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How grassroots rugby is tackling the Covid-19 crisis

Cancelled car boot sales – the type of revenue-generating events that sports clubs such as Blaydon RFC have had to cancel due to Covid-19.

BLAYDON Rugby Club is battling through one of the most trying times in its 132-year history, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

Founded in 1888, the club moved to its Swalwell ‘Crow Trees’ site in 1951, and is a recognised force in North East rugby – but is not immune from the effects of Covid-19.

“It’s not just Blaydon of course, or indeed rugby clubs, but all sports that have been affected, so we are not alone in this,” said Blaydon chairman Bruce Costello.

Mr Costello, a stalwart of the club for over 40 years, added: “We have had terrific support from the RFU, Sport England plus various government initiatives, and those along with tremendous support from our sponsors and members, who have been so generous, both in terms of their time and money, give us confidence that we will see this through”.

The club has been financially hit by Covid-19, having to cancel events ranging from very popular car boot sales to world-renowned circuses.

Bob Costello Chairman of Blaydon RFC.

“On top of this, on a weekend we would be holding functions, like weddings, birthdays, christenings etcetera, which are not happening now – and the odd functions that are, under the present Covid rules, are severely restricted in numbers,” he said.

The mental effect on the players has also been considerable.

Claire Richardson, safeguarding officer at Blaydon RFC, has to regularly check in with 250 juniors and their parents on the junior side alone, to make sure the loss of their beloved sport is not having potentially long-term negative effects on their mental health.

The problems don’t stop there, though.

There is also the impact on training, in a close-contact sport where contact is now limited. Despite this, club senior men and woman coaches, as well as age-grade coaches have been doing their best to keep the players fit and motivated.

Mr Costello said: “Professional Premiership clubs have been able to play, but are testing for Covid at least three times a week, if not every day. Grassroots rugby can’t do this; at this level, rugby is a passion not a career.

“Few, if any, Championship clubs in the second tier can achieve this, and this testing capacity should be used for the greater good, like, for example, our care and NHS workers,” adds the chairman.

According to latest reports published by the RFU, premiership rugby clubs are spending a combined £3million year on testing their players in order to be able to play.

The RFU has just announced that it will be January next year – or even later – before any competitive rugby is played outside internationals or the premiership.

But the support is still keen, says Mr Costello. “Recently we had a brilliant turnout of all sorts of people, and of all ages helping out with the upkeep of the site. Covid does not stop the grass and hedges growing.”

Blaydon Rugby Club is hoping to come out of the pandemic stronger than ever, and is encouraging people to join its rugby family through membership or sponsorship.