Scottish Rugby has paid out just short of £400,000 to 82 of their total of 141 full-member clubs for support during the coronavirus lockdown that ended competitive rugby in mid-March.
One club received a five-figure sum – initially thought to be Melrose but this was later denied by Scottish Rugby – but the remaining money from the £500,000 club hardship fund set up in the first week of lockdown is being re-invested into the game in schemes to further support clubs while they are in lockdown.
The governing body declined to give exact details of how much was awarded to specific clubs but in the Midlands District those receiving support are (in alphabetical order) Aberfeldy, Alloa, Bannockburn, Dundee University Medics, Dundee HSFP, Dunfermline, Glenrothes, Hillfoots, Howe of Fife, Kirkcaldy, Madras, Montrose, Morgan, Perthshire and Strathmore.
Director of domestic rugby Sheila Begbie said that the majority sought support for permanent staff and for maintenance of their grounds.
“There were four categories of support the clubs were looking for – premises, people, utilities and grounds – and the two biggest areas were people and grounds. Clubs were looking for support for their staff, using the government’s job-retention scheme to keep them and looking to the fund to pay the additional 20 per cent.
“In terms of grounds, a lot of the clubs use external contractors to maintain their pitches. From our perspective it’s been about supporting clubs to ensure their pitches are maintained in order that when we’re ready to restart rugby we can actually do that.”
Scottish Rugby will be contacting all member clubs after today’s update from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, she added.
“After the First Minister does her update on the route map for Scotland, on Friday we will deliver to the clubs what Phase Two actually means for them and what guidance and support they need around what they can and can’t do in relation to their facilities and to training.
“After every press conference she does (where things change) that evening we will have a webinar for our clubs where we talk about the Scottish Government route map will impact on our own route map.
“It’s a very fluid thing, and our route map (back to club rugby) is very much a work in progress. We would hope to communicate it to the clubs as soon as we possibly can.”
Begbie added that one of Scottish Rugby’s biggest concerns was players not returning to the game after lockdown.
“I think that’s a big risk for us,” she said. “Because of the nature and culture of rugby, in terms of the sweat and the saliva and stuff like that, maybe we are going to be one of the last sports to return.
“I know that some clubs have that same fear that people might be afraid or not want to come back to the club. We have talked about trying to do a re-engagement programme – to try and captivate people to come back into club rugby – so it is something we are looking at, with maybe some marketing around how we get players back into the game.”
Begbie paid tribute to the way rugby clubs have “galvanised themselves and worked in their communities” during the crisis.
“The club game which is the absolute heart of the game,” she said. “If we don’t get things right at the club and grassroots end of the game, then we’ve got nothing at the elite end to sell.
“We can’t go into getting everyone back playing at the moment, because there would be a lot of testing and tracing requirements which we couldn’t afford to do. It would be a huge investment.
“The biggest thing for us within the club game is to make sure it’s safe for people to return, and that the environments we’re providing are safe and compliant with social distancing, health and hygiene.”