As the Six Nations tournament reaches its climax, the Youth Charter is calling for action: what are the obstacles preventing real community engagement in rugby and what can be done to resolve them?

Whilst many UK rugby clubs are proactively engaging with young people and their communities, long-term results are not emerging as expected.

The facts are well-established: sport is essential in young people’s lives to promote physical and emotional well-being, to give confidence and life-skills, and to bring communities together. Government reports consistently underline the importance of widening opportunities for participation, including PAT10 (1999), A Sporting Future for All (2001), Gameplan (2002) and Every Child Matters (2003).

Involvement in sport provides physical confidence, leadership abilities and a healthier physical and emotional life. Despite greater understanding of this, current political will translates into many, often conflicting, initiatives. A lack of a truly integrated policy approach sees sport providing only short to mid-term results.

Child obesity has trebled for six to 15 year-olds since the 1990s and this is set to increase. Gameplan (2002) identified that a lack of physical activity costs the UK in excess of £2bn each year: a 10% increase in physical exercise would reduce this liability by £500m. In addition, truancy, exclusions, family breakdown and the resulting anti-social behaviour lead to gang-related violence, which has a tragic impact: lives are being lost.

Community organisations are struggling with diminishing funding and waning commitment from sporting bodies and their representatives. To compound this, provision of sport in schools and communities is shrinking. All these factors combine to produce a lack of real impact.

Governing bodies are still not nurturing the sport agenda or improving opportunities for inclusion and cohesion as much as they could – it is often left to charitable institutions. The involvement of sporting bodies in the community is about more than developing world class athletes – it is about helping our young people become effective citizens, which improves society’s health overall. Some still do not understand this and continue to focus on “talent-spotting”, which often has negative consequences for those who may never get the opportunity to become Olympians.

Youth Charter and the Rugby Football Union (RFU) came together in 1993 to bring rugby to a wider cross-section of young people in challenging communities to promote physical well-being, social skills and health. As a result of this partnership and the RFU’s Go Play and Play On initiatives, there are now over 100 urban, rural and suburban rugby programmes across the UK; the RFU has emerged as one of the most progressive governing bodies in sport, with a strong focus on the social inclusion agenda. The lessons learned can be applied to other sports – Olympic, non-Olympic and extreme.

The Youth Charter’s recent “Rugbywise” report highlights the role governing bodies should play in the social development of young people and the wider community. The work done with the RFU and independently has resulted in a number of innovative approaches to community participation that will benefit the support as whole. Unfortunately, despite many promises, the full potential to improve the lives of young people through rugby, and sport as a whole, remains unfulfilled.

In order to succeed in raising the aspirations of young people in challenging environments, integrated economic, policy and practical support are required from sport governing bodies and other agencies.

For rugby to emerge as a world force for good, its international success and community engagement activities need to join up more effectively. This will see young people in all sectors of society enjoying rugby at all levels, and wider encouragement of talent. Rugby must reflect the modern world in all its diversity.

Their first focus should not be on talent-spotting, but on social potential. Talent will then emerge naturally.

The UK Government Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is responsible for improving sporting activity for young people. Its published mission is to “improve the quality of life for all through cultural and sporting activities, to support the pursuit of excellence and to champion the tourism, creative and leisure industries”. Three of its four strategic priorities involve sport:

Children and young people: further enhance access to culture and sport for children and give them the opportunity to develop their talents to the full and enjoy the benefits of participation.

Communities: increase and broaden the impact of culture and sport, to enrich individual lives, strengthen communities and improve the places where people live, now and for future generations.

Delivery: Modernise delivery by ensuring our sponsored bodies are efficient and work with others to meet the cultural and sporting needs of individuals and communities.