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Why I’m coming round to rugby…

October 7, 2014

I must admit I didn’t used to be a big rugby fan. In fact two years ago one of my colleagues only half-jokingly told me it was the game played with the pointy ball, but even I’m genuinely excited about the Rugby World Cup coming to Newcastle next October.

Last Friday I spent most of the day taking part in a series of events to mark the final countdown to the start of the tournament.

Apart from meeting World Cup winner and Freeman of the City Jonny Wilkinson, I also got a taste of the wide appeal the sport has when I walked into Newcastle Racecourse. Jonny Wilkinson interviews Leader of Newcastle City Council, Councillor Nick Forbes at RWC2015

The Rugby World Cup road show was in town – and so was the media – not just to see Jonny or the Webb Ellis Cup but the ordinary men and women who were being trained up to be event volunteers. These are people who will welcome visitors to the city, give out advice and useful information and be the human face of a massive logistical exercise.

After the usual round of interviews I visited Leazes Park to watch a group of U13s taking part in a rugby tournament to demonstrate the importance of legacy that such a prestigious event brings to Newcastle. It occurred to me that this is a truly magnificent occasion for many reasons; here are just six:

  • Rugby is a sport with worldwide appeal, and the eyes of the world will be upon Newcastle when St James’ Park hosts its three fixtures starting with Scotland v South Africa on October 3 – how else could we achieve such a global audience?
  • The tournament will attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city from other parts of the country such as Scotland and overseas including South Africa, Samoa, Tonga and New Zealand. Many will be first time visitors and a good number will come back again as tourists and will take away fond memories of their time here
  • Shops, restaurants, bars and other attractions will get a massive economic boost as experts predict at least £14m spent in the region’s economy in just a few days
  • The sponsorship and media build up to the tournament will inspire people to take up rugby and other forms of sport creating new health and wellbeing opportunities for those who may otherwise have remained inactive
  • Up to 300 local people will be trained and supported in their personal development to give a warm Geordie welcome to the city, and play a key part in the success of the games
  • But above all the Rugby World Cup will make Newcastle and the region feel good about itself in the same way that the Olympics made us all feel proud about what we can achieve when we all work together for the common good. Such feelings can’t be quantified or measured but they lift our spirits and inspire us to do things that we would not normally even consider. That’s the big difference that big sporting occasions bring – confidence in ourselves.

So although there’s no doubt that Newcastle is a footballing city, next year – for a few days at least – rugby will become our number one passion. I for one can’t wait. Bring it on!

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