, unfortunately, some very historical clubs that will go to the wall because the match-day income just isn't there any more. So, we need to find a route back out of it.
If I could perhaps just ask one last question. It's on this and it's just, really, quite general: is there anything in particular that you'd like us, as a committee, to flag up with Welsh Government in terms of their approach to managing the return of spectators? Are there any really big headlines that we might take forward on that—anything that you'd really like to point out to us?
From my side, John, it is the road map. So, we are going to do pilot programmes. If we get to level 3, we will start pilot programmes and we will go from—. We'll do 500 people to start with and then that'll move to 1,000 if that goes well after four weeks, and if we get to level 2, okay, we're going to start with 1,000—. It's having a little bit more clarity so that people can see that there's light at the end of the tunnel. At the moment, there's no light at the end of the spectator tunnel, and we would just like to have some assurances that there is a plan going to be put in place, and if things go according to plan, which we appreciate that everything changes, but if they go according to plan and the vaccination roll-out works and the numbers come down and we go down the scales, it will be increased. If people can understand that, they can start putting their business models back in place. At this moment in time, the business model is broken without match-day attendances and without the additional spend, and we just need to try and find that solution, otherwise people are looking back at me and I cannot be the bank, unfortunately; we only have so much money and we are looking at survival ourselves.
I would fully endorse that, because we're very much in the same place, and I think to answer one of your earlier questions, whilst we all understand the rules, what we can't predict, which is Jonathan's point, is—. I think we're clear what's going to happen when the tiering levels move, but of course, what we don't know is when the tiering levels will move, and that, of course, then becomes the imponderable and therefore, that's the question you can never answer. I fully accept that it's not for this committee to answer that, because I'm not sure who can answer it, but you end up getting caught in the same circular group and of course, what everybody's after here is some sort of certainty, which is going to become a very strange word shortly, isn't it?
If that's okay, John, we'll move on to our last question from Helen Mary Jones.
I think it's been answered, actually, Chair, under some of our earlier questions. And just to thank the panellists; I think we got some useful stuff there.
Ie. Diolch yn fawr iawn i chi oll am ddod atom. Os oes mwy o gwestiynau gennym ni, byddwn ni'n cysylltu gyda chi, ond diolch am aros tipyn yn hirach hefyd, achos roedd hwnna'n bwysig iawn i drafod. Mae pawb ohonom ni yng Nghymru oll eisiau mynd yn ôl i wylio chwaraeon ac i chwarae chwaraeon, felly diolch yn fawr iawn i chi am ddod atom i roi tystiolaeth.
Yes. Thank you all very much for joining us. If we do have more questions, we will be in touch, and thank you for remaining with us slightly longer this morning, because there are important issues to be discussed here. Everyone across Wales wants to get back to watching and participating in sport. So, thank you very much for providing evidence this morning.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Symudwn ymlaen, felly, at eitem 4 a chynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
We move on, therefore, to item 4 and a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting. Thank you very much.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:35.
The public part of the meeting ended at 11:35.