The game of rugby will be 200 years old and my hometown and constituency, the birthplace of the game will be the proud host to these bicentenary celebrations.
It all begun in 1823, at Rugby School when “the exploit of William Webb Ellis who with fine disregard for the rules of football as played in his time first took the ball in his arms and ran with it thus originating the distinctive feature of the rugby game AD 1823”.
Young Webb Ellis is credited with that action, when everybody else was kicking or hacking the ball, although plenty of people contend that it was not him at all and that the game simply evolved. I do not think there is any question but that he was there, but many people believe he was just a great self-publicist, who took the credit and got his name into both the history and record books. Whatever is true and whatever happened, it is generally accepted, not least by rugby union’s international governing body, that it was all down to William Webb Ellis, as the world cup, which is played every four years and will take place later this year in France, is known as the Webb Ellis cup.
The game has grown hugely in its 200 years. World Rugby has 132 country members and estimates that approaching 10 million people play the game globally, with rugby’s reputation as a game for all shapes and sizes holding firm across the world. There is a position on the field for everyone—from the strong and tall players in the forwards, to the smaller, fasterand more elusive players in the backs—which is one key to rugby’s success. That inclusiveness engenders a team spirit that involves, for many, putting the values of the game into practice.
There are five key values of rugby: teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship. On teamwork, rugby is a game where players play selflessly for the benefit of the team, both on and off the field. It is a tough game but respecting opposition players is greatly important and that extends to the supporters. It is a game that is largely played for fun, to adopt a healthy lifestyle, to build life skills and to enjoy that essence of being part of a team.
All these values are seen in charity work that is done up and down the country, with the game of rugby being used as a tool to change lives. The work of organisations such as Wooden Spoon and the Atlas Foundation must be commended, and I have been the proud host of the Premiership Rugby community awards in Parliament over a number of years.
The celebrations have started in earnest as many gathered at Rugby School in early February to launch the Global Pass – an initiative to send 200 balls around the globe.
England are going to play on the Close at Rugby School against Wales in an under-18 women’s game and there will an international under-18 sevens tournament. There will be afestival, which will enable the youngest players to take part, and there will be a veterans rugby club sevens for the oldest. In the same vein, the Commons and Lords rugby club, which is Members from both Houses, will play a veterans team on the close made up from the six local clubs in the town of Rugby.
On St George’s day, we will attempt to create the world’s largest rugby scrum. The current record is 2,586 people. We are aiming for 3,000 pupils from local schools and others to beat that record. There will also be, as has happened a couple of times previously, a re-enactment of the first ever game, in the clothing that the players would have worn back in 1823. Some lucky person will take on the role of William Webb Ellis!
Alongside this, we are going to have a major public festival of arts and education in the town throughout the year.
All in all, there is a spectacular list of events taking place in Rugby in 2023, all in keeping with the values of the game of rugby and with a charitable objective, particularly involving Wooden Spoon, with its emphasis on supporting children and young people. I can’t wait to be part of it as these bicentenary celebrations bring two of my passions; my home town and constituency, and the game of rugby football together.