Leicester Tigers have enjoyed untold success on the pitch since the dawn of professional rugby but according to the club’s head of community Scott Clarke, their grassroots work has left a similar legacy.
Clarke was present at the tenth All Party Parliamentary Rugby Union Group Premiership Rugby Community awards in Westminster last Wednesday as coaches, role models and volunteers all came together to recognise the unsung heroes of the game. He was presented with an award by Premiership Rugby to mark more than a decade of service to the game in Leicester.
Of the 12 Premiership Rugby clubs, more than 500 volunteers and 150 community development staff are all working hard to ensure the sport grows after both this year’s World Cup and Rio 2016 – which will include rugby 7s for the first time – are long in the history books.
Few need reminding of the Tigers’ own storied history, having lifted seven Aviva Premiership Rugby titles since the turn of the millennium, but Clarke insists there has been as much progress off the field as on it.
“I’ve been involved for 15 years, so I’ve seen it since I’ve started,” he said. “At Tigers we were pretty fortunate, we had an established club, stadium and good support so when Premiership Rugby’s support first kicked off we had a community department.
“Premiership Rugby have really made a big difference to a lot of the clubs that didn’t have a community team, managing to get national programmes together to sustain staff and also make a local impact.
“Ten years ago I had five or six staff, and what Premiership Rugby has helped us to do is give us a belief that we’ve got a sustainable foundation to work from, and once you’ve got that you can look at the bigger things.
“We’ve had two or three programmes linked in with Premiership Rugby who help us maintain a sustainable community package.
“When you’re deciding whether or not you can afford that new fly-half, the community arm isn’t affected by that decision. So we have a constant approach, we’re not here for one week or gone the next.”
More than 180,000 hours worth of community programming has been compiled league-wide, and Clarke admits Welford Road is the perfect inspiration for their participants.
“One of our schemes is a NEETs (a young person not in education, employment or training) programme which has been running over the seven or eight years,” he added.
“We’ve been engaging with 16 to 19-year-olds who weren’t in employment and using rugby as a model to get them back involved in education.
“They come to the Tigers, walk around a great stadium, and as far as they’re concerned it wasn’t school.
“The fact that they went into a classroom and were learning was secondary, they all wanted to try and better themselves and were unhappy with the way their life was working out.
“They all used the ethos work hard, play hard, and also the no-nonsense discipline in rugby.
“We’re able to say here’s a need – health, education, sport, behavioural – that rugby is a great aid for and we can help with our positive role models on and off the pitch.
“Unless we have all the support from Premiership Rugby and sponsors, we wouldn’t be able to do that as effectively.”