Community Sports: Impact on Young People - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 4:31 pm ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Hayward Lord Hayward Ceidwadwyr 4:31, 16 Mai 2024

My Lords, this afternoon I am wearing my rugby club tie: Kings Cross Steelers Rugby Club. Given the presence of both the noble Lord, Lord Wood of Anfield, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannett of Everton, I probably should have worn my referee’s tie—although it would have been a different sport, and we would have required more courtesy.

While referring to previous speakers, I also take this opportunity to say that it is an odd thing about this House that there seems to be more experts on electoral law here than at the other end of this building. I have had the good fortune to know the noble Lord, Lord Shamash, for some 20 years. It has been a pleasure and will continue to be so.

I would like to concentrate on the benefits of team sports, which the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, has just referred to. They contribute substantially to the community, in whatever form. Team sports take children, teenagers and young adults away from the family home and should, and often do, provide another form of support network. The younger ones who misbehave should be supported and guided by the older ones. However, on rugby tours I have, on occasion, been amazed and sometimes embarrassed at the behaviour of the older members of the tour, rather than the younger ones. There is no doubt in my mind that, overall, team sports contribute substantially to society at large.

My opening comments related to my own club. I will confine my comments specifically to rugby, but I think they apply elsewhere. I acknowledge wheelchair rugby, women’s rugby and the like. In a week’s time, I will be in Rome celebrating the Bingham Cup. It is the world’s largest gay rugby tournament, and it will be attended by 3,500 people from all over the world. It is named after Mark Bingham, who played for the San Francisco Fog and was one of the people who tried to fight off the terrorists on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on 9/11.

There are many teams coming from the United States—from Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia and New York. It is a truly worldwide competition. But I am pleased to say that we play at different levels. The Kings Cross Steelers firsts and seconds will be defending the relevant trophies which they won two years ago in Ottawa.

When we founded the club, the intention was just to find a convenient home for people who happened to be gay to play rugby. It has gone on to become much more than that, as have all the other clubs for other minority communities, such as people with disabilities and women. I remember first standing on a touchline and being told by a supporter of our club that he thought that, had we not existed, his boyfriend would be dead.

Team sports so often provide support that goes way beyond physical activity. It is about mental health. We have a player, a young guy called Ethan Phillips, who felt alienated from his whole community—and had been in a psychiatric ward aged 17—until he discovered the Kings Cross Steelers. A few years ago, Eammon Ashton-Atkinson, an Australian journalist who came to this country and had been bullied at school, made a film called “Steelers”, which featured three particular players: Nic Evans, our coach, who was female and had played for Wales and been subjected to misogyny in a bad way; Drew McDowell, a black player from the United States who knew all about life’s difficulties because his father was brought up in the deep south; and Simon Jones, a top-flight lawyer for Google who admits that, until he discovered rugby and a gay rugby team, he would curl up on the floor, go into fits of tears and cry for a prolonged period. Team sports can provide an enormous amount of support in such a different way to so many people. As far as I am concerned, sport and physical activity improves all sorts of health, not just physical health.

I will conclude on somewhat happier matters, and revert to the Liverpool/Everton saga that we have heard so much about today. I used to negotiate as management in a bottling plant in Fazakerley for Coca-Cola. This was in the 1970s and I remember there was a match where one of the two Liverpool teams was due to play at Wembley. The shop steward turned the ticket over with pride and said, “Look, we haven’t got a map on our tickets to get to Wembley. The other club needs a map to get there”. I will leave it to the two noble Lords to work out which club he was referring to.