Pwyllgor Diwylliant, Cyfathrebu, y Gymraeg, Chwaraeon, a Chysylltiadau Rhyngwladol

Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport, and International Relations Committee

20/10/2021

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Alun Davies AS
Carolyn Thomas AS
Delyth Jewell AS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Heledd Fychan AS
Tom Giffard AS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Brian Davies Prif Swyddog Gweithredol Dros Dro, Chwaraeon Cymru
Acting Chief Executive Officer, Sport Wales
Fergus Feeney Prif Swyddog Gweithredol, Nofio Cymru
Chief Executive Officer, Swim Wales
Ian Gwyn Hughes Pennaeth Cyfathrebu, Cymdeithas Bêl-Droed Cymru
Head of Communications, Football Association of Wales
Jennifer Huygen Pennaeth Polisi a Phartneriaethau Strategol, Community Leisure UK
Head of Policy and Strategic Partnerships, Community Leisure UK
Mark Killingley Pennaeth Digidol a Chyfathrebu, Undeb Rygbi Cymru
Head of Digital and Communications, Welsh Rugby Union
Melitta McNarry Athro Gwyddorau Chwaraeon ac Ymarfer Corff, Prifysgol Abertawe
Professor of Sport and Exercise Sciences, Swansea University
Noel Mooney Prif Swyddog Gweithredol, Cymdeithas Bêl-droed Cymru
Chief Executive Officer, Football Association of Wales
Rob Butcher Cadeirydd, Undeb Rygbi Cymru
Chair, Welsh Rugby Union
Sarah Jones Prif Swyddog Gweithredol, Pêl-rwyd Cymru
Chief Executive Officer, Wales Netball
Steve Phillips Prif Swyddog Gweithredol, Undeb Rygbi Cymru
Chief Executive Officer, Welsh Rugby Union
Victoria Ward Prif Swyddog Gweithredol, Cymdeithas Chwaraeon Cymru
Chief Executive Officer, Welsh Sports Association

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Martha Da Gama Howells Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Robin Wilkinson Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Tanwen Summers Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:30.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Bore da. Gaf i estyn croeso i bawb ac i'r Aelodau i'r cyfarfod hwn o'r Pwyllgor Diwylliant, Cyfathrebu, y Gymraeg, Chwaraeon, a Chysylltiadau Rhyngwladol? Yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 34.19, rwyf wedi penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd rhag fod yn bresennol yng nghyfarfod y pwyllgor er mwyn amddiffyn iechyd y cyhoedd. Mae'r cyfarfod hwn yn cael ei ddarlledu'n fyw ar Senedd.tv, a hefyd dŷn ni'n hybrid y bore yma, ar gyfer ein sesiwn hybrid cyntaf fel pwyllgor. Oes gan unrhyw Aelodau fuddiannau i'w datgan, plis? Dwi ddim yn gweld unrhyw Aelod yn dweud—.

Felly, fe wnawn ni symud ymlaen. Gwnaf i jest dweud bod Hefin David wedi danfon ymddiheuriadau ar gyfer y cyfarfod y bore yma.

Good morning. May I extend a welcome to everyone and to the Members to this meeting of the Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport, and International Relations Committee? In accordance with Standing Order 34.19, I have determined that the public are excluded from attending the committee's meeting in order to protect public health. This meeting is being broadcast live on Senedd.tv, and we are also hybrid this morning, for our first hybrid session as a committee. Do any Members have any declarations of interest, please? I see there are none.

Therefore, we'll move on. I'll just say that Hefin David has sent his apologies for this morning's meeting.
 

2. Ymchwiliad undydd i chwaraeon: Cyrff cynrychiadol 
2. One-day inquiry on sport: Representative bodies 

Fe wnawn ni symud at eitem 2 ar ein hagenda, sef ymchwiliad undydd i chwaraeon. Dŷn ni'n clywed yn gyntaf gan gyrff llywodraethu. Gaf i ofyn i'n tystion, plîs, i gyflwyno ei hunain ar gyfer y Record? Gwnaf i fynd at Brian yn gyntaf.

We'll move on to item 2 on our agenda, which is our one-day inquiry on sport. We're hearing first from the governing bodies. May I ask the witnesses to introduce themselves for the Record, please? I'll go to Brian first.

Bore da, Cadeirydd. Bore da, aelodau o'r pwyllgor. Fi yw Brian Davies a fy swydd i yw prif weithredwr dros dro Chwaraeon Cymru.

Good morning, Chair. Good morning, everyone. I am Brian Davies and I am the acting chief executive officer for Sport Wales.

Good morning. I'm Victoria Ward, and I'm the chief executive of the Welsh Sports Association.

Diolch yn fawr. Thank you so much.

Fe wnawn ni symud yn syth at gwestiynau, os yw hynny'n ocê. Gwnaf i symud at Alun Davies.

We will move straight to questions, if that's okay. I'll move to Alun Davies.

Thanks very much.

Diolch i chi am eich amser heddiw.

Thank you very much for your time today.

Do you know what I'm interested in? I've read through what you've said in terms of priorities during the next five years or so, the period of this Senedd, and there are no surprises, I think it's fair to say, about participation, about activity, about the contribution that sport can make to general health and well-being—I understand all of that. Do you know what I'm interested in, though, is what steps could the Welsh Government be taking, which it isn't taking today, that would help you—both your bodies—achieve those priorities and those ambitions? That's a question to both of you, so—.

Does Barry want to go first?

I think that we've come through a torrid time, haven't we, and we are starting to get back to normal. I would say that what we need to look at in the first instance is the next financial year, where organisations are still struggling slightly. If you look at our leisure centres and facilities for sport, some of them are only back up to about 50 per cent of their pre-pandemic levels. So, it's looking at that into the future. And equality, I think, is going to be the biggest thing that needs to come out of this over the next few years. As well as building back better, we really do need to build back fairer—

Okay. Can you tell me what you mean by 'equality' in this context?

Yes, sure. So, I think what COVID has done is highlight the inequalities that were perhaps already in existence. So, with ageing facilities, the sports that are indoors are probably going to suffer more than the sports that are outdoors. If you look at the way that women's sport was wiped out, really, in the pandemic, with netball not being able to take place at all—the biggest sport for women in Wales. All the group activity—the exercise classes that were wiped out—getting those back in is going to be difficult when you've got facilities trying to recoup some losses and people not necessarily having the income. And still, with 200,000 children in Wales living in poverty, making sure that they have fair access to participate is also incredibly important.

Yes. Diolch. My view is that—well, our organisation's view is that—sport, as a universal approach, can be one of Welsh Government's key policy tools, but we're not sure that it's at that status at the moment. It reaches across such a wide range of demographic challenges that the Government faces. Our evaluation of our funding streams, both regular and pandemic-related, they highlight the continued need for long-term sustainable support for this sector, not just an annualised reaction to something. And we understand the budgetary pressures that are going to be faced by Government, but we do feel that sport is part of the solution to many of the issues it faces. And some of those issues were inherent pre-pandemic, but some, as Vicky's just identified, have been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

I’d summarise by saying that sport is a preventative measure, but it hasn’t been fully realised yet by Government, I don’t think. Having said that, we mustn’t ignore the basic requirements of sport as a sector either, because otherwise there wouldn’t be a sustainable product to utilise in the preventative agenda. So, I think that the summary answer to the question is: we can use sport better as a preventative measure for the many of the ills and issues facing society—

09:35

Brian, forgive me interrupting you. I'm so sorry to interrupt you. I think Alun just wanted to come back on one thing you were saying there. Forgive me—

Yes. Sorry. You said something that I think was quite important there. You said that—I'm paraphrasing now, because we’ve moved on a bit—Government doesn’t seem to recognise the importance of sport, or the potential of sport, shall we say. Can you perhaps enlarge on why you don’t think—or the consequences of Government not taking a wider view of sport?

Yes. So, it’s not that it doesn’t recognise the potential for sport. I think it's more that the cross-cutting nature of sport is the bit that we really want to work with Government on—the fact that education and health, working with sport, is such a powerful medium. It’s that bit that we really want to focus on in terms of Government, rather than the Government doesn’t see sport as important—that would be a wrong thing to say; it would be too high-level a statement. We continue to get funding for sport, so they do see the importance of sport, that’s for sure. It’s the cross-cutting sector nature of sport that we want to see an improvement in, I think.

I think, before you go on, Alun, Carolyn wanted to come in on a supplementary.

Thank you. Can I just come in on that? So, I know there have been discussions about social prescribing of sport for health reasons. So, how does that work, then? Because I think that ties in with what you were just saying.

How does it currently work, or how could it work?

Well, currently, it's very difficult, because most of the facilities that have been used in the past for social prescribing activity have been repurposed, and most still are. So, it’s come to a bit of a stop. The issue has always been who funds it—is it a sport role or is it a health role? Sport is the product that can be used by health. I’m not sure the agencies within sport should be the ones funding it. So, there’s always been that debate. Others are closer than me to this, in the sense of where the actual improvements can be made, but it's a very good example of the cross-cutting nature of sport and how it can be part of the solution to some of these issues.

Thank you for that. That’s quite interesting.

Victoria, Brian, spoke about inequality in replying to this question, and I’m interested in the questions of inequality. I get a sense, sometimes, when I look at my constituency and compare the resources and the facilities available in somewhere like Blaenau Gwent to other parts of the country, and I’m concerned, that people that I represent don’t get a fair crack of the whip, if I’m being quite honest with you. I’m interested how you would see equality across the geography of Wales, and whether you believe Sport Wales has a role in driving forward the development and sustainability of facilities across the geography, and ensuring that everybody has fair and equal access to sporting facilities.

We do. Our strategy focuses, fundamentally, on equality or the fact that it’s unequal at the moment in lots of different intersectional areas, and facilities are a particular issue. We, as a public body, have received an annual settlement for capital investment—which we’re very thankful for—for the last three years. But prior to that there was no capital investment being spent through us to the sector, and we are now facing issues because of that, specifically in those areas that you mentioned that are facing difficulties of socioeconomic challenges et cetera. So, it is something we'd really like to have greater involvement in, and part of our budgetary request to Welsh Government has been a focus on potential for long-term capital investment. We did a study with 4Global outlining the issues facing the sector, and, of course, without a lot of facility improvements, some of those inequalities can be difficult to address. It's not all about facilities, I have to say, and revenue investment is just as important.

09:40

But, we definitely need a focus on that, so I would agree with you.

Okay. I'm grateful to you for that. Just one more question from me, really. In terms of where we are, we always talk about resources, and the comprehensive spending review next week, and I don't think any of us are expecting very good news from that, if we're quite frank, but notwithstanding that, can you reassure me that you are as pro-active as we would wish you to be in terms of seeking different forms of funding and different models of funding? The Welsh Government has spent some quite considerable time during the last Senedd looking at different funding models for capital schemes and the rest of it, and I'm interested to understand whether your organisations are going through that same process of—. And I want to be reassured—that's what I'm seeking this morning—that you are being as pro-active in not just seeking additional grant funding or whatever that may be, but also really exhausting other avenues of funding as well.

I couldn't agree with you more. It must be more about other sources of funding than just public investment. What I think public investment can do is become the catalyst to attracting other investment. We had a positive first meeting with the Minister just last week to talk about various things—this included. For me—and your constituency is a prime example of this—where you've got areas where, okay, we need capital investment, but we need to look at other things as well, children often will miss out because they haven't got a pair of trainers or they can't afford the rugby boots or the weekly subs to go where they want to go. So, there may be activity—and there is activity available—but if they want to specifically start fencing or take up triathlon, that's difficult. So, what we want to be able to do is to set up a Welsh sports foundation and national endowment for sport, and then to be able to use some investment from Welsh Government directly as the catalyst to start that fund, and then start working internationally with our expat communities on high net-worth donors and other forms of funding, which isn't being done in Wales or, indeed, anywhere else in the UK for sport at the moment.

I think the only thing I can add is that we did change our royal charter a few years ago—we got the royal charter changed a few years ago—to allow us to be more commercially active as a body. Obviously, certain things have occurred between that change and now that mean that we haven't progressed any commercial developments as such, but the opportunity to do it is now at least there.

I'd also look at the other home countries sports councils who have made similar changes, and I don't think any of those have enhanced their income via any other streams either. So, they're all pretty much similar to us in the structure and the way we receive funding. But it's a valid point about enhancing and getting synergy from other areas that are also interested in sport. The economic value of sport is significant and has taken a big hit during the pandemic, so there ought to be an exploration of how we can maximise other avenues of income, given that the product itself does generate quite a lot of economic benefit for others.

Brian, before we move on to Heledd Fychan, Carolyn wanted to come in on a supplementary.

It was just regarding the funding again. So, do you work with voluntary councils as well, because sometimes they know what funding's available locally? I know, through local authorities, sometimes they've combined funding and grants as well, which the local voluntary councils distribute. I understand that at Sport Wales you distribute lottery funding as well to organisations, and in the past I know that local village halls and community centres, which do offer good activities, don't they—you know, Zumba, keep fit, yoga, whatever—have been able to access European funding for capital infrastructure. So, are there any funding streams, possibly coming through UK Government, that will be replacing that European funding going forward?

09:45

We do work with, certainly, the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, and I know other partners that we work with do have links with other voluntary areas of the sector. We do distribute lottery funds, we are a lottery distributor, and we're very grateful for the support we get through the National Lottery. It's a really important part of our support for the sector. It's nearly 50:50 in terms of Exchequer funding versus the lottery's—around about £22 million Exchequer and £16 million lottery. So, the sector is heavily reliant on lottery. There were avenues through European funding that haven't been replaced, as far as I'm aware. We weren't a direct recipient of European funding, but I know many of our partners in the sector, especially local authorities, were, and so that is an area, when we talk about Brexit, that is a potential impact for the sector—

One thing I would say on this is we—

I'm so sorry to interrupt you mid sentence. While you were summing up what you were saying to Carolyn, I think Alun wanted to come in on something specifically on what you were saying as well. Sorry to have interrupted you.

Yes, sorry. I'd be grateful—and if this affects you, Victoria, as well—if you could write to the committee outlining any financial losses or future funding streams that you are losing as a consequence of Brexit. It would be very useful for the committee. I don't want to go into the detail of that now, I don't think that'll be useful, but if you could write to the committee on that, that would be very useful to us.

Ie, dim problem.

Yes, no problem.

We can do that.

The only other thing I was going to say was, as an example of some innovative ways of funding, going forward, we've recently launched A Place for Sport Crowdfunder scheme, where the moneys that we've received from Welsh Government we've allocated for off-field activities, so things that we previously wouldn't have invested in, like changing rooms and showers. We were investing in on-field activities like pitches and equipment, et cetera—things that made things happen—but we've now partnered with Crowdfunder and are maximising the use of public funding in conjunction with community support as well. So, we're quite interested in how that goes. We're piloting it initially, but that could be another way of generating additional incomes into the sector, maximising the public investment that's being made.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Gwnawn ni symud ymlaen at Heledd Fychan.

Thank you very much. We'll move on now to Heledd Fychan.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Bore da. Eisiau mynd ar ôl anghydraddoldeb oeddwn i, os cawn ni fynd yn ôl at y pwynt a wnaethoch chi ei godi, Brian, i ddechrau efo o ran efallai bod y Llywodraeth ddim yn gwerthfawrogi'r cross-cutting nature o chwaraeon. Yn benodol felly, beth fyddai'n fuddiol neu beth ydych chi'n meddwl y dylai'r Llywodraeth fod yn gwneud o ran sicrhau bod chwaraeon yn rhan ganolog o'n polisïau ni o ran addysg a iechyd yn benodol?

Thank you very much. Good morning. I wanted to talk about inequalities, if we could go back to the point that you made, Brian, initially, in terms of the fact that the Government may not appreciate the cross-cutting nature of sport, and specifically, therefore, what would be beneficial or what should the Government do in order to ensure that sport is a central part of our policies with regard to health and education, specifically?

Brian, ydych chi eisiau mynd yn gyntaf?

Brian, do you want to go first?

Diolch, Heledd. Gwnaf i ateb yn Saesneg os yw hwnna'n ocê. Byddaf i'n dipyn bach yn fwy cyfforddus gyda'r termau os yw hwnna'n iawn.

Thank you, Heledd. I'll respond in English, if that's okay. I'll be more comfortable with the terms, if that's okay.

Thank you, Heledd. It's really important, and I don't want to be overly critical of Government here, because they do see the nature of sport as a cross-cutting tool, but I just wonder if things can be improved in lots of other ways, like, for example, this committee's work, working together with some of the other committees that exist to look at where the areas of overlap and potential synergy are. The policy units in Welsh Government working together, not just relying on a public body like Sport Wales to do it on its own. So, that's the area where I'd like to see Government improve.

Some of the examples there would be opportunities to build on some of the existing stuff we started with Welsh Government, like the 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy. That's a really good example of an initial approach to try and work together, cross-sector, but it's only one, and there must be others. It would be areas like that where we could do a lot more work on improving the impact across all public bodies, really. That would be my example, the 'Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales' strategy, and something similar in other areas. 

09:50

Yes. I think there are lots of things we can look at. One of the things that I would like to see is a review of Government policy to see how that can link in. So, just as an example, and I'd really like to see this one taken forward, is when you look at play schemes. So, we did the Summer of Fun, which was brilliant, and that's going to continue to the end of this year, although how that's going to be funded going forward, I think, is going to be a challenge. But, when you look at holiday schemes, which is where the Summer of Fun started, sport is exempt from registering with Care Inspectorate Wales and, by virtue of that, you cannot get, for doing a holiday scheme for sport, their registration number. So, if you're on universal credit, you cannot use those facilities. So, you're excluded. Whereas if they had that registration number, if they had the opportunity to opt in and the rules were such that they would be able to accommodate active childcare, then all of a sudden you're opening up a huge market for children who are, all of a sudden, able to go because it's only costing their parents 15 per cent of the £40, £50 or £60 a day that it costs, and they would be getting involved and getting really great experiences. And, as far as I'm aware, that doesn't come out of Welsh Government's pocket either. Those kinds of measures don't cost anything but a change in policy or regulation would mean that it could make a huge difference.

Yes, thank you, both. With the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, there's a huge opportunity in terms of both sport and culture in joining up more in terms of sectors. So, perhaps that's something as a committee we can look to support.

In terms of inequality, Victoria, what you said was extremely powerful, I think. The reality of it being not just about the facilities, but making sure people have the kit and everything like that, and how expensive it can be for participation. We know that participation was an issue pre-pandemic. Are you seeing—? Well, what has been the impact of the pandemic? Has the situation worsened? Are there things that have become even more apparent for both organisations?

Absolutely. When we all got locked away, I don't know about you, but like anyone else with children, generally I was looking through the garage to find all the old sports kit that I could bring out to entertain the children. But if you don't have a stock of that, then where do you go? So, organisations such as the national charity StreetGames were going to governing bodies of sport that were giving them equipment, and they were providing packs to families, activity packs, which made an enormous difference. But it just shows the inequalities there.

And when you link back to the future generations Act and the programme for government, when we're talking about environmental impacts, actually if we had a national scheme of recycling sports kit and equipment, where we could work with universities and prisons in terms of teaching skills for refurbishment, we could work with organisations, commercial organisations, that give their staff days and days a year—I think even Welsh Government do the same. But, there are tens of thousands of days a year that are wasted because nobody really knows what to do with them. So, we can engage people like that. There are wonderful pockets of activity that go on to recycle some kit and equipment, but not enough. And that needs to be done nationally.

Cwestiwn da, Heledd. It's a good question. We've done four iterations of a survey by Savanta ComRes during the last 18 to 20 months, and the two key findings from the last iteration now, the fourth one, is that older adults or those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and those with a disability or long-standing health condition are most likely now to be doing less exercise than pre-pandemic. So, that's a worrying finding. And 24 per cent of those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds report doing no physical activity of at least 30 minutes on any day in the previous week. They're two really stark statistical findings that have worsened since the pandemic, as a consequence of it.

09:55

Heledd, forgive me; before you go on, I think Alun just wanted to ask why that was. Alun.

Yes. Why? Do we know why that is? Do you have any analysis of the reasons for that? Because it's a very stark statistic and I think it's important that we recognise that.

I guess that the answer to the 'why' is—part of the answer is what we can do about it. Quite a bit of it is access. Things were closed; maybe they were getting in the habit; there are lots of demographic reasons as well. We have noticed—. We've been doing quite a bit of work with an organisation called AKD Solutions on racism and anti-racist work, and we've found that quite a lot of family support is now lacking for those children who are interested in different activity. So, there are lots of reasons why; it's a pretty complex area, but we are continuing to do work with different organisations to explore that in more detail, because the answer to that question, Alun, is the answer to the work we need to do.

Because the facilities issue is important, and the equality issue I'm very concerned about, as we discussed earlier. But also of course, there is the activity that is free of charge, as it were: walking and running and the rest of it, and my memory of—it didn't do me any good, of course—I was doing more running during the lockdown than previously, because the time not spent in the car doing different things means that you free up more flexibility, and you don't think that—. Anecdotally, I don't think in Wales we live in the Peloton belt, as they do across the other side of the M4. But anecdotally, you see an awful lot more people talking about going for walks and going for runs and certainly, in my constituency, there was a lot more physical activity. I saw a lot more people on the street, as it were, walking around, than you'd see normally.

Yes. I think that the statistics for some of the sports would bear that out. The sports like running and cycling, and even golf, have identified an increase in activity, so that is true. But there are significant elements with certain areas of Wales where they're not displaying that positive outcome, and I would say what it demonstrates for us is we need to listen more locally to those issues because they vary geographically, and the solutions need to be local solutions rather than national programmes, in the main. We're working with the Centre for Digital Public Services at the moment on looking at our schemes to see why in certain areas our schemes might not be making an impact, because we think that maybe the structural stuff that we put in place—that we regard as a sensible way of approaching grants or provision of services—might not be right, and they might not be helping the situation. So, that will be an interesting outcome to see what we need to shift as a public body, but then we also need to talk locally to the people on the ground, to those community champions who know more about the issues in the communities.

Yes. Brian, forgive me interrupting; I'm very aware that we need to go back to Heledd in a moment, but if you could send us some of that information that you've mentioned, that would be really helpful. Heledd, thank you for your patience. Diolch yn fawr. Heledd.

Thank you both, Brian and Victoria. I think some of the ideas you've put forward as well are really interesting, exciting, and enticing, with lots of different Government agendas in terms of climate change and everything as well, when you're talking, Victoria, about the national scheme of recycling kits and so on. So, I know, Brian, you mentioned in terms of that it's not a national strategy, but the more localised solutions, but do you think there's a role for Government in terms of driving some kind of more strategic approach? And perhaps Victoria as well; it was hinted at with some of your comments in terms of the potential of things. Do you think there's a role for Government to do more in terms of having that strategic vision and joined-up approach? 

I think the Government does have a fairly comprehensive outlook on addressing inequalities. Certainly, when I look with my compatriots across the border at the Government directives that they're trying to adhere to, I'd say that the version that was developed in 2018 with the sector, and our consequent strategy, does have an emphasis on addressing inequalities that we're slowly catching up with, so Sport England is slowly getting there. So, I'd say the Government are doing quite a bit already.

I'd come back to that cross-sector work—realising how we could do more together across sectors would be the key role of Government here. And one of the other examples I didn't give earlier on, Heledd, that maybe I should have done is that there's such a high percentage of people who say they do physical activity for their mental health, and therefore there's a collaborative piece of work that could be done here with sport and mental health agencies that Government could help with. The problem we'll have is if we're asked to do more, like social prescribing, out of the same sport budget, which means that for 0.01 per cent of the health budget, we're being asked to do a lot of health or education, even, work, when really it should be cross-sector supported, not just sport.

10:00

I completely support what Brian said in terms of social prescribing and working more across. One of the examples that I would use for that is when we look at the exercise referral scheme, and as Brian was saying, talking about mental health, prescribing more sport and activities. So, I know, often, if you're on the exercise referral scheme, then you've got physical health challenges, possibly more than mental health challenges, and if you're just one-to-one in a gym, which you may indeed need in the first instance, but if there is no connection then with the wider community in terms of clubs and activities—the ramblers, the walking associations where people then can engage with others to do activity—continuing to do it on your own is quite a lonely place. So, if the health service, through GPs, are able to start overhauling that programme, and use us as delivery agents in the same way as they would with others, I think that gets rid of the financial barriers for us doing that, it provides more engagement, it helps with mental health and helps more prosperous communities. So, I think there are many of these policies that we need to investigate more to see where there are these things that will ultimately achieve a positive impact for our society.

Thank you. A final question if I may, Chair, just in terms of participation. So, in terms of some of the information provided beforehand to us, and some of the report, it's very stark in terms of women and young girls' participation in sport, and also from black and Asian groups, and so on. So, what steps are being taken? Are there more things that we could and should be doing in terms of how Government should be supporting you as well, to ensure that everyone has equality of access to participation, and also does participate?

I would imagine a lot of that is Brian's bag in terms of the participation. As a trade body, we need to see far more organisations getting engaged with this. As I say, I think the commercial sector has got a big role to play in this field, and all of the delivery agents. So, Sport Wales has got in place targets and indicators where, if they're investing in organisations, these are things they need to look at. What's been really helpful with the pandemic is the way that people have worked together. I've never in all my years of working in and around sport seen collaboration like it, and we need to make sure that that is maintained so that we've got joint priorities and work together on those priorities so that sport itself doesn't work in silos, never mind working with other agencies to start to achieve some of these things. Because, you know, you've got to see it to be it, haven't you?

One of the things that we work on is about recruitment of non-executive directors on sport boards, and actually there's a real lack of any real equality or diversity within that, and it's something that we're working really hard on. It's a big challenge, but I think if we've all got shared objectives then we can reach these outcomes.

10:05

Thank you. Brian, forgive me not calling you on this question; I'm afraid we've only got 15 minutes left and there are two Members yet to ask questions, one of whom hasn't had a chance to ask any questions yet, so if there's anything else you'd like to add on this, we'd be really grateful to have it in writing from you, if that's possible. Thank you so much.

Wnawn ni symud ymlaen at Carolyn. Os gallaf i ofyn am gwestiynau ac atebion mor gryno ag sy'n bosibl, plis, achos yr amseru. Diolch.

We will move on now to Carolyn. May I ask for as concise answers as possible, please, because of the time? Thank you.

Okay. Well, my questions are about the current COVID impacts—yn Saesneg. I think you've covered some of those already, really. One of the questions is: how many clubs do you think have closed because of COVID and the pandemic? Sometimes we talk about how we're moving on from it, but I know we're still in it at the moment. I know our local village hall hasn't reopened to the activities again because of having to do risk assessments as well, so it is an ongoing thing. So, again, the impact of COVID, and also the introduction of having passes as well, for large sporting events—your thoughts on that. Thank you.

Thank you for that. I agree. COVID hasn't ended yet, and part of the work we're still doing is getting ready and responding to the COVID urgent plan that Welsh Government have drawn up for the winter months. But having said that, to be optimistic, the sector has shown resilience and has bounced back as well as it can, but there are still areas of the sector and in terms of facilities that are struggling to reopen. They've been repurposed for vaccination centres, et cetera. Some haven't reopened because of financial issues, and I think, ultimately, that's an easier solution to that problem than anything else, but the other more complex areas as to why things haven't gone back to normal as yet are literally that: more complex and need a bit more attention and work. But there is no doubt that some sports are still facing issues because of COVID ongoing issues, and they tend to be the indoor sports, such as badminton and netball and table tennis, but they're doing a great job. They're struggling to get back to normality. So, COVID hasn't gone away and we're still working hard with those sports. Vicky was right earlier when she said the collaboration between areas of the sector has been very important. That needs to continue, because the solutions can be shared solutions, not just provided by each other independently.

I think the clubs that have probably bounced back best are the ones with the lowest cost base. So, when you look at sports in Wales, there's an estimated around £300 million worth of value in volunteers. That is what it would cost us if we had to pay them. That's 25 per cent of all people that volunteer in Wales doing so in sport. But, of course, some of those have been involved for very many years, and may feel vulnerable about going back, so some of our volunteer networks are being compromised from that. And now we need to bring in new blood as well, so that's really difficult. That's a challenge but we will get there with it. Also, some of the facilities still being closed; obviously Government has done an amazing job at getting the vaccine programme done, but that does still mean that in Cwmbran and in Deeside, we've still got facilities that aren't open, and no replacements being put in place temporarily to ensure that that activity can carry on. I know, in Ceredigion, they don't open their facilities. They've been closed the whole way through, until, I think it's Halloween they reopen. So, making sure that facilities are back open is really important. 

You asked about the COVID passes. So, the first big event to have to deal with that was the Swansea-Cardiff match on the weekend, and I spoke to colleagues yesterday, and actually they were pleasantly surprised by how well that worked. One of the big danger points, of course, is how that slows people going down, so they are opening facilities earlier, and I know the Principality Stadium have plans to do exactly the same. And they had a ring of stewards making sure people had the right COVID passes before they even got to that point, so actually it worked significantly better than people thought, but that does come with more resource challenges as well. But you know, the sector is fully committed to working with Welsh Government to ensure that public health is the top priority.

Can I just come back, as well—Vicky has reminded me—in terms of the volunteers issue?

10:10

Would it be possible to be as succinct as possible, please, Brian? Forgive me; it's because we're so short on time.

Yes, sure. Very quickly, I've just come away from a meeting this morning with ColegauCymru, who identified a particular issue for them with regard to students who have not had the opportunity to do work experience during the pandemic, and therefore feel reluctant to volunteer now. They're quite a big source of volunteers, especially female volunteers. So, there is an issue there that's been raised with us that we're looking, with ColegauCymru, at maybe using the winter of well-being funding to help try to address.

That was commendably succinct; thank you, Brian. Is it all right if we run over by two minutes, so we run until 10:22? Lovely. It's so we can give Tom sufficient time—Tom.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Dim ond dau gwestiwn sydd gyda fi, a chwestiwn byr i ddechrau: sut ydych chi'n gweld eich rôl i werthu Cymru i'r byd?

Thank you, Chair. There are just two questions from me, and a short question to begin with: how do you perceive your role in terms of selling Wales to the world?

Pwy bynnag sydd eisiau mynd yn gyntaf gyda hwnna.

Whoever wants to go first with that.

Wel, dwi'n fodlon ei wneud e. Diolch am y cwestiwn.

Well, I'm willing to go first. Thank you very much for the question.

The quick answer is that sport is an incredibly powerful tool to do that, at the elite end, specifically. But I think there's also an opportunity for us as a public body to demonstrate how sport as a vehicle for community cohesion, community development, national development and all the other things—the cross-sector stuff I talked about earlier—how Wales can be a leader for other countries on that as well. We work quite closely with New Zealand on different aspects because of our similarity in size and culture, and I think there is a role for us to play. However, we're not geared up to play that role currently in terms of our structure, size and skill set. But sport does have an incredibly powerful potential in that area and it's not just on the elite end where certain global stars can sell Wales to the world; there are other ways we can do it through sport as well. But we're not geared up currently to be able to do that. 

Talking about events, we've delivered some of the biggest events in the world here. Making sure that we have got eyes over all of the opportunities that we can bring to Wales means more training, as Brian said, for organisations, to ensure that they can identify these opportunities and bring them to the Welsh Government. Obviously, there's been a change in the way that the major events unit works, which is really positive to help to develop new events that can become global events cultivated here in Wales as well. Obviously, we were at the Senedd with the Olympians and Paralympians; they do wonderful things for our country as ambassadors. I think, as I said at the start, there's a way of connecting, now, quite easily through technology with the diaspora from around the globe, and to engage with them as well to help to invest in community sport.

Thank you. I agree, and I think the best PR Wales has had in the last decade has been that 2016 run with the football team getting to the semi-final of the Euros. Perhaps you could argue that we didn't necessarily capitalise on that, but in terms of PR for Wales and selling Wales to the world, I think that did a lot of good.

I'm just interested, Brian—you said that you weren't necessarily geared up to take advantage of opportunities like that; do you feel that you're supported enough by the Welsh Government and do you think there are actions that the Welsh Government could take to help gear you up, if you like, to do that?

We'd be more than willing to explore that potential. We responded to the international strategy of the Welsh Government and we responded to the British Council report that was also done on the power of sport—sports diplomacy, as it's now called. I think that report from the British Council referenced Sport Wales as being an agency that could—

Can I just cut in while you're on that? Were you involved in drawing that up?

In drawing up the international strategy?

No; we responded to it as part of the consultation.

The British Council one was an independent report that was also done that we responded to. And we've done a little bit of initial work with the British Council, because, as I said, it referenced Sport Wales as being a potential body to help drive this area. But in our response, we identified that that would be on—you know, we're currently not structured to do that. Our royal charter doesn't ask us to do that and, currently, the business plan or strategy we've agreed with the sector and the Welsh Government doesn't identify us as doing a lot of work in that area. It is something we could do, but it would require new investment. 

10:15

Okay. The same question, I guess, to Victoria. Do you feel that you're supported?

Yes, we are supported, but nobody can ever have enough support, I guess. You talk about the Euros in 2016, and actually the strapline that the FAW had come up with at that time in terms of 'together stronger'—if you put a value on that brand and how that spread across the world, that would have been worth millions and millions of pounds. And, actually, it does say it all in two words about how we all need to work together, because if we do come together, then we can be stronger. I think that's probably the message I would conclude with here: that we all need to work more closely together, and then we can achieve so much more. 

Just to follow up, and I will brief, to what extent are you involved in the Welsh Government's activities as detailed in their international strategy? For example, do you attend the Welsh Government's six-monthly meetings to co-ordinate activities, as described in their strategy, or is that something you're not involved in?

I've never been invited, but I'd happily do so.

No, we're not involved. Our current focus would be on Birmingham 2022, the Commonwealth Games, and trying to maximise the opportunity presented by that. But we'd be doing that through Commonwealth Games Wales, who are effectively in charge of both taking the team and the relationship with Birmingham 2022. So, we have a direct relationship with CGW, and, hopefully, in a tripartite way with the Welsh Government maximising those benefits. In the longer term, wider than that, no, we don't have direct involvement.  

I find that very surprising. I think that's a real missed opportunity, and certainly something we can pick up. I was going to ask what additional support that you think is needed in this area from the Welsh Government. I think clearly perhaps one is to get you involved in those discussions. Are there any other things that perhaps I haven't asked you about when it comes to international relations and selling Wales to the world that you could be supported on by the Welsh Government—that we haven't discussed?

I think that is something we'd be willing to look at, what would it take. That would be something we could do internally with the Welsh Government. The one thing I would say is we'd not want the discussion to be related solely to the elite end, the profile of performance sport. I think I said earlier that some of the work we're trying to do in utilising sport cross-sector would be really powerful for other nations, and they would value a nation like Wales leading the way on something like this. There are other examples of small countries doing some great work in areas that Wales is interested in. It doesn't necessarily need to always be at the performance end of sport. In many ways, the performance end of sport is the easy bit, because you're just using celebration and the performance aspect to sell a country, to market a country. But there's more we can do, I think, in a wider sphere that we would want to discuss with the Welsh Government. 

As I said before, I think, in terms of events, there's more that we could do. Your events department is doing an excellent job on what they're doing now, but slightly more resource in that department that could be committed to working with—. We've got 54 governing bodies of sport in Wales, so there are very many more opportunities, I think, for us to grow our own events organically, and to attract larger events, which obviously then sets Wales up on the world stage, which would be a great advantage. On the community side, and we're talking about investment and patronage, I've worked with the Australian Sports Foundation, and some of what they're doing is brilliant, and I think we can learn a lot from that, which I'm trying to do at the moment.

We can learn a lot from how they look at sport in terms of the Australian Government. So, in the UK, the only way that you can get gift aid for sport is if you are a not-for-profit organisation. All of sport in Australia, in the same way as the arts are in the UK, are deemed to be charitable, and therefore, there's a lot more tax-efficient ways available of being able to make donations. That has led to a lot more education within the network of community clubs, right through the spectrum—through to the Olympics—around knowing how to generate income to make things more resilient. And there is a disparity, as I say—all of arts is deemed to be charitable, and that's not the case for sport. I think there are so many hoops, often, that we have to jump through, and I know that's a UK challenge, but one I think that the Assembly can look at, to make that easier.

10:20

That's wonderful.

Diolch yn fawr iawn i'r ddau ohonoch chi am eich tystiolaeth y bore yma. Mae'n flin gen i bod amser wedi'n trechu ni, ond fel dŷn ni wedi sôn, byddai hi'n ddefnyddiol iawn ichi allu anfon nifer o bethau i ni mewn ysgrifen. Byddwn ni'n anfon transgript atoch chi hefyd, ynglŷn â beth dŷch chi wedi ei ddweud, er mwyn ei wirio fe hefyd. Ond dŷn ni'n ddiolchgar iawn. Mae nifer o'r pethau dŷch chi wedi eu dweud y bore yma wedi bod yn hynod bwerus, a bydd e'n ddefnyddiol iawn i ni fel pwyllgor. Diolch yn fawr iawn i chi am hynna.

Aelodau, byddwn ni'n cymryd egwyl fer iawn. Os allwch chi fod nôl, plis, erbyn 10:27, fel ein bod ni'n gallu dechrau—ydy, mae e'n sbesiffig iawn. Diolch.

Thank you very much to the both of you for your evidence this morning. I'm sorry that time has bitten us once again, but, as we've mentioned, it would be very useful for us for you to send things to us in writing. And we will send you a transcript also, in order to check for accuracy, of this morning's proceedings. But thank you very much. Everything you've said this morning has been very powerful, and it will be very useful to us as a committee. So thank you very much for that.

Members, we will take a very short break now. So, if you could return by 10:27, please, so that we can start our next session—yes, it's very specific. Thank you.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:21 a 10:30.

The meeting adjourned between 10:21 and 10:30.

10:30
3. Ymchwiliad undydd i chwaraeon: Academyddion a darparwyr cyfleusterau
3. One-day inquiry on sport: Academics and facilities providers

Croeso nôl i'n sesiwn ni y bore yma. Fe wnawn ni symud ymlaen yn syth at ein—. Wel, dŷn ni'n cario ymlaen gyda'n hymchwiliad undydd i chwaraeon, ac yn nesaf fe fyddwn ni'n clywed gan awdurdodau lleol ac arbenigwyr academaidd. Gaf i ofyn i'r tystion, plîs, gyflwyno eu hunain ar gyfer y Record? Af i at Jennifer yn gyntaf.

Welcome back to our session this morning. We'll move straight on to—. Well, we continue with our one-day inquiry on sport, and next we'll be hearing from local authorities and academic experts. I'll ask the witnesses to introduce themselves for the Record. I'll go to Jennifer first.

Good morning, everyone. I'm Jennifer Huygen and I'm head of policy and strategic partnerships at Community Leisure UK, and I'm also the lead for Wales. Thank you.

Good morning, everybody. I'm Melitta McNarry from Swansea University, where I'm professor of health and exercise physiology. I'm also the co-director of the Welsh Institute of Physical Activity, Health and Sport. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Os oeddech chi wedi gweld ein sesiwn yn gynharach y bore yma, byddwch chi'n gwybod ein bod ni'n eithaf byr o amser. Felly, gaf i ofyn am gwestiynau ac atebion mor gryno ag sy'n bosibl plîs? Fe wnawn ni symud yn syth at gwestiynau Alun Davies yn gyntaf.

Thank you very much. If you saw our earlier session this morning, you'll appreciate that we're quite short of time. So, if I can ask for answers and responses that are as succinct as possible, and we'll go straight to Alun Davies's questions first.

Thank you. I can see you on three screens here, so I'm not quite sure where I should be looking. In terms of moving forward, we know where we've been and the rest of it. I'm interested in what you believe the priorities should be from Government, and interested in terms, Jennifer, of delivering services, delivering facilities and all the rest of it. What do you think Government should be doing in order to support and sustain what you're able to do in the future? 

And then, Melitta, from a point of view of policy, the Welsh Government talks a good game, and I'm just interested as to whether you think they've got their beans in a row, as it were. So, I don't know if, Jennifer, you want to go first on that.

Thank you for that. I think that, from our perspective, there are three key priorities that we would like to highlight. First of all is that local government has been a key partner for leisure trusts in Wales, and, through the hardship fund, the leisure trusts have been able to access critical funding that has actually helped them to stay in a more favourable position than their counterparts in other nations in the UK. So, first of all, the answer is that local government needs to be properly financed so that they can actually support their leisure and culture trust partners and they can adequately invest in accessible public leisure and culture.

Second for us is that, because of the financial pressure that will continue into the next few years, there is very little continuity funding that leisure providers have. So, there is very little capital left to actually invest back into services and facilities. So, that actually needs to be addressed. And that is grant funding to continue programmes like sports development, but also making sure that they can actually invest in their facilities and actually futureproof buildings as well. I'm not sure whether you're aware, but there has been some research that came out recently from England that showed that up to two thirds of leisure facilities are past their replacement dates. And we know, from anecdotal evidence in Wales, that it is a similar story. So, because of the financial pressures, there will be less capital with providers to actually invest in their buildings. That needs to be addressed as well. 

And then, finally, just to highlight that there is a recruitment crisis in the leisure sector at the moment. Considering that 50 per cent of public leisure in Wales is delivered by leisure trusts on behalf of local government, any support that Welsh Government gives, in terms of training programmes or career opportunities that are being promoted in the public sector, should actually include leisure as well. So, those are our three key areas that I would like to highlight. Thank you.

And Melitta, did you want to—? Forgive me, is it Melitta or—? I hadn't—?

10:35

I totally agree that the Welsh Government are doing a fantastic job of the messages that they're trying to convey, and I think the policies are along the right lines. But it’s really the translation of those policies into practice that is the key next step. I think there’s an opportunity, that the public are listening more than perhaps they have in the past. So, we’ve got an opportunity here that we can capitalise on, and it really is on developing the right strategies to ensure that that occurs.

I’m interested by that, Melitta, because—. I’d like to come back to you as well, Jennifer, if I could. But, Melitta, am I interpreting your response there correctly when I say that the policies are right, but the delivery doesn’t live up to the ambition?

It’s one of those things that’s a bit chicken-and-egg and hard to tease out, but I think that definitely the right messages are there. Whether or not that’s always translated in the formal policy document is a different question, and there’s certainly a huge raft of policy documents. It can at times be a little bit hard to find the key message within. But, in terms of the delivery, I think there is now scope and appetite from all sectors to operationalise, when perhaps it was a case of not so much interest because there was so many other competing priorities. I think people have now become aware of the role that physical activity, sport and recreation can play in health and well-being, and it’s one of those cases of you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, effectively, and now that it has been temporarily removed, people have now learned to prioritise it. So, they’re willing to put perhaps resources behind it and time invested in it that they wouldn't have previously offered.

Have you got evidence of that, because I'm not sure I agree with that analysis, if I'm honest with you? My feeling—I'd be interested to hear what Jennifer's got to say about this—is that resources are not in place and that resources are a real problem as we move forward.

Sorry, I think I’ve not expressed myself particularly clearly. I wasn’t saying that resources are there; I’m saying that there’s capacity and appetite for the resources to be made available. I think making the resources available is the next step.

Okay. Thank you for that. I appreciate it.

Jennifer, when I think of my local trust—the Aneurin trust in Blaenau Gwent—it was created out of a financial crisis, essentially, in local government. It does a good job and, arguably, it does a far better job than the local authority did in managing both leisure facilities and sporting facilities. I've got no complaints at all. I've got a good relationship with them and they seem to work very well, and work better than the local authority. But they were born out of a crisis, and I'm interested as to whether that is the average experience. I don't think the local authority said, 'This is a good delivery vehicle. What we're going to do is to use this delivery vehicle to deliver better services.' What they said was, 'We can't afford to run the services we've got to run, so therefore were going to take it out, provide a service level agreement, and then let them get on with it.' Is that the reality of life out there?

Thank you for that. Traditionally, most leisure trusts have indeed been established because councils and local government have many different priorities and, therefore, they decided to establish a leisure trust to deliver the services for them. The model itself also comes with lots of benefit. Because it is a charitable model, most of our members are all either registered as charities or they're social enterprises. So, they work with that non-profit-distributing model, and they reinvest all of their profit back into the services, ensuring that there's equal access to programmes and subsidised access to programmes as well. So, in that sense, it's a different type of delivery model. It doesn't work in every local authority. Not every local authority works with a leisure trust. Some deliver it in-house or some go with a private operator. But, yes, most leisure trusts have been established because a local authority decided that, actually, it's better to have one organisation look after the leisure services and are actually really focused and specialise in that, and then also redistribute all the profit back into local leisure provision as well to ensure as many people as possible actually have access to physical activity opportunities locally.

10:40

Jennifer, I think that Carolyn Thomas wanted to come in with another question on that.

So, my understanding is that these trusts can apply for grant funding that local authorities can't apply for as well, which is part of it. But I know some still also have to have some core funding from local authorities to help subsidise them, in my experience. Is that your experience also? Because you did mention earlier about local government needing funding as well to continue deliver sports. So, just clarifying that, please.

Yes, of course. So, there's a contractual relationship between the leisure trust and local government, and, in many cases, local government pays a management fee to the leisure trust to deliver services. However, we've seen over the past few years—and this had already started before the pandemic—that management fees have decreased year on year because of the financial pressures that local government is under as well. So, they do receive a management fee from local government, but all other income comes from accessing Sport Wales funding, for example, through swimming programming, and they deliver national exercise referral schemes as well, and, of course, income from customers—so, gym memberships, for example, and ticket fees in that sense. So, it's a mixed batch in terms of income, but, yes, they do receive a management fee from local government, which has been decreased over the past year because of the pressures that local government is under as well.

I think that Tom Giffard would like to come in as well on this, please.

Yes. As we're talking about these organisations, a lot of them, I imagine, have members of staff that would have been on furlough for large periods over the last year. You mentioned, I think, at the beginning, a recruitment crisis. Is this a problem borne by that? Has that always been a problem? What's the extent of that particular issue?

Thank you. So, through the pandemic, we've faced recruitment challenges, specifically around lifeguards and swimming teachers. These have always been more-difficult-to-recruit positions. However, the pandemic has definitely exacerbated an employment crisis, and that is because, indeed, what you mentioned already: after people came back from furlough, they had either found other work, or they had changed their work preferences or life priorities. There were lots of people who actually decided they wanted different hours or they were not returning to the business. So, that was the retention challenge of it. 

And the second part of this is that, at the moment, there are not enough candidates applying for the number of positions that are currently available within the sector. And that is despite trusts reviewing salaries, combining job roles and making roles more attractive and more versatile. But, actually, we've heard from our members that they have had to recruit or are still in the process of recruiting between 20 per cent and one third of their usual workforce, and that is because, as I said, they either don't have enough candidates applying, or people then say, 'Actually, after three weeks, this is not the type of job for me because it doesn't work with my hours, for example, or with my life priorities as well.' So, generally, we've had that struggle—that leisure is not seen as a career choice, and that is definitely made worse because of the pandemic.

I was interested by that final answer, because it paints a pretty dark picture in lots of different ways, and I'm not sure that my next question's going to help lift the mood. Jennifer, in your first reply, the first point you made was about funding and funding for local government. My guess is that, no matter what part of the kingdom you sit in, the funding future for local government for the next five years or so is going to be pretty dark. We don't know what; Governments haven taken decisions on this yet. But it's difficult to envisage a situation where you see increases—real-term increases—in funding, and it's difficult to see a situation where large numbers of local authorities will see leisure as a priority over social services, where there's an absolute crisis taking place in every part of the kingdom. So, when you look forward, I'm interested in how you see the trusts that you represent actually developing perhaps more of a commercial edge to them, looking for alternative sources of funding and finance. Because, I think, if you're going down the one-way street of local authority funding, I don't think you're going to get the sort of resources that you believe you require.

10:45

We may have to move on soon, so if it were possible to have a relatively short answer—I know it's a large question.

Absolutely. I would say there are two sides to the answer. One of them is that trusts have already looked at commercialising some of their businesses as well—so, they have cafes in their leisure centres; they work with commercial businesses to sponsor events as well. But, secondly, I think—and it is quite crucial; I know that Brian and Victoria this morning mentioned this as well—is the health and well-being angle. During the pandemic, trusts have supported the NHS and they provided facilities for testing, for mass vaccination as well. Considering that they have that really good link with the NHS and the public health sector now already, and because they deliver the national exercise referral scheme, they have the facilities, they have the skills within the workforce that they do have to actually support health and well-being programmes. So, actually, there is the potential to actually align funding from a public health perspective with leisure trusts to actually have that mutual benefit—to support the health and well-being of our communities, and also leisure trusts will have a different type of income as well, relying less on direct local government funding.

Melitta, oeddech chi eisiau ychwanegu unrhyw beth cyn inni symud ymlaen—at hyn?

Did you want to add anything, Melitta, before we move on?

I think Jennifer's done a fantastic job there of summarising the key issues, so I'll allow us to move on at that point.

O, ffantastig. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Fe wnawn ni symud ymlaen at Heledd Fychan.

Fantastic, thank you very much. We'll move on to Heledd Fychan.

Diolch yn fawr i chi'ch dwy. Cyfranogiad ydy thema fy nghwestiynau i, ac, yn benodol, os ydyn ni'n edrych cyn y pandemig, rhai o'r heriau oedd yna o ran sicrhau cyfranogiad. Beth ydych chi'n meddwl a fyddai'n help o ran gwella cydraddoldeb o ran cyfranogiad? Beth fyddech chi'n hoffi gweld y Llywodraeth yn ei wneud i gefnogi hynny, os unrhyw beth?

Thank you very much to the both of you. So, participation is the theme for my questions, and, more specifically, if we look pre-pandemic, some of the challenges that existed in terms of ensuring participation. So, what do you think would help in terms of improving inequality in terms of participation, and what would you like to see the Welsh Government do to support that?

Pwy bynnag sydd eisiau mynd yn gyntaf.

Whoever wants to go first.

Jennifer, you've been unmuted, so would you like to go first?

Oh, thank you. I thought maybe Melitta wants to go first, since I've been answering questions, but thank you very much. Just very briefly, one that I mentioned before—trusts, they subsidise services and programmes, so they deliver a wide range of programmes from free swimming to walking football to women-only classes, and these are really, truly important. However, because of the pressures that they're under, they are not able to increase their programming at the moment. So, what we'll need is some very targeted intervention in terms of grant funding and support, I think, potentially through Sport Wales, to make sure that they can deliver those programmes, because, as I said before, they don't have enough capital at the moment to reinvest into the business. So, I think that is crucially important, that the funding that comes out of Sport Wales, of course, through Welsh Government, actually targets those specific types of programmes that we know are already being delivered by trusts, but are currently under pressure because of the other challenges that they're under.

Thank you. So, as you highlighted, there are major issues in terms of participation and the inequalities that have been exacerbated through the pandemic. We know that older adults, women, girls and those from a lower socioeconomic status are less likely to now be participating in activity than those in other groups. What's not as clear as we might wish is we haven't got great pre-pandemic data, so we're doing a lot of conclusions on the basis of our current levels. We don't know specifically that that's exclusively a result of the pandemic, but nonetheless it's a major issue that needs to be resolved, regardless of its cause.

I think one of the important things that is increasingly coming across is that, especially, people in those groups have lost confidence in their ability to access or engage in physical activity or sport. And there was a big campaign—I guess that might be the best phrase—recently to highlight that whilst men's sports were reopening, a number of women's events were continuing to be cancelled or postponed. So, there's a very high perceived inequality there, and it seems to be being propagated as things continue to move on. So, I think where we need to focus our attention is on facilitating engagement, so providing safe spaces, be that the repurposing of things like office car parks after hours, or school playgrounds after school hours, and also providing access to those. So, it's having a safe space and it's having the facilities to do something in those safe spaces. So, there's a resource question and there's also providing people with the confidence, because we've seen that people had the best of intentions to increase their physical activity levels—we especially saw this around springtime—but that intention hasn't been realised for a large percentage of those people. So, there's something that's still blocking them. 

10:50

Melitta, forgive me interrupting you. I'm very sorry to interrupt you. Do you have any examples of what you've just been—? If you are able to tell us now, that would be great, or, if not, if you could write to us with some of those examples, that would be really helpful, please. Sorry to have interrupted you.

No worries at all. There is some great data that came out from the ComRes survey that Sport Wales ran. It might be best if I send that over to you in writing, if that's okay, because otherwise the stream of statistics might get a little bit hard to follow. [Laughter.]

So, yes, I think it's about ensuring that we make sure that, those people who can't currently conceptualise actually initiating activity, they overcome those barriers. And it's partly a confidence issue. It's either their fear of contracting or spreading infection, or perhaps they've just got so used to not engaging in activity outside the home that they no longer feel capable of doing so. So, these are a subset, but they're a very important subset to focus on, because potentially that's where the greatest health and well-being gains will be made, and therefore the greatest reductions in burden on healthcare services. 

Thank you, both. I just think it's been really interesting to hear in terms of the need for interventions, specifically, to support this. In terms of any other barrier, in terms of—if we think pan Wales, some of the things that we heard in the previous session were around the facilities and so on. Do you see that as a barrier to participation as well? Should there be, well, greater investment in facilities, and specifically from Government?

I totally agree that there is a barrier in terms of facilities, both in terms of that some of those have been repurposed for the immediate requirements that we had, but also growing inaccessibility due to geographical or socioeconomic factors. So, that's something that we need to address, especially with our slightly more hybrid working model these days. Where active transport and all those other factors are no longer such a contributor to our physical activity levels, then we need to find ways to still enable people to achieve those levels of activity that we know are associated with health and well-being. 

Jennifer, before you come in, Tom Giffard wants to ask a supplementary on this, please.

Yes, sorry, just very quickly. It's something you touched on very briefly about five minutes ago, but I just wanted to hone in on. I think in some areas, and you mentioned rural areas as well, facilities aren't always readily available. One place that does have, on the whole, quite good sporting facilities are our schools, in communities. So, I wonder what assessment you make of the accessibility of those facilities to the public, and how open they are for members of the public or sports groups to access after school hours.

Shall we go to Melitta on that, and then we'll go back to Jennifer and then back to Heledd? I'm speaking this through because it's hybrid—I just want everyone to be aware of how we're doing it. So, Melitta first, please.

I think it may be better to ask Jennifer this question. In terms of the accessibility, I think there are great options. They're fantastic spaces, they do have quite a lot of physical resources available to them, but I wouldn't be able to say anything about the use of them in terms of policies, I'm afraid. 

Thank you. Yes. I can't comment on schools specifically, and the school facilities available, however I do know that leisure trusts work in the communities as well, as opposed to only in the facilities. So, they go out into the community, together with national organisations like StreetGames, for example, organising activities in the community for people. They also go to care homes specifically to deliver activities there—often, for example, chair-based activities to support strength exercises. So, they do go out—pre-pandemic, and also, during the pandemic, where possible and where it was safe to do so, they would go out into the community to deliver activities as well. But, as Melitta mentioned earlier as well, the transport to facilities is of course something that the leisure sector or the physical activity sector on its own cannot address, but there are other ways to go into the facility, notwithstanding of course the challenge with public transport. 

That's actually—. Heledd, if I can test your patience just for one minute, that was something I had hoped to ask you. In terms of safety considerations, particularly perhaps for young women, when accessing leisure centres and sport facilities, do you think that there's more could be done to alleviate—well, to help women feel more able to access those services? This will of course be true for young men just as much as women, but thinking about what's been in the news in the past few months.

10:55

I think this is probably best for Melitta to comment on, because we don't have any data on that specifically.

Similarly, we don't have any data at the moment, but I think it's a very large question and I think a systems approach is probably the best way to try and address it. So, there's not one factor that we can change that's going to resolve that issue, but if we could start to tackle the various different components, they would all add in. So, I don't think there's one thing we could say in terms of you need to improve the lighting or the location—not one factor will make people feel safer—but, if we could address them using the systems mapping approaches, it would enable us to identify what those targets would be.

Diolch am hynny. Heledd, diolch am eich amynedd. Nôl i chi.

Thank you for that. Thank you for your patience, Heledd. Back to you.

Mae'n iawn. Dwi'n hapus i ni symud ymlaen, diolch.

I'm happy to move on, thank you.

Ocê. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Fe wnawn ni symud, felly, at Carolyn Thomas.

Okay. Thank you very much. We'll move on now, then, to Carolyn Thomas.

Okay. Thank you. I just want to ask you what COVID impacts do you think clubs are experiencing and the difficulties from that, and a question again about COVID passes, which I asked the previous panel. It's my experience that a lot of the community facilities are still struggling under COVID as well, with volunteers and having to do risk assessments regarding opening up. And we're still under COVID restrictions and concerns at the moment, so I understand that, but just your views on it, please.

May I ask if the second part of that question can be repeated? I just had to increase my volume to understand the question. Apologies.

Yes. So, really, I'm asking about the continued COVID impacts on clubs and any issues that they are struggling with, specifically regarding funding. And do you think extra funding from Welsh  Government is required? And I was just saying, really, my views about—. I understand local community facilities are still maybe not opening up yet, struggling, because of risk assessments needed under COVID, and a lot do rely on volunteers as well, in my experience.

So, just really, a question on that—you know, do you think extra funding is required to get them—? So, maybe some seed funding to get them open again and working. And also a question regarding the COVID passes: your views on that.

Thank you. That is a big question. I'll try to be as concise as I can.  I won't comment on the experience for clubs specifically, but mostly  comment on the facility operator from a leisure trust perspective. So, in that regard, our January 2021 report showed that, for Welsh leisure trusts, their unrestricted reserve levels had fallen to 42 per cent compared to pre-COVID levels. However, that's actually still positive news compared to what happened in England and Scotland, and that is because of the hardship fund for local government, and leisure trusts have been able to tap into that fund specifically and that has actually helped them stabilise, relatively speaking, their financial position. However, they've not been able to top up their reserves at the moment, so, as I said earlier, there's no capital left to invest into the business, and they're seeing decreased numbers of return. So, upon initial reopening, there was a higher return of customers and the public to facilities, but, at the end of summer, that had kind of stagnated, at the end, so it was between 60 to 80 per cent, depending on the facility that you go to, in terms of the customer return level. And that obviously predicts income levels specifically.

In terms of the reopening work you mentioned, at the moment, that's still limited in many facilities. So, the facility may be open, but they may have reduced class sizes because of ventilation considerations for COVID safety measures, and they also may have reduced opening hours due to staffing levels as well. But there's also a range of other financial pressures, specifically gas and electricity prices. I know it's not a challenge specific to the leisure sector, but it definitely impacts providers, because additional annual cost can range anywhere from £9,000 for a single-site operator to between £180,000 and £210,000 for a medium-sized trust with multiple sites, in terms of the increase in gas and electricity prices. And because many operators have large venues and older venues, the energy costs will already be much higher. And then on top of that there's also the national insurance increase that adds further financial pressure. So, there are lots of different financial pressures that are not directly because of COVID, but because of the COVID impact on reserve levels and the deficit, which of course has an impact.

As I mentioned, I cannot stress enough how important the hardship fund has been for leisure trusts, as it has been for local government. So, the fact that it has been extended to the end of this financial year is a major help, and that should be one of the main considerations moving forward—whether the hardship fund should be extended to support the facility operators specifically.

I'll probably pause there to give a chance to Melitta to comment as well, because I don't want to take up all the time. 

11:00

Thank you. I think it's hard to underestimate just how significant the impact of COVID has been on clubs, and how long it's going to go on for. I think I've heard recent statistics suggesting it may be in the four-to-five-year bracket before we really see COVID not continuing to influence club delivery and club finances. 

There are a number of different ways in which that seems to be being manifested, and we looked at this in the recent report that we conducted as part of the Welsh Institute of Physical Activity, Health and Sport. One of the areas is that the type of activity that people want to engage in has totally shifted, and that has changed what demand for clubs is, and therefore what the membership of clubs is. So, rather than wanting to take part in indoor activities, there's been a rapid and very significant rise in outdoor activities and activities that can be conducted from the doorstep. Obviously, many of these don't require a club membership, so clubs are therefore suffering reduced membership, but also reduced attendance at events, with social distancing causing restrictions on how many people they can have in a single session as well.

So, all of these things are then further exacerbated by—as Jennifer has highlighted—the lack of volunteers currently available. If we had sufficient volunteers there may be a way that we could circumvent some of the issues with social distancing, but it's exacerbating the issue even further. We haven't got enough people to deliver it, and then we've got space restrictions. We need to be able to run multiple simultaneous sessions to try and increase those memberships. 

One of the things that seems to also have attracted people away from what we may have deemed the conventional club memberships has been very enticing introductory offers and welcoming atmospheres that have been offered by a number of relatively new sporting or physical activity provisions, so I think there's something here where some of the more conventional and grass-roots sports need to offer similar introductory offers to try and increase participation and get people back in the door.

In terms of COVID passes, it's not an area that I would know a huge amount about, but from the physiology perspective I would certainly be strongly supportive of them, especially for anything that involves vigorous energy expenditure. 

That's great. 

Ocê, gwnawn ni symud ymlaen yn olaf at Tom Giffard. 

Okay, we'll move on finally to Tom Giffard.

Can I move the conversation on to sport and international relations, and just ask how you think sport is and should be used to promote Wales to the world, and whether you think the Welsh Government is doing all it can do in that regard at the moment?

Pwy bynnag sydd eisiau mynd yn gyntaf.

Who wants to go first?

Jennifer, you've been unmuted, so do you want to go first?

I can comment on that, if that's okay. With the Olympics this year, we saw that Welsh athletes who were very successful at the Olympics had actually trained in their local facilities, and this is crucial, that we have that provision locally, in every community, so every child can actually become active and they can continue a career in sport if they want to. So, we need to have that local grass-roots community facility, and once athletes are successful, we need to engage them and share their story of how they started locally, and how local government, leisure trusts, Welsh Government investment in public leisure and sporting facilities has actually helped them succeed as well. So, I think that's really quite crucial that we start with that local provision to ensure that we succeed on an international level. 

11:05

The only thing I would add is that, obviously, sport gives us a lens where we can convey all the essences of what Welsh culture is all around, and I think that gives us a unique opportunity to highlight just how special Wales is. In terms of a more economical, financial perspective, obviously sport tourism is a huge revenue, and finding ways that we can reinitiate that would be very important going forward, and may enable us to then capitalise on some of the focus that has come on to Welsh athletes following the Olympics, and feed that back down into the grass-roots sports. So, maybe that elite small percentage can actually help to support the foundations when they hopefully one day become—some of them—those elite athletes. 

Yes, and just to come back, that elite percentage you mentioned, the Gareth Bales of the world, how can we encourage them to do that work? I'm not saying they don't do it already, but are there steps that the Welsh Government can take to help them do that?

For me, it's very much around—. I think they are all eager to do it, and I think there is a lot of willingness on the part of the majority of elite athletes to inspire the next generation, be that the actual future elite athletes or the average athlete or the average physical activity person. But how we do it is very much we need to work on how we convey the messages. So, speak to people in the language that they want to hear. Obviously, this is something that academia and research is especially poor at, but something that we are trying to push towards, and perhaps there's a stronger link that could be made there in terms of how do we get to children. I don't think schools are necessarily the right approach. I think children are bombarded with messages in schools about what they need to be and what they should become. I think we need to take more novel and age-appropriate methods of communicating these exciting opportunities available to them rather than almost guilting our current younger generation into feeling they should be more active or trying to become the next Gareth Bale. 

And, Jennifer, is there anything that you'd like to add to that? I saw that you were nodding your head to what Melitta was saying. 

Thank you. Yes, I absolutely agree with Melitta. I think the only thing I would add to that is, indeed, we need to have these spaces where children can be active, and I think athletes inspire children and young people specifically to be active, not necessarily because they then will become an athlete themselves, but just to see the fun in being physically active, and the fun in engaging with sports, potentially also with team sports, and with your friends and with your family as well. And I think that is crucial if we can inspire that in our young people because it will benefit them in the long term and throughout their life if they have an active lifestyle. So, I think that more active lifestyle should be encouraged, and I think athletes usually play an important role in that.

Just one very small point just to follow up, I wonder whether there's a role here for—. I cited Gareth Bale as the example; perhaps that's the wrong example because a lot of us will know about football. But if I give an example: I think people probably know more about Jade Jones than the rules of taekwando, so I wonder whether there's a role there for those elite sports people to almost sell those smaller sports that people might not come across on a day-to-day basis. So, I just wonder what assessment you make of that, and again, what steps we could take to encourage that.

I would probably think it's about demonstrating the breadth of opportunities that are out there and not just focusing in on those kind of big-ticket sports that we all, as you say, know more about. But a key component of that is enabling children to have the fundamental movement skills they need to be able to go into a range of different sports. So, we need to be promoting movement, and we need to be developing these competencies in our primary school children so that those options are available to them, because the current situation we're in, something that has yet again been exacerbated by COVID, is that our children have lost the ability to perform what we might consider simple movements. They haven't got the proficiency, and if they haven't got that, they can't then take the next steps in becoming engaged in activity for their own enjoyment, or for their sporting success.

So, we really need to take this back down to the level of primary schools and give those practitioners the resources they need to really develop those fundamental skills. 

11:10

Thank you. Honestly, I have nothing to add to what Melitta said already. I think we have summarised it there. We need to enjoy that—. We need to instil that enjoyment in sport and the variety of sport and physical activity that is available, and encourage that. I think the only one thing that I could add to that is that if you have something like school swimming, for example—I think it's really important, because that actually brings a child into a local leisure facility and they may then not go through with swimming after, but they are actually introduced to that active environment as well, and they can actually then see, 'Well, actually, this site also offers yoga classes', or they offer taekwondo, or they offer volleyball, or netball, or football, and they're introduced to that atmosphere and that landscape, which I think is crucially important. So, absolutely, we need to engage schools and ensure that there's a breadth of opportunities available there for children and young people specifically.

Yes, just very quickly. Melitta, I don't know if you've got any information on this, but we've talked about the last couple of years in the negative, because of the pandemic, and the impact on structures and facilities and the rest of it. But there's another story, isn't there, as well, about physical activity and sport and well-being, and that's the development of technology. I wear an Apple watch, which tells me that my heart is still beating, which surprises some, and I use it to manage—I know I don't look like a middle-distance runner, but when I'm out running, I use it to manage heart rates and the rest of it and to measure distance and to measure performance. And there's a plethora of different programmes that enable you to do fitness classes at home and the rest of it. I'm wondering, has all of this different development had a real impact in terms—? Do policy makers understand the potential of this technology, and has it had an impact that you can see in terms of both approaches to policy and outcomes of policy?

That's a fascinating and very large question, which I probably don't have time to do justice to, but I'll try and concentrate on probably the final part of the question especially. As you say, there is a huge number of different technologies available, and, in some ways, they can be beneficial for physical activity, and, in other ways, they provide further barriers to engaging in physical activity. One of the main barriers that we have is that they're not readily available for our youth population. For older populations, so adults and older adults, they are available, but then we get into issues with technology familiarity. And I think, if implemented in the correct way, they could be a huge benefit and they could be integrated within policies far more. I think there is a big scope there for things that could be done, but as yet, we're kind of skirting around the edges rather than really getting into the middle of it all, partly because technology moves so fast, and it's hard for policy to move at that speed.

But surely, Governments can be a little more agile than they actually are. I look at my fitness instructors in their studios in Santa Monica and LA and they look like unfeasibly beautiful people on the screen and I look like me, and I'm thinking, surely, we can be saying to people—. Because we've got huge issues with health and fitness, and surely policy makers, both in health and other parts of Government, can be more proactive in facilitating, because, you know, the barriers you've described are the barriers, and we understand that, but surely the role of Government is to take down barriers, to break down barriers, to enable people to access the opportunities that are available. And I'm not convinced that policy makers in Government are thinking as widely as perhaps they should be.

Yes. We did a recent piece of work, a future-gazing report, to try and see what trends were going to be there for physical activity, and obviously, technology featured very significantly, with, also, an increasing drive for localisation, where technology fits quite well in terms of, rather than travelling miles to go for that cycle ride up Snowdonia, we are going to do something on our Zwift bike at home. So, there is a lot of capacity there for what technology may be able to do, but we don't want it to occur at the loss of social interaction or the benefits for mental health of actually being involved in a group environment that isn't just 2D on a computer screen. So, there are a lot of options, and certainly policy could be more agile, but I think there's a lot more work that needs to be done to enable that to really reflect the pace at which technology will move on. Because certainly in the research world many people are loathe to start going down the route of developing apps, because you've no sooner developed it that it's out of date, and it's extremely costly to continue to refine it and keep it up to date. So, there are cost implications of embedding technology within our policies as well. 

11:15

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Dŷn ni mewn i'n pedair munud a hanner olaf. Dwi jest eisiau siecio a oedd unrhyw beth roedd un ohonoch chi eisiau ei ddweud sydd ddim wedi codi y bore yma. 

We're into our final four and a half minutes. I just wanted to check, did either of you want to just say something that hasn't arisen yet this morning? 

It doesn't seem like there's anything that you're saying that absolutely had to come up. We mentioned—

We didn't touch on the set of questions regarding the impact of Brexit, so if we've got time, should we just ask a little on that?

Okay. Diolch, Carolyn. We are very, very short of time. Is there any headline point that you'd like to highlight for us in terms of either positive or negative impacts of Brexit on any of what we've just been talking about? I appreciate that this is a lot to put on you in the last few minutes. If there's anything headline you'd like to share with us, and if I could invite you to write to us with any further issues. Jennifer, is there anything that you would like to highlight? 

The only thing I would highlight is that Brexit exacerbates challenges that are there across the economy. So, it exacerbates things with supply chain challenges that impact on trusts being able to fully reopen and, therefore, recover. But it also impacts on the number of applications they receive, and obviously the worsening recruitment crisis. And then, of course, as Brian mentioned this morning already, there's the economic funding as well. So, those are the three core areas, which are not specific to the sport sector, but they obviously impact our sector as well. 

Thank you. That was very commendably succinct. Melitta, was there anything else that you'd like to highlight on this? 

The only other area that I would highlight is in terms of the potential threat that Brexit poses to being able to use fully sport as our avenue to increasing the focus on Welsh culture, facilitating some of those grass-roots sports, and supporting those grass-roots sports that we discussed earlier. 

And even more succinct. That was wonderful. Thank you so much. 

Diolch, Carolyn, am hwnna. A gaf i ddiolch i'r ddwy ohonoch chi am eich amser y bore yma, ac am eich tystiolaeth? Mae hwnna wedi rhoi nifer o bethau i ni feddwl amdanyn nhw. Byddwn ni'n anfon transgript atoch chi o'r hyn rydych chi wedi ei ddweud i chi allu gwirio, ac rydyn ni wedi sôn efallai y byddwn ni'n cysylltu gyda chi yn gofyn rhai pethau yn ysgrifenedig hefyd. Ond, am nawr, a gaf i ddiolch ichi am eich amser?

Ar gyfer yr Aelodau, byddwn ni'n cymryd egwyl fer. Os gallwch chi fod yn ôl ymhen 10 munud ar yr hwyraf, plis, erbyn 11:28. Diolch yn fawr.   

Thank you, Carolyn, for that. May I thank both of you for your time this morning, and your evidence? It's given us a lot to digest. We will send you a draft transcript of what you've said for you to check, and we have mentioned that we will contact you to have something in writing too. But, for now, may I thank you for your time?

For Members, we will take a short break. If you could return within 10 minutes at the latest, by 11:28. Thank you very much.  

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:18 ac 11:32. 

The meeting adjourned between 11:18 and 11:32. 

11:30
4. Ymchwiliad undydd i chwaraeon: Cymdeithasau chwaraeon
4. One-day inquiry on sport: Sports associations

Croeso nôl i'n sesiwn y bore yma. Fe wnawn ni symud yn syth at eitem 4, sef ein hymchwiliad undydd. Rydym yn cario ymlaen gyda hwnna a nawr dŷn ni'n gofyn cwestiynau i gyrff cynrychioladol. Alla i ofyn i'r tystion plis i gyflwyno ei hunain ar gyfer y record? Gwnaf ddechrau gyda'r bobl sydd gyda ni yn yr ystafell. Sarah yn gyntaf.

Welcome back to our session this morning. We'll go straight on to item 4, which is our one-day inquiry into sport. We're continuing with that now. We'll be asking questions of the sports associations. May I ask the witnesses to introduce themselves for the record? I will start with those present in the room. Sarah first of all.

Hi, I'm Sarah Jones, chief executive of Wales Netball.

Bore da, I'm Fergus Feeney, chief executive of Swim Wales.

Noel Mooney, chief executive of the Football Association of Wales.

Steve Phillips, I'm chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union.

Robert Butcher, chair of the Welsh Rugby Union.

I think those are all the witnesses we have at the moment. I know that we will be joined shortly by Ian Gwyn Hughes from the FAW and Mark—forgive me, what was Mark's surname, Steve, from the WRU?

Lovely. Thank you very much. If I can ask a question firstly just to Steve and Rob. I wanted to ask about the impact of the decision to sell broadcasting rights for the autumn internationals to Amazon. I know this is a very topical issue at the moment. What do you think the impact of that decision will be, please, on grass-roots sports specifically?

[Inaudible.]—I think it's probably worth understanding that all international media rights are now sold as a collective via the six nations championship. So, Wales don't do it as a stand-alone item. You'll be aware that we make it very clear to all our six nations partners and to all our broadcasters that we require a Welsh language version, and we're very pleased that Amazon are taking that obligation on board. They're discharging it and there is a significant investment coming from Amazon to deliver the Welsh language. I think the real point of this is that, with the way sport is going, there needs to be a mix of free-to-air and pay tv. 'Pay tv' is probably too strong a word, because Amazon is not a Sky or a BT Sport et cetera. And in terms of what we're trying to do from a community point of view, in terms of our community clubs, we are arranging that there is a special deal for our rugby clubs in dealing with the Amazon subscription, if I can call it that. So, all community clubs in Wales can enjoy watching Wales in the four autumn internationals.

11:35

Diolch, Steve. Ian, croeso i'n sesiwn y bore yma. Mark, croeso hefyd.

Thank you, Steve. Welcome to our session this morning, Ian. Mark, welcome to you too.

We're just discussing with the WRU the impact of the Amazon deal. I know Heledd Fychan is going to come in for a supplementary. Before she does, can I just check if we need to check any sound with Mark or Ian? No, we're fine. So, we'll move to Heledd Fychan.

Thank you for that. I understand that, in Ireland, all of Ireland’s matches will be shown on RTÉ. I'm also interested in finding out more about the assessment you’ve made or any discussions with S4C about the long-term implications for broadcasting in Wales in the Welsh language, because, obviously, this is a huge change away from how it has been done previously, and whether you’ve also considered the impact of that decision on the Welsh language.

First of all, to pick up your Irish point, that is a legacy contract. So, not all the contracts between the six nations partners are coming to an end. There was a year left on the RTÉ contract, and Amazon will pick up everything for the 2022 autumn series.

In terms of engaging, it will not surprise you that we’re very tight with S4C. They’re great partners of ours, and they’ve got an extended involvement in the United Rugby Championship. So, we’re very fond of S4C and we work very closely with them, and you probably know already that S4C have extended highlights immediately after the match. So, there’s always going to be a place for S4C here.

But specifically the impact on the Welsh language. Because we had S4C before us last week, and the chief executive expressed his concern at this decision and that they don't welcome it. So, has there been consideration of the impact on the Welsh language and broadcasting that you've had, or are those discussions ongoing?

My answer's going to be similar to the first answer. Amazon have created a Welsh language channel, and the matches will be broadcast in Welsh. There are two points here, I think, and there’s a lot of commentary about it. There is the issue about the Welsh language. We’re very passionate about the Welsh language, and like I said, we pushed really hard—well, we weren’t pushing hard; it was non-negotiable for us. So, if people are not doing the Welsh language, we’re not signing up to the deal. So, the fact that Amazon have created a lot of investment in this Welsh channel—we're very pleased about that. That is the Welsh language piece. I think then it’s a different conversation, and this always gets very merged, between free-to-air, which is S4C, and pay tv. They’re two separate questions, I think.

I’m grateful to you for those answers. I think it’s the easiest thing in the world for jobbing politicians to sit in judgement of these matters. We don’t have to take part in these sometimes very difficult contractual negotiations. But we do have a role, I think, in ensuring that the cultural life of Wales is available to people in Wales. When I talk about the cultural life, I don’t simply mean in linguistic terms, but the culture of club football. I watch club football on S4C, and it’s fantastic—Gôl and Sgorio and all these different programmes have always been brilliant. I watched the recent Wales qualifiers with Estonia and the Czech Republic on S4C—it’s fantastic to see. And do you know, I’m watching more rugby now this season. I think the United Rugby Championship is a great product, and the availability on both BBC Wales and S4C is fantastic. I think both broadcasters are doing a really good job of bringing that to us.

My concern is that we lose we something, don’t we? We lose something in our national life. And I didn’t realise until you said this that this was part of the overall deal with the six nations, because I think many of us were terrified by seeing that takeover of the six nations or the sale of the six nations. I’m one of these travelling fans who goes and watches Wales play. I’ve been doing so since I was a teenager. Is there a danger that we gain financially, but we lose an important element of who we are as a country? Because the national identity of Wales is so tied up with sport and people feeling a part of it, but we exclude a part of our community and our society, and we have gain, but a fantastic loss as well. And I think cricket found that, didn't it?

11:40

I think you're absolutely right. So, all the points that you're highlighting are concerns that we run through when we're doing our decision making. So, first of all, long may you continue to be a travelling six nations fan. So, despite your history, I hope you've got another load of those left for you. But I do completely get your point. It's in our DNA, whether that's rugby, whether that's football—it doesn't matter what it is—it's sport. So, we're very conscious of that, and, whilst I can't get into too much detail, because of commercial considerations, we didn't really have a comparable free-to-air offer. Because I think that—. I can't get into the details of that for obvious reasons, but that is—. It's probably worth saying that there wasn't a comparable offer, albeit, maybe, just to close off a previous question, I know that S4C were in conversations with Amazon about how they could help and what they could do and how could they work together. And, as I said earlier, they've ended up with the—which I think is fine—extended highlights package immediately after the match.

But to come back to your point: is sport—whether that's rugby, football; it doesn't really matter what—an integral part of our DNA? Absolutely. And we're very conscious of the sport having to be accessible to all. The flipside of that is that we are in a professional sport, and, whether we like it or not, professional sport does get very expensive.

Yes. We'll probably—.

Diolch am hwnna. Bydd yn rhaid inni symud ymlaen at rai eitemau eraill. Gwnaf i fynd nôl at Alun, ond gaf i ddweud, ar gyfer Mark ac Ian, sydd newydd ymuno â ni, efallai na fydd amser i bob person, achos mae panel mawr iawn gyda ni heddiw? Fydd ddim amser i bob person ymateb i bob cwestiwn, ond os dŷch chi eisiau yn arbennig dweud rhywbeth, a fyddech chi cystal â jest gwneud hyn gyda'ch llaw a byddwn ni'n gwneud yn siŵr ein bod ni'n dod atoch chi. Ond gwnaf i fynd nôl at Alun.

Thank you for that. We'll have to move on to a few other items. I'll return to Alun, but may I say, for Mark and Ian who've just joined us, perhaps we won't have time for every person to contribute, because we have such a large panel? So, not everyone will be able to respond to every question, but, if you do specifically want to say anything, please do raise your hand physically and we'll make sure that we come to you. But I'll go back to Alun.

Yes. Just moving on from that specific—. I'm interested in how you believe, as different associations, the Welsh Government is supporting the work that you do or could be doing better. Noel, I loved the presentation you did a couple of weeks ago on the plan for football over the coming years. I think football has been transformed in Wales in the last 20 years in terms of its approach and, again, the culture of Welsh football. And I think it's really attractive. I think it's really, really attractive. Luckily, I've never been one of these people who's chosen between different sports; I've always enjoyed all my sport. And I'm interested in the role that you see, Noel, for the Welsh Government in helping to deliver some of that ambition. And for the other sports as well—you know, in terms of Swim Wales, for example, Fergus, you need a swimming pool, which is different to kicking a ball around or running with the ball, so I'm interested as to how you see the role of Government in sustaining and supporting the different ambitions and visions that I think we all share for our different sports.

So, shall we go to Noel first and then I'll come to Fergus? And if anyone else wanted to come in, please raise your hand and we'll call you. So, Noel first.

Thank you very much, and thank you for your kinds words as well. I'm glad that you don't choose between sports, because we don't either. I had a good meeting with Steve the other day. I'm very much a big fan of rugby as well—coming from the west of Ireland, we've no choice because we've got Munster on our doorstep. But what I would say is that you're right, that football has moved on an awful lot. I think that the qualification of the men—. I'm looking behind the screen here; I can see our women's national team training here. We've got the Minister, Dawn Bowden, here meeting the women's national team outdoors as well. We've moved on a million miles. We're in a really good place internationally. Where my concern is—and I outlined this recently in the 'Our Wales' strategy—is to do with grass-roots facilities. And you're right in saying swimming has different challenges to us; rugby may have different challenges to us, because rugby, because of their excellent performance—. Obviously, they get huge attendances in the Principality, they get huge media rights—like we do; we get very good media rights as well, to be fair. And I echo what Steve mentioned earlier about the balance between commercial and funding the grass roots and protecting the language, and making sure everyone can see it. There are a lot of considerations, of course, in these decisions. 

But our real focus over the next six to 10 years has got to be on grass-roots facilities, getting more girls and boys to play rugby, to play hockey and to play football. If they choose our sport, great, but, really, it's about creating a happier, healthier nation. Soon, we'll announce the social return investment results of football, and football, with our 90,000 registered players—the ones who are actually playing every week—is about £550 million a year to the Welsh economy, socially, healthwise and economically, particularly centred on mental health, which we've all taken a battering in in the last couple of years. So, our target is to get to 120,000 players by 2026. That'll bring £660 million equivalent to the Welsh economy.

So, the problem we have in sport is the budget for sport is extremely small compared to health, compared to social services, compared to other issues. If you look at a local authority budget, or Welsh Government budget, the budgets are really, really small for sports, and I think that that's a mistake, because we can prevent a lot of spend on hospitals, prisons, lots of other institutions that you spend on trying to solve it later, whereas we, in rugby, in hockey, in football, in swimming, can solve a lot of these things, or contribute enormously to making them better, much earlier. So, I firmly believe the Welsh Government should revisit how they invest in sport—invest generally, actually, because, if you invest in our sports, I absolutely promise that you'll spend far less on the big things you're spending on at the moment.

We can make people's lives far, far better; we all know that. What happened when we got to Euro 2016, when the rugby team do well in the six nations, when we have people going to the Olympics in swimming or boxing or hockey, whatever it is—we can change people's lives, but particularly at the grass-roots level. We are going to massively grow the amount of girls that play football in Wales; we're going to more than double it in the next five or six years. We really need the Government with us.

I must thank the Government, by the way, for the COVID support. In preparing for this meeting, it was made very clear to me that, without the Welsh Government's support over the last couple of years, many of our clubs and our association itself would have really struggled. So, the Welsh Government did a magnificent job in the last couple of years—

11:45

Noel, please forgive me for interrupting. I'm terribly sorry, I know that this is a very, very broad question.

I'm sorry; it's just I'm keen for some of the other voices—. But thank you so much, and we will—we hope to come back to some of those areas as well. Thank you so much. I'll come to Fergus, then to Sarah. As we can see, we're a broad panel—if I could implore you to be as succinct as possible, but I appreciate that these are large areas. But, Fergus, please, and then Sarah.

Of course. I think Noel makes an excellent point, and the fact that he's a Munster fan and I'm a Leinster fan—we won't let that get between us today. [Laughter.] We're in different rooms. But, on a serious note, the question of how can Welsh Government support us more—I think we've had excellent support over the course of the last 18 months from both Welsh Government and Sport Wales, and I want to take this opportunity today to thank Welsh Government for that support. Just to put things in context a little bit, we're very proud of the fact that, pre COVID, we had 500,000 adults and children aquatically active once a week in Wales, which is an incredible figure—just under 500 pools across Wales. So, 15 per cent of the population active in that sense; we're very protective of that, and I think that's a huge contribution to the well-being of future generations Act and all the work we're collectively trying to do, including the people in this room today.

Ongoing support—. I think one of the big concerns we have is—. There are lots of things on my briefing notes here, but just to draw out—to take the Chair's point and be brief on this one—the investment in facilities I think is absolutely critical. I am a non-exec director, as Sarah is, with the WSA; I know Victoria was in earlier on this morning. So, I think the places for sport are hugely important, and I'd just put, again, just a figure in your heads: 80 per cent of those 500 pools in Wales are over 20 years old. So, we have a really serious situation, and my concern as an executive, passing through, however long I'm in my role as chief executive—. It's 125 years old next year, Swim Wales, and we're very proud of that too; we'll be commemorating that. But, on my watch, I want the future generation, I want people, to look back, and my concern is, if we continue down the road we are, we'll probably only have 50 per cent of that estate in 20 years' time, which would be a very sad situation. So, investment in facilities—not just asking Welsh Government for their money, your money; we're actually trying to get private investment, so £1 from the corporate and private sector, maybe £1 from public sector, and putting those two together, so thinking outside of the box on that side of things. So, plenty more on that.

11:50

Diolch yn fawr, Delyth. Yes, I echo everything that these guys have said, so I'm not going to repeat it. And I think it is really important to point out here that you have very different sized sports here in terms of organisational size. So, whilst I'm not wishing to play down the size of Wales Netball—it's incredibly important in terms of the role that we have, particularly on the women and girls agenda—it is important to note that we do operate in a slightly different universe to maybe some of the other sports that are on the call. 

So, we are a non-asset-owning sport, and I think one of the absolute key areas is—and I'm going to say it again—facilities, is those grass-roots facilities. There was a significant challenge to some of our local authority stock, for example, not being fit for purpose pre COVID, pre-pandemic, which was having a significant impact on the ability of women and girls to be able to access facilities to play their sport. We are—I am going to say it, Noel—we are the biggest female team sport right now in Wales. We are catering for a huge range of age groups within that bracket, and we are solely reliant on facilities being able to provide us with opportunities to play, whether that's playing socially or whether that's being competitive as well. So, without that facility stock, we're in serious danger of having a really negative impact on women and girls and their mental well-being and their physical well-being. So, for me, facility stock is incredibly important at that grass-roots level to allow women and girls to have as much access.

We've already seen that the pandemic has had a significant impact disproportionately on women and girls generally, and this has just exacerbated already existing inequalities that were there and were present. So, our sport has been knocked back probably five to six years. The recovery will be long, and it's going to be even longer if there is no access to fit-for-purpose facilities. So, for example, if you take Deeside Leisure Centre in north Wales, a major hub for our sport, we have somewhere in the region of 136 teams that play in one league there. That equates to over 3,000 women. That site is currently a vaccination centre. It's going to be a vaccination centre until September 2022. When you look at the demographic of affiliations into Wales Netball—there were 10,000 pre-pandemic and growing exponentially; we were really flying—that's a large percentage of that membership. Similarly, in south-east Wales, in the Cwmbran area, we have had a major drop-off there, where we had in the region of 33 teams in that league, catering for around about another 1,500 women in that league, which we know has depleted to 22 teams because that venue just can't cater for them because it's a vaccination centre. That league has also been dispersed—so, it's playing off at the Bowden Active Living Centre and half in a school; that's not attractive in terms of the social element and aspect that we provide for women and girls through our sport. So, facilities, infrastructure, are absolutely critical.  

Thank you so much. Forgive me, I know that we're—. Alun, I know that there will be so many other things that you'll want to ask, but I'm afraid we're going to have to move on because of time. I know that there will be many things that we'll be wanting to follow up with all of you in writing.  

Allwn ni symud ymlaen at Heledd Fychan, plis?

Could we move on to Heledd Fychan, please?

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Thank you all. I think we hear you loud and clear in terms of facilities and their importance, and also in terms of impact, in setting us back in terms of sport. Just in terms of equality in terms of participation, if we can follow on that theme, what are the other things? So, in terms of facilities, what are the other things that we should be doing to ensure greater equity of access to participation in all sports?

Who would like to kick off with that? Okay, Fergus in the room is indicating. If anyone on screen would like to come in after Fergus, please raise your hand and I'll come to you next.

Yes, I think—again with brevity in mind, Chair—the areas of equality, diversity and inclusion are very close to our heart. And I know, sitting in a suit as a chief exec, that can sound quite cheap, but our vision at Swim Wales is aquatics for everyone for life, and when we say 'everyone' we mean everyone. And it's simple good business. We've got 3.1 million, 3.2 million people in Wales. That's our audience. We want everyone to be aquatically active. And if you look at BAME numbers for example—6 per cent across Wales; 190,000 people are registered in that space. We have made very strong connections with those communities over the last 12 to 18 months, actually. While the pools were closed for 42, 43 weeks of the 52, we were busy reaching out to those. We had an opportunity, whether it be online et cetera, to do that, and we started to build those links and ask those communities what they are looking for, right across the equality piece. And the sort of doctor-knows-best approach of maybe 10 or 15 years ago was out the window and we're getting some really rich insights into what those people need in terms of access and in terms of affordability.

The other area that is a big concern of mine is that with 15 million lost swimming lessons, 15 million cancelled swimming lessons, we had children out of school who would normally learn through school swimming a vital life skill for protecting them in life. A survey of sports—I think done by UK Sport—a number of years ago across 10,000 athletes suggested 81 per cent started with swimming at some stage. So, in terms of gateway sports, as Noel said, we're not specifically looking at our own sport in terms of swimming, but we know it's a gateway sport; it opens up children to many, many other sports, which is the way it should be.

But in terms of accessibility, those socially deprived areas are a big concern of ours because they've been really hit. Pool prices have gone up because revenues haven't been there over 12 months, so pool prices have gone up, clubs have had to pay for more time, the public have had to pay for more time. So, for the hard-to-reach areas, this is even further out of reach, and that's an area where we really have to concentrate. And again, it's not getting begging bowls out for Welsh Government; it's looking at other ways of working with the 22 local authorities and operators and finding ways of making this accessible. We are making ground, but I think we have to be very collaborative on that. We can't just do it on our own as a national governing body.

11:55

Would anyone like to add anything? Steve and then I'll come to Noel.

I was just going to say: massive point you're making about the equality, and particularly the women's game for us. We've done a recent investigation, a review, and we've got some work to do in that space. It comes twofold, really. One of the impacts that we've had, because the performance end of women's rugby didn't get an elite exemption pursuant to the rules, a lot of our performance players moved to England. Now, it was the right decision at the right time, but of course, now we need to get them back into Wales. So, we're working through that but in terms of the participation, think of the whole thing as a wedge; we want to fill the bottom of the wedge and the better ones will get through and will perform ultimately for Wales, so we've got to get our participation right, and I know when I've talked about this, if we can share facilities, or anything that we can help here, we're very big on this, because it's a massive part of our strategy as well, and we've got to do a lot better here.

Just to build on Steve's point there and Fergus's point there as well: we need to build facilities that are female friendly. When you go to our football dressing rooms, they're big concrete jungles that have toilet seats hanging off, don't have places where you can put your tampon and so on and so forth. So, we had a big meeting actually here this morning—we talked to the Minister actually about it, that when we're doing our big facilities plan going forwards, that every facility that goes through our books, that we are financially supporting, must be consulted to ensure that it enables females to enjoy that facility as much as men. That is a big issue for us. Thankfully, with the Welsh Government, with the twenty-first century schools programme and different projects that are going on at the moment, there is a movement towards making sure there are female-friendly facilities.

So, on Monday, first of all, we speak about the gender side; we launch our new strategy for women and girls for the next five years, before the Estonia international match, and there'll be some big headlines coming out of that, one of them being that we're the biggest-spending national association in Europe, of the 55 associations of Europe, on the women and girls' game, as a percentage of our turnover. So, no other national association in the 55 of Europe spends more money on the women and the girls' game in their budgets now.

We've done a new deal with the national team players which is hugely equitable; the leadership team, the national team, are very happy with the direction of travel that we're in. We're really in a good space, I would say, compared to that. We'll soon launch our equality diversity and inclusion plan, and football, like many other sports, reaches so many different people that we feel a huge responsibility to include people of all races, genders and preferences into our sport. We've got a huge role to play there, and you'll see in our new EDI strategy just how seriously we take that. Not just on the pitch, but also we're looking to move into a new project. We're doing an independent review of our governance, which is called 'Sustainable association of the future', and soon, we'll be bringing out the recommendations of that, which will look at our own governance, and in terms of how we populate our various communities, et cetera, through more equality, diversity and inclusion, and greater, wider stakeholder voices. So, again, without wanting to give a filibuster, I'd like to bring that to a close, but those are our policies here, along with what Sport Wales and the Welsh Government bring to us well, and consultation with other sports like netball, like hockey, rugby and swimming, et cetera, will allow us to get better and better in terms of accessibility.

The one thing I would say—it goes back to the very start—is we actually need facilities, grass-roots facilities, to give some accessibility to play on. Without the facilities, we have waiting lists coming out of our arms of girls and boys who want to play football, but can't because they don't have the facilities to play on.

12:00

Diolch, Noel. If you could write to us, actually, with more information about the work that you said you're working with the Welsh Government on, making facilities female-friendly, that would be fantastic, please.

Thank you so much. I'll come to Mark next, and then Sarah, and then,

Heledd, os oes gennych chi gwestiwn byr ar ôl, mae'n flin gen i—mae cymaint o bethau y mae pobl eisiau dweud, sydd yn beth gwych, wrth gwrs, ar gyfer y pwyllgor. Mark yn gyntaf, ac wedyn Sarah.

Heledd, if you have a question after that—I'm sorry, there are so many topics that people want to cover, which is excellent for the committee, of course. Mark first and then Sarah.

Thank you. It's actually more of a question—what could Welsh Government do? One of the issues we find with equality, diversity and inclusion is measurement. So, we have fairly blunt tools. We could sit here and tell you that we've had growth year on year, despite the pandemic, in the women's game, which is fantastic. But all we measure is people who come into our environment. I imagine this is also true for other sports. Half a million people being—and I love the phrase—'aquatically active' is fantastic. You can count receipts at a swimming pool. We find that somewhat more difficult.

So, we ran 100 summer camps this summer, and we targeted those at socially excluded parts of Wales. We were very proud of those. We've given away 5,000 pairs of boots, we've given away rugby balls, and we targeted lots of different areas. And this is probably more true, actually, for a sport like football, and possibly swimming. What we struggle to measure are interactions with our game that take place outside of the formal rugby club setting. So, anecdotally, we put hub officers into 100 schools across Wales who we part-fund, and they provide rugby at schools. I could tell you heart-warming stories about—I went to a school in Newport, and they had two Afghani refugee girls who were learning English through the rugby that was being provided at their school. We have no ability currently whatsoever to measure that. We don't know the numbers and we don't know the various soft-touch interactions people have with our game. I imagine other sports might find that.

But I wonder, given the size of the population in Wales, whether there's an opportunity for something like a sports passport that you take with you. So, my daughters were playing netball, you'll be pleased to hear, last night. Wouldn't it be wonderful for netball to know that they've had that netball experience at school? So, something that you could take with you across all sports, and I think that would give an awful lot of demographic insight as well. So, we know we can look at geography for social exclusion, we can look at gender as an equality issue, but I wonder whether there's a way, collectively across Wales, we could actually improve the measurement of interactions with sport, which I think would arm us all with a lot more information about where we're falling short, where we can improve, and actually the things that we're doing right, as well, and the equality, diversity and inclusion agenda.

That's a really interesting suggestion. We'll be able to look into that, certainly.

Diolch am hwnna. Gwnaf i ddod, yn olaf ar y cwestiwn yma, i Sarah.

Thank you for that. I'll come, finally on this question, to Sarah.

There's quite a nice segue from Mark there, actually, to what I was going to comment on. I think one of the key things for us in terms of that equality outreach piece is visibility at school level. We are one of the most played sports at school. We have over 48,000 young people, boys and girls, playing netball at school level. We have 26,000 or thereabout that are wanting to play more netball, and this links to the facilities challenge of—where on earth are they going to go? So, that visibility piece at school level is really important.

I think having advocates, particularly male advocates, is really important. So, the fact I know Fergus's daughters all play netball, Mark's daughters clearly play netball—it is intrinsic in family life across Wales, it is part of that fabric of Welsh culture that Alun mentioned right at the beginning of today's session, and it's under-resourced. It is, and there's no way to get around that. I think there has to be investment, not only in the future of women's sport generally—and I am obviously here from a netball standpoint—but also those that are tried and tested and are already successful. Netball is incredibly successful and popular in this country, but yet it is significantly under-resourced. Now, that's from a staffing perspective, from a finance perspective—the demand far outstrips the ability to cater for it across every level. So, if we're striving for equality, particularly on the women and girls agenda, we have to increase visibility at school level. Mark quite rightly pointed out: as a governing body, we don't have the resources or the capability to go into schools and put netball on the agenda so that it is as visible as, say, your rugbies, your footballs and your swimmings. It needs to be. It is an important sport in this country for women and girls. The numbers are there, the demand is there, the resourcing isn't.

So, that equality shift, it has to happen to enable the sport to really provide the opportunities, whatever your age is, whatever your gender is, whatever your sexual preference is—whatever it is, it doesn't matter. The investment needs to be there. It is a tried and tested sport. It has stood the test of time, and it is growing exponentially. Even through the pandemic, we're starting to see it come back even with all of the challenges it faces. So, visibility and investing in something that is a proven success. 

12:05

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Heledd, oedd unrhyw beth byr roeddech chi eisiau ei ofyn, ac oedd unrhyw un yn arbennig hoffech chi i ateb y cwestiwn hefyd?

Would anyone else like to come in on that question? 

Sori. Mi aeth y sain yn llwyr rŵan. Doeddwn i ddim yn gallu eich clywed chi o gwbl. 

Sorry, the sound cut out entirely.

Sori. Rwy'n ymwybodol o amser. Oes yna rywbeth byr rydych chi eisiau ei ofyn a hefyd pwy fyddai fwyaf defnyddiol i ateb?

Is there anything else, Heledd? I'm aware of time being against us, but is there anything else that you'd like to ask, and who would you like to answer? 

Oes. Gaf i ofyn i bawb? Byddai gen i ddiddordeb o ran beth oedd Noel yn sôn amdano o ran adnoddau i ferched ac, yn benodol, polisïau o ran misglwyf hefyd. Fe ges i gyfarfod diweddar efo'r WRU lle roeddech chi efo lot o wybodaeth ddefnyddiol ynglŷn â beth ydy'ch strategaeth chi fan yna. A allaf ofyn i bob corff os ydyn nhw'n gallu rhannu eu polisïau a'r hyn maen nhw yn ei wneud er mwyn sicrhau bod yr adnoddau yna i gefnogi merched? 

May I ask everyone? I would like to know in terms of what Noel was saying with regard to resources for women and girls, and policies in terms of menstruation, and so on. I had a meeting with the WRU recently, and there was a great deal of useful information on your strategy there. May I ask all bodies to share their policies in terms of ensuring that the resources are there to support women and girls?

I do have a specific question for Noel, please, just in terms of the FAW had previously said to the committee that the growth in terms of women's football could be impacted by the pandemic, and that that growth could be stopped. Has it had the impact that you feared, or has the work you've been doing been able to stop that from happening? 

Noel, just before you answer, if I could just ask everyone on the panel if you could write to the committee please with what Heledd was speaking about—the period products and policies—that would be really helpful. Sorry, Noel. 

Definitely. There was just an interference with the sound there. I could hear the translation over you. What I picked up from that was how it's affected female participation and the work that we're doing, how COVID has affected it. So, yes, we have a very interesting thing here where COVID did heavily affect us, particularly between the ages of 14 and 16 in female participation. Thankfully, we have recovered—not just recovered, but we've actually gone beyond it, so our participation is higher now than it was pre COVID, which shows a huge demand for sports. There are certain areas—the 14 to 16 hasn't quite recovered, but our biggest challenge is—. There are two, actually. There's one that we haven't got the same level of volunteers that we had before the pandemic, so we've lost about 4,000 volunteers across Welsh football, an average of seven per club we've lost across around 1,000 clubs. Sorry, four it is, actually, across the 953 clubs. So, we've lost nearly 4,000 volunteers. That's a concern to us. We're analysing to see is that quite correct, or just a delay in them coming back. 

But again, I'm sorry, it goes back to the theme of we still have waiting lists all around for girls to play football, and the problem is the way it was traditionally set up was that men, because the game was ahead in terms of being established, they took the best slots under the lights every evening. So, they had the prime times of seven to nine, I guess. So, the girls are having to play at really difficult times around it, and that's a problem for us. Again, it keeps going back to grass-roots facilities. If we had the facilities to enable the girls to play, we would have far, far more girls playing football. 

So, I would say, the volunteer one, we've yet to ascertain if that is quite the issue we think it is. The second one is clear to us—the barrier to us is grass-roots facilities to getting girls to play football. 

Fe wnawn ni symud ymlaen at Carolyn Thomas. 

We'll move on to Carolyn Thomas. 

I just wanted to go back with regards to participation with the WRU, and women's rugby. I didn't hear what you were saying—it wasn't very clear earlier. So, just regarding equality for women who are getting into rugby as well, could you just give me more information on that, please, and also those that are doing very well in it as well, being recognised, being really good women rugby players?

12:10

I didn't hear all of that, but from what I think I heard, I think you were asking me about participation numbers. Generally, we were a bit worried about, post COVID, coming back, but we have been encouraged by, so far, the overall participation numbers, but on an equality basis. We were looking yesterday, and our participation numbers at the moment are just north of 4,000, which is comparable, if you ignore the prior year, because, of course, there's no real data, to what we were in 2018-19, 2019-20 so far. So, there was, in many ways, a sense of relief that everybody's back. I would just echo, really, what everybody else is saying. It's a very similar point to what Noel was making. The demand at community level is very high, but we are running out of places to play, because—and this is not the right answer, I accept—the men's game has the traditional slots. And of course, if you're playing, then, on a grass pitch, there are only so many times you can play on a grass pitch, et cetera.

Okay. I'm more of a netball girl, but it was raised with me the equality for women rugby players who are really good at the sport, recognition for those, for the elite women rugby players. I see that in football, but I don't see that the same in rugby. Maybe I'm missing something there as well. It was really regarding those getting the same sort of profile and standing as male rugby players.

Okay, fine. Yes. Well, we're doing a lot of work on that, because at our performance end of the game, we could have done better and we will do better. We work very closely now with the captain and the senior leadership team, and we are working on all those things, including imaging. So, when we're doing WRU imaging now, we're not just putting a senior men's player; we're also putting senior women's players in there when we're doing kit launches et cetera, et cetera. And I think, as an aside, about a month ago we had a very belated award ceremony for women who had played for Wales and we didn't cap them. It was a tremendous evening. We had about 30 or 40 people there. But we were trying to correct a previous wrong, and I think there has been more coming forward on that. I think in terms of—. Sorry.

Thank you. That's good. And just for promotion of the sport as well, having those high-profile women rugby players as well as the male ones is really important, so thank you for that.

I think the last thing I'd say to you on this, and I don't want to take, sort of, positives away from COVID because that's a bit of an oxymoron really, but one of the learnings that we've had, or one of the things that we did from COVID, is we've moved the women's six nations window away now from the senior men's window. So, we did it last year, predominantly because of COVID and what have you, but the good news is now that the women's six nations tournament will be run separately, and—take this in the spirit it's meant—it won't get overshadowed now by the men's. It will have its own clear visibility. It will be a stand-alone tournament. All the matches will be broadcast. So, that is the time to bring the prominence to all these great athletes that we have.

Just a brief point on that. We're very lucky, I think. Sarah is probably at one end of the scale in terms of gender balance. Maybe rugby and football are on the other. We sit in the middle. Our split, thank God, we're lucky in the sense that it has kind of naturally fallen on a 50:50 split between women and men and girls and boys, and that's right across our national squads, right across club participation, right down to public participation. So, actually we should be really good on what I'd say are women's issues, or challenges that women face, and girls, young girls, face, and we are, thank God, on Helen's point, on issues like menstruation, like safety, and safeguarding concerns, modesty clothing, accessibility, women-only sessions et cetera. So, what I would say, in the spirit of collaboration, is that I'd reach out to any other national governing body or sport to help have those conversations offline and maybe develop that further. 

That's fantastic, and if anything is developed, we'd be very grateful to hear about that as a committee as well. Thank you. Carolyn.

12:15

Sarah, I remember at school, netball felt like it was part of the curriculum. So, it's no longer that. Is it because of having somebody able to teach netball now, do you think, in schools? Is that a barrier?

It is. Obviously, the new curriculum that's coming will be a great step forward, for sure. But the challenge is that you have teachers who are really stretched in terms of the amount of different subjects that they have to deliver, and sometimes it is the PE-type classes that get squeezed.

The visibility for netball in school will come through whether a teacher is already involved in the sport, and we don't necessarily have the resourcing to be able to go in with some of our elite athletes, whereas maybe your rugby and your football can do that. So, that level of resourcing would really help increase that visibility piece and we would be able to then educate and upskill those teachers on how to deliver—so, rather than just simply going in for a one-hit-wonder type approach, actually educating them and saying, 'These are the powers that this sport brings'. So, we have a netball tots programme, which is pre school, but actually it is connected to the physical literacy outcomes that Wales aims to achieve, so it is a starter that feeds into all other sport. So, it's not necessarily to keep them in netball; it's to give them solid movement skills from an early age. So, if we can get that into schools and into nurseries and reception-age children, that will start to have a knock-on effect on how teachers are then able to deliver the sport. 

Okay. I see that basketball is growing as well, isn't it, as a sport.

It is, which is great. The more women's sport we can get growing, the better.

I've got some questions to ask regarding COVID. I know it's been discussed as well, so I thought I'd also ask about the impacts of Brexit—so, both COVID and Brexit, if that's okay.

Forgive me, but if people could be as succinct as possible, because we'll need to move on in around three minutes.

So, you know, concerns about clubs closing because of COVID, I think that's been raised, but the COVID passes, which is a new thing that's been introduced, the impact of that. And also, any impact because of Brexit—positive and negative, really—you know, any impacts regarding funding. And what could Welsh Government do to address issues regarding COVID or Brexit?

So, on these issues—I'll come to you now, Sarah—because I know that they're very broad issues, anyone who isn't able to cover everything they'd like to say, we'd be very grateful to have evidence from you in writing. But Sarah has indicated, Fergus has too. If anyone on screen would like to come in after them, please put your hand up. Sarah first.

Yes. In terms of COVID impact, for us it's been devastating—absolutely devastating. We lost about 65 per cent of our revenue streams overnight. We literally just had to turn it off to prioritise the safety of anybody who was playing our sport. And we are a 60:40 split in terms of investment that comes in from Welsh Government, Sport Wales. We've been very innovative and entrepreneurial over the last five to six years to try to reduce that reliance on Government funding. That really hit us hard. We are a very self-sufficient sport, as best as we can be, and COVID pretty much shut everything down pretty much overnight. So, we've been really badly affected by that. 

When you then look at the nature of the sport, where we are an indoor team sport, and we are contact—I know the rules say it's not supposed to be, but if you've ever watched netball, it's very heavy contact—we were the last sport to return. So, as sports were unlocking, as restrictions were unlocked, netball was still sort of sat there going, 'Yep, we still can't do anything', which became quite painful. We then had people who were getting frustrated that you could see rugby, football and all these other sports that play outdoors starting to go back, yet netball wasn't able to. So, that discrepancy between being a female sport, again, and the way the sport is played, has really hit us hard, and the recovery from that, not only from the facilities thing, which we won't go into again, but also from the mental aspect, we are finding that women, generally speaking, are more nervous to return. We know that they've been disproportionately affected in terms of childcare and other life balances, but we're also finding that there is a much more nervous approach to returning to the sport given the nature of it, and given, obviously, the impact that COVID has had mentally. So, yes, it's going to take a long time to recover to pre-COVID levels.

Fergus, forgive me, we are out of time on this session. Could I ask you to highlight anything in particular and then ask you if you could write to us with anything else? And then I promise that we'll come to the people on the screen first for the next question. Fergus, is there's just any particular thing you'd like to highlight?

Yes. Just a lot of similarities with Sarah's organisation in terms of reliance on the public purse. We are 60 per cent autonomous and have worked very hard over the last four or five years to do that. So, we've set up those commercial revenue streams, et cetera, and we were hit hard. The recovery is pretty good. Like Steve said, we are along similar lines. Participation has recovered quicker than we would—. Our clubs are hit. Local clubs, who are pretty much the lifeblood of that middle tier, have been hit very hard. So, we have tried to put resources into that space. So, I just want to highlight that to the committee as something we would really appreciate some support on.

In terms of Brexit, not so much. I think it's probably more for the football and rugby guys, with the movement of players and visas, et cetera, so I'm not going to take up too much time on that. It hasn't hit us too hard—a little bit on the supply chain side, but it's very much a watching brief.

12:20

Thank you. If I could invite the people on the screen to write to us—we will write to you to prompt you on that—that would be wonderful. We are into our last eight minutes or so, and I know that both Tom and Alun would like to ask questions on this final section. So, if I could implore you for brevity where possible, please. Tom.

I have only got one question. Obviously, we all know that sport has quite a lot of soft power when it comes to international relations. So, I'm wondering what and how you think sport should be used to promote Wales to the world. How involved are you with Welsh Government, in terms of their strategic approach in delivering that? I would imagine that perhaps the WRU and the FAW representatives are more experienced, but, Sarah and Fergus, if you have got experience of that, I would really like to hear it as well.

Is there anyone on the screen—[Interruption.] Yes, Steve, you go first.

Yes, funnily enough, this was on my list. If you accept for a moment that we are all here to make a better Wales—whether that's the Welsh Government, and whether that's me or whether it's Noel or anybody else on the call—I do think that sometimes we perhaps miss a trick here, between us. If you think about the awareness that comes for Wales—whether Noel and his team are doing well in the Euros or or perhaps we are doing well in the six nations, or whatever it is—it really, really creates a beacon for Wales. 

There's a part of me that thinks that we need—. We do ad hoc things, so we try and help where we can. For example, when we play away in the six nations, sometimes we do embassy events, do a bit of networking. If we travel to the southern hemisphere or to the U.S., we try and organise business networking events. But it's a bit ad hoc, really, and I'm just wondering—without being too heavy on this—whether the various sport organisations effectively can become the marketing arm of Welsh Government. So, what can we do to help you, and vice versa? There is massive brand Wales awareness when we are playing and, more importantly, when we're winning.

Did anyone else on screen want to come in? Noel, you have just unmuted yourself.

Yes, I did, because I just wanted to build on Steve's point there. I think that there's a great opportunity here for us to show our confidence in what we have here. So, if you could just say here: coach education. Roberto Martinez, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira—they are all going through our coach education in Wales, because we are the best in the world at what we do. I come from UEFA. I was head of strategic development there. Wales is held up in UEFA as being the very best in coach education, in terms of talent ID. The systems that we have are presented to FIFA regularly because we are the best at what we do.

We had a meeting last night with Global Welsh, actually, to talk about how we can build relations in China and Japan and countries around the world, and bring our footballers—female and male—to the world, and maybe do some trade ourselves, by the way, internationally, so that we can offer the world our coach education, or loads of assets that we have here that we can bring to the world, definitely.

I should use this opportunity to mention that the Welsh Government has been super supportive in bringing the World Cup 2030, with feasibility studies. We are currently on, with the other four national associations—England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland—. We are looking to host seven or nine matches in the principality in 2030. A FIFA World Cup would be sensational for Wales. It is right up there with the Olympic Games in terms of what it could do for Wales. So, we are looking for the support of the Welsh Government to make sure that we can bring those matches to Wales, should we go forward with that bid—and, again, to bring the Champions League, and to bring the Women's Champions League, and so on and so forth, here.

But, I do think—again, to echo Steve's point—that we should sit together and see how we can put sport and the wonderful coaching that we have out to the world with more confidence, in a more cohesive way, for Wales to make its stamp on the world, because we have something special here, certainly.

12:25