Happy New Year to everyone! I hope you had fun over Christmas. This year Ed, my 11 year old son, shamed me into taking part in the Christmas morning swim. It was a beautiful sunny day in Cornwall, but it was the hot mulled wine courtesy of Dawn and Jerome, owners of the Devonport Inn, our beachside pub, that provided the warmth rather than the winter sun. Once in the sea was enough for me, so when Ed and his mates decided to go surfing on New Year’s Day I stood on the beach and watched!
We have such an exciting year to look forward to! 2020 is a big one for our sport and not just because it’s a Paralympic year, though that will understandably attract the most attention. It kicks off this weekend with our top teams playing the first of the Division 1 Super Series tournaments which is always fiercely contested. Division 2 teams are in action two weeks later where West Coast Burn will be looking to hold on to their 4 point lead over Bulls. February starts with the second Division 1 weekend tournament before the GB squad come together for the King Power Quad Nations in Leicester. Australia and the USA will arrive on 17th February ready to start the tournament on Friday 21st. Our thoughts are very much with all of our friends in Australia at the moment as the nation tries to deal with the devastation caused by bushfires spreading across the country. It’s difficult to imagine the terror of infernos which have so far resulted in 23 deaths and an estimated loss of half a billion wildlife, as well as people’s homes and livelihoods.
March will start with the final Division 1 tournament, quickly followed by the GB team departing for a training camp in Kitakyushu ahead of taking part in the Paralympic Test Event in Tokyo. The purpose of the Test Event is to prepare and test the venue and organisation ahead of the games later in the year but it also provides a further training opportunity for those teams invited to take part. We are delighted to have been included with hosts Japan and with top teams Australia and the USA. The focus returns to domestic competition in April and May with the National Championships on 18/19 April at Stoke Mandeville and the Lord’s Taverners U14 Junior Festival on 29th April in Cheltenham. May will see the start of the WR5s season with the first tournament on 9/10 at Stoke Mandeville.
June is another big month for the GB Team with the Canada Cup taking place in Vancouver. This is the final tournament ahead of the Tokyo Games and on 26th June the names of those athletes selected to represent GB at the Paralympics will be announced. The U14 & U18 Lord’s Taverners Junior National Championships will also take place at the end of June.
The team will leave for Japan on 14th August for a final training camp in Kitakyushu. The Paralympic Games open on 25th August with the wheelchair rugby tournament starting the following day. This is a big change to previous Games where wheelchair rugby has always been one of the final events. Some of you may have read that the demand for tickets has been unprecedented. London 2012 set the benchmark with 116,000 applicants in the first phase of the ticketing process but the demand from the Japanese for phase 1 of the Tokyo games was a staggering 390,000 applicants! This is creating its own challenges and as yet we have no guarantee that we can get all of the tickets we would like to meet our own demand. The UK agent is working hard to get everything that people are asking for but it may be a while before it becomes clear what our final allocation is. It does all point to Tokyo being an incredible experience which is what everyone found who visited Japan for the Rugby World Cup.
Aside from competitions there is a lot more happening in 2020. You will have seen the announcement that the Board has appointed Ed Warner as its new Chair. Ed joins the Board with immediate effect as Chair Designate and will take over from Kevin as Chair after the AGM in September. It was a very competitive recruitment process and we are really pleased to have attracted Ed who has a significant profile in sport and business, and who has supported wheelchair rugby for a very long time. Interestingly Ed was the first person to call me back in 2016 when we lost our elite funding to ask how he could help, and he was behind finding LMAX Exchange as the first new sponsor. It was only a matter of days after the announcement of his appointment to the Board that he was asked to appear on the Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme where on New Year’s Eve he was interviewed about the role and wheelchair rugby. His passion for the game is more than matched by that of his father, John. John Warner has been a regular contributor to our fundraising, always attends the Quad Nations and watches all the games streamed from overseas. I am sure he will be monitoring and marking Ed’s performance on the Board! Welcome Ed!!
Ed will join the Board for our strategy day on 4th February. This is an important day where the full Board will come together to consider its view of the key big things to focus on and to get done over the next 4-8 years. To help us with this we are being joined by Andy Reed OBE. Andy is the former MP for Loughborough but more significantly he leads an organisation called SajeImpact which provides advice and support to sports bodies and amongst others is currently working with Sport England to help shape its new strategy. Following the strategy day we will be consulting with you, our members, and with our staff and partners so that we end up with a plan for the future of the sport which hopefully we can all agree on. This will also help us when it comes to shaping our own proposal for investment from Sport England.
That’s pretty much it for now. Good luck to all teams playing Super Series games and let’s all look forward to a great year ahead!