Junior players at the Lord's Taverners Junior Wheelchair Rugby National Championship (credit: Anthony Hayton)

A Special Time… Thank You!

The final of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ is over – congratulations to Kelvin Fletcher on his win, Ben Stokes has been voted the BBC Sports Personality of 2019 – a great choice after an amazing year for him, we have a new government led by a wheelchair rugby playing Prime Minister! and we will soon know who Alan Sugar’s next Apprentice is – it must be Christmas! As I reflect on our work over the year the thing I am most grateful for is the continued enthusiasm and commitment of all our staff, partners and volunteers who deliver and support our sport. Thank you for all you have achieved again this year. You continue to do an amazing job to help individuals to play our sport and enjoy the benefits of being part of our wheelchair rugby community. There is still over 3 months to go before the end of our business year but already we have hit our targets for increasing our membership and supporting the development of new clubs. WR5s and our Junior Programme are also doing well and the further commitment made by the Lord’s Taverners in support of our Juniors is fantastic news. The GB Team end the year ranked 4th in the world having delivered some strong performances in 2019. Winning the Lakeshore Four Nations Tournament in the USA was a highlight and to win a third consecutive European Championship in August was a great achievement. The team would like to have done better at the World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge tournament in Tokyo in October but there were some good lessons learnt which will stand us in good stead as we enter the final straight of the Road to Tokyo. Meanwhile, the UK Sport Paris Investment process is well underway and we have already made our first submission to meet the Phase 1 requirement. This critical work will continue to occupy us throughout next year as we seek to win the argument to regain performance funding for the GB team.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the WWRC 2015 launch (credit: Leo Wilkinson)

It’s not all plain sailing though and there are many challenges that we still have to grapple. We have recognized that further support is required for our Talent Programme and I have just appointed Stuart McLindon to lead on this important area of work. His experience with the Junior Programme and as the former Head Coach of the Irish Wheelchair Rugby team make him well suited to this role. He will continue to be supported by Conor Murphy who will lead on performance science with the expertise of the Peter Harrison Centre behind him, and Alan Ash and Danny Dawoud will continue in their coaching roles. We also have to try and do more to recruit, train and develop referees. Over the last couple of seasons we have lost referees and we have been struggling to find new people who are interested in the role. Jaz Thompson, our Workforce Development Officer will be leading the work to try and fill this gap though there are no quick fixes. In the meantime we are ever more reliant on bringing referees over from Europe to take charge of our Super Series Division 1 games. This is an expensive option and one that increases the cost of the competition, as discussed with clubs as part of the Competition Review workshops. There are also signs that we need to support some of our clubs more to help them to become more sustainable. Lauren Templeton and the RDOs are making this a high priority for the start of the new year and will be working alongside clubs to identify the different needs of individual clubs and the best ways in which we can help. We recognize also that our coaches need more support and will be piloting a Coach Academy in the new year. We want to get to a position where we have a clear pathway for coach development and are able to learn from, and tap into expertise from across the sporting landscape. We want to be able to provide continuous development opportunities for all coaches so that the quality of our game continues to improve. We also want to identify those who are very talented and have the potential to be our future national coaches.

Division 1 of the Super Series during the 18/19 season (credit: Anthony Hayton)

It will be an exciting start to 2020 with the first game for Division 1 of the Super Series in the second week of January and the Talent selection camp on the 19th of the month. Australia and the USA arrive in February for the King Power Quad Nations tournament. I am hugely grateful to King Power and the Srivaddhanaprabha family for sponsoring this event for a third successive year and am delighted that we have attracted the top two world ranked teams to Leicester. I am proud that we have established the Quad Nations as an important tournament in the international calendar and it is my intention to maintain it as an annual event. We also want to use it to provide broader development opportunities and this year we will again be looking to stage a Women and Girls event around the Quad Nations.

Australia v USA at the inaugural King Power Quad Nations (credit: Osborne Hollis)

Looking ahead to 2020 will be the subject of my new year blog so I won’t say more here but instead end by remembering that Christmas is a very special time. Whether you believe the Christmas story or not, the celebration brings out the very best of human kindness as our families and friends come together and we remember what is truly important in life. This year will be my first Christmas without both my parents alive which I find emotionally quite hard, but I am uplifted by the wonderful memories I have of Christmas with them when I was a young boy and I feel so lucky to be able to share the same experience of love and joy with my own wife and children. I hope this Christmas is special for everyone in our sport and thank you all again for all you have done this year.

David Pond