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ONE OF Scottish rugby’s leading club coaches has called for the Scottish Government to grasp the ability of community sport to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

In an article published today (Friday 25 September) by The Offside Line, journalist David Barnes interviewed Mark Cairns, head coach of the Currie Chieftains. The Edinburgh club has developed one of the most successful youth academies in the past 20 years and, in the week that the RFU postponed the return of community rugby in England until January, Cairns explained how that could worsen the coronavirus by sending lots of disillusioned youngsters with little to do and no focus to their spare time. Instead, he said, the recent return to training had brought a new discipline to teenagers and ability to guide them through Covid-19 rules.

Cairns said: “I understand that COVID is a horrendous virus which has affected lots of lives and caused many deaths so in no way does anyone in club rugby want to undermine that. However, I do believe that sport – and particularly outdoor sport – is playing a vital role in stopping the spread of the virus, and I really hope that the Scottish Government and the relevant sporting governing bodies are thinking about that as they try to navigate a way through this horrendous situation.

“To give an example, on Thursday night we had just under 50 players training at Currie with an age-range of 17 through to about 30, but 90 percent were under the age of 22. Now, if you take that age category of 17 to 22, that is the group which we are hearing all about on the news for having house parties and spreading the illness.

“But I know that we’ve got a bunch of players coming along to Currie on a Tuesday and Thursday who will accept the rules, not because they are exceptional people – although I think most of them are – but because they’ve got a real focus to be part of the team and get back playing the game they love.

“I made it very clear to the boys on Thursday night that if any of them are found to be breaking the rules by going to house parties and attending large indoor gatherings then they won’t be welcome at the club because we are in a very, very privileged position and that brings responsibility. So, we as a club, and rugby as a sport, have that ability to help support young people to do something that is productive for their health and wellbeing.

“You take that away from them – by postponing the season or getting them to play something that doesn’t really resemble rugby – then there is going to be unintended consequences. I’m not saying all our players will then go and have a massive house party, but I am saying that more would be inclined to do those social things because they don’t have an outlet which rugby and sport in general provides.”

By having players regularly attending training and games, clubs are able to monitor individuals physically and psychologically to nip potential problems in the bud, as well as reinforce the key messages about what they need to do to keep themselves safe from infection.

“I remember when I was a student at Loughborough, I had my longest injury which was a five month lay-off with a broken eye socket,” the PE teacher recalled. “I was impacted by that. I didn’t study as well without that discipline that rugby gave me, I was socialising a lot more and I wasn’t as healthy. Rugby gave me the discipline I needed in my life to keep me on the straight and narrow, to give me that structure, and as soon as I got back to rugby my studying got better, my health got better and my wellbeing was better.

“So, we’ve really got to consider the wellbeing of these boys and girls because we are taking a lot away from them, but rugby gives them a lot to look forward to.”

He added:

“It will only take one sport to say they are shutting things down for other sports to follow suit, and that’s a big concern because then you have thousands of young people left in limbo.

“I can’t emphasise enough how well I think the SRU have handled this crisis with their road-map to get our club game back up and running – and the clubs have done a tremendous job in following the guidelines – and I just want it to continue. Suppressing this horrible, deadly virus has got to be the priority and I think rugby and sport has a vital role to play in that.”

Read the full article here.