Wales Touch Association applauded for use of Welsh language

Wales Touch Association broke the sporting mould when they launched the six brand new regions that competed at the inaugural National Championships in April 2013…each of the regions were given a bilingual name.
Wales Touch Nationals Logo

 

 

Bilingual Branding

When Wales Touch Association (WTA) presented the names and branding for the Wales Touch Nationals held for the first time in April 2013, they created history by being the first sporting body in Wales to create sporting franchises with bilingual names.

Welsh-language television broadcasters, S4C use the translated version of many teams in the British Isles, for example, Caeredin when referring to Edinburgh Rugby, Caerloyw for Gloucester and Gweilch when discussing the Ospreys.  Many Welsh language publications or TV and radio programmes would also use direct translations when describing Cardiff City FC’s Bluebirds as Adar Gleision or Swansea City’s Elyrch (Swans). 

However, this is the first time that the owners of a brand, in this case a regional representative team, have proactively named the regions in both English and Welsh and reflected this in all of the branding.

Cyclones – Seiclonau
Rangers – Ceidwaid
Rebels – Gwrthryfelwyr
Red Kites – Barcutiaid Coch
Titans – Titaniaid
Warriors – Rhyfelwyr

A Living Language?

So why have the WTA done this and why is it important?

In Wales, around 1 in 5 people speak Welsh but the 2011 census shows that the traditional Welsh-language ‘hot beds’ where the language is the predominant language are reducing.  There are many varied and complex reasons for this which won’t be covered here.

% of Welsh Speakers in Wales, 2011 Census

Despite the fact that approximately a quarter of school children in Wales are educated through the medium of Welsh and all children in Wales are taught Welsh as a second language in school, there are precious few opportunities for youngsters to use and develop their Welsh in their recreation time.

There are excellent organisations such as the Urdd who exist to give people opportunities to use their Welsh.  However, once young people grow up and leave school, they may have limited opportunities to use their Welsh skills.

Some young people will simply stop speaking the language, seeing it as something belonging to the classroom or even worse, an embarrassment.

If the language is to survive – and the fact that it may not is a scary reality, then it’s use must extend beyond the classroom and into everyday life.  It needs to be seen and heard on the street, in shops, on TV, on the radio, in gigs.  In short, it needs to be normal for Welsh to be heard everywhere in Wales.  Even in the areas where it’s a tiny minority, those that chose to use it should not face an uphill struggle or have to protest in order to do so.

Welsh in the Mainstream

There is some truly excellent work being done to ensure that public services and to a lesser degree, large private companies act responsibly and offer some or all services in Welsh.  Some organisations such as HM Customs & Revenue have outstanding Welsh-speaking staff and it is possible to phone the Welsh help line to deal with tax matters in either language equally.

However, many of Wales’ sporting bodies have not truly embraced bilingualism and it is they that can really lead by example and encourage youngsters to not only use their unique language, but to be proud of it.

Poor Support for Welsh from NGBs

The Welsh rugby team is crammed with Welsh speakers, such as George North, Rhys Priestland, Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies,  Mike Phillips and Ken Owens to name but a few.  Imagine a ‘Use Your Welsh’ campaign featuring these players.  This could truly hit home with youngsters who idolize their heroes.

In fact, of the 11 National Governing Bodies (NGB) in Wales that receive over £400,000 of public funding, only three of them have a Welsh language policy.  Of the 42 NGBs that received public funding in Wales, 37 of them operate English-only websites.

In fact, it is sad to note that there is currently a campaign against the Welsh Rugby Union.  The WRU have been criticised for failing to provide supporters with the ability to access their services in their native language and pressure is mounting on them to communicate with their customers equally in both languages.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society) are calling on the WRU to not only update their Welsh-language policy, but to operate their social media and websites bilingually, develop Welsh-medium courses and make all promotional materials bilingual.

The predicted costs for doing so are minimal but it does take some extra time, effort and patience to do so.

Amateurs Leading the Way

Compare this to the WTA; an amateur organisation that is completely self-funded and does not receive any outside grants or sponsorship.  It creates very little revenue and does not employ any staff.  It is run purely by volunteers whose love for the game is what keeps them putting in the hours behind the scenes.

The WTA have been posting to their Facebook page for the last 18 months

The WTA have been posting bilingually to their Facebook page for the last 18 months

 

So to decide to not only create Welsh names for the new regions, but to display them equally on the team logos is impressive and should be applauded.  The WTA does not yet have a Welsh-language policy, but it’s social media streams have been posting bilingually and the will is there for the organisation to operate bilingually.  The WTA’s new website is also being developed to be available in both Welsh and English.

A Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg spokesperson said:

“Sports can play an important role in promoting the use of the Welsh language and the Wales Touch Association deserves praise for this positive step. Hopefully this will set an example for other sporting bodies.”

So to the Wales Touch Association executive board, I thank you for leading the way and long may this continue so that young people can see that Welsh is part and parcel of life in Wales and is something to be proud of.

Perhaps some of the other sports bodies in Wales which receive £400,000+ a year of public funding will soon follow suit.

What about you?  Tell us about your experiences (good and bad) of dealing with sporting organisations in Welsh.  Use the comment box below

First Ever Junior Regional Touch Series

Another first for Touch in Wales (and possibly Europe) – the Junior Challenge Series

On Friday 26th July 2013, a West Wales regional select team will take on an East Wales squad in the first ever Junior Challenge Series (JCS) for players aged 15 years and below.  The teams will face off for two games featuring the brightest young talent south Wales has to offer.  Click here for the full team line ups.

Rachel Wasserman - playing regional Touch at age 14

Rachel Wasserman, aged 14 (left) Playing regional Touch in the WTA Nationals and will now represent West Wales in the Junior Series

This time the young talent gets a chance to shine on their own stage

The game will be played in the mixed category meaning that boys and girls will play on the same teams.  Players will be in years 9 or 10 in school and for most of them it will be the first time they have played Touch in a game exclusively for their own age group.  Let’s take a look at the two teams.

East Wales

The East Wales squad is mainly made up of players currently playing for teams in the Touch Rugby Wales league in Cardiff and are coached by Cyclones coach, Owen Smith and Cyclones Mixed Open player, Khal Salim.  The coaching staff have excellent pedigree with the Cyclones having recently swept the board in all divisions at the inaugural Wales Touch Nationals in April.

The Cyclones | Seiclonau (South Cardiff & the Vale) won the Men’s Open, Women’s Open and Mixed Open divisions featuring a multitude of internationally-experienced players.  However, they also had one eye on the future by blooding youngster, Lucy Pattison in the tournament.  The experience of playing in Wales’ premier tournament will no doubt stand Lucy in good stead whilst playing for East Wales in the JCS.

Most of the East team play together for Ysgol Plasmawr in the TRW league under the guidance of seasoned international Touch player, Sion Wyn Davies, Plasmawr’s Head of PE and also a current Wales 40 player.  Expect the team to be well-drilled and possibly a little more knowledgeable of Touch tactics than their west Walian counterparts.

West Wales

However, Lucy will not be the only player on the pitch that has regional experience.  Another talented young female, Rachel Wasserman, will be looking to capitalise on her Nationals experience in the JCS this Friday.  Rachel was a late addition to the Red Kites | Barcutiaid Coch (West Wales) squad having only attended one training session prior to the tournament.  Despite only being 14 years old she greatly impressed and has already been invited to play for Cardiff Raptors in the club-based, Wales Touch Series following her performances at the Nationals.

Many of the West Wales team were identified at a recent Carmarthenshire 5×60 Touch tournament at Pembrey Country Park where nine teams competed to find an under 15s county champion.  The day was a great success and it was Ammanford’s Ysgol Dyffryn Aman team that eventually won.  Three of the victorious team, Jac Isaac, Steffan Pryce-Griffiths and  Cathryn Jones have made the West Wales team and will be keen to continue their success.

Also playing for the West are two players that have impressed in the newly-formed Newcastle Emlyn module.  Ysgol Bro Pedr (Lampeter) pupils, Iwan Evans and Caryl Jacob came along to the Emlyn Try-Touch Night in May and decided to form their own team with their friends.  The fact that they are only 14 years old didn’t put them off and they have been competing against other teams with much older players.  Despite finding it tough going in the early part of the season, the team has been steadily improving each week.  In fact, Iwan has already picked up a hatful of MVPs so far this season and he is definitely one to watch at JCS.

So why is this series so important?

In much of Europe, it is fair to say that many people’s first experience of playing Touch does not come until later in life, with many only taking up the game once their rugby playing days are over.  Even those that start relatively early are usually well into their teens or twenties before they take up Touch.

Whilst it’s great for people to continue to be active as they get older, if the gap is ever to close between Wales and top class Touch nations such as Australia and New Zealand, players need to be developed from the youngest possible age.  They need to play age-grade Touch before working their way up to national senior teams.  The current model of trying to develop players that have come to Touch from other sports will only take Wales so far in the world of Touch.

Take a look at this video of some Under 10s Touch from Australia – these kids have grown up playing Touch and it shows – they have running, evasion and handling skills in abundance as well as tactical knowledge of what moves to use and when.  Let’s hope that we’ll see Touch of this quality in Wales one day – the JCS could be an important piece in this jigsaw.

The Junior Challenge Series takes place on Friday 26 July 2013 at Swansea University Sports Centre.  Game 1 taps off at 12 noon with game 2 starting at 1.15pm.  Admission is free although parking charges do apply.

What about you?  What do you think about this focus on juniors?  When did you start to play Touch?

Barcutiaid yn Barod | Red Kites Ready

The Red Kites regional team, representing west Wales, recently held a team building training day for squad members in preparation for the inaugural Wales Touch Nationals on the 6th & 7th April.

Barcutiaid Coch, Pentywyn | Red Kites in Pendine OEC

Members of the Barcutiaid Coch | Red Kites team enjoying the team-building at Pendine

Wales Touch Nationals Logo

Despite only coming together for their first session at the end of January, the team has made a lot of progress.  It is fair to say that this is an inexperienced squad – a large number of the team are either completely new to Touch or have only been playing for a relatively short time.  There is also a large contingent of young players with seven players still in school.

The fact that the region has had to recruit inexperienced players is one of the reasons that the Nationals are so important to the development of the game in Wales.  (See the ‘Historic Announcement for Touch’ post for more on this).

Taking One for the Team at Pendine

But what the team makes up for in lack of experience, they certainly make up for in enthusiasm and commitment.  All of the training sessions held at Parc y Scarlets’ training barn were well attended and the recent team-building day at Pendine Outdoors, saw a strong bond begin to form between the players which will stand them in good stead when the going gets tough during the Nationals, which are being held at Swansea University Sports Centre.

The instructors at Pendine did a great job of getting the group to work together on challenges such as the Spiders Web (pictured below) where each member of the team had to pass through the web without touching either the ropes or the trees – not as easy as it sounds!  There were plenty of other tasks too – one of the other  favourites was completing an assault course whilst transporting cups full of water, balancing a ball on a plate and carrying a bell which wasn’t allowed to ring!

Her 'The Spiders Web' Challenge

The ‘Spiders Web’ Challenge

The team then took to the field at local club Laugharne RFC to recap on some of the techniques that they have been working on over the last couple of months and were able to run a Men’s Open v Mixed Open game, lead by Wales MXO international and Carmarthenshire girl, Jade Phillips.

An Unknown Entity

The Barcutiaid will go into the Nationals as rank outsiders and with players almost completely unknown to the other regions.  The majority of the squad are not on the radar when it comes to national teams or Cardiff-based clubs such as Phoenix, Durkas or Raptors (Welsh clubs that compete in England’s top level National Touch Series).  The sport is very much in it’s infancy in west Wales (the first Touch league only arrived in 2010 in Llanelli) and so far the Llanelli league has only produced two players that have competed on the international stage (Barcutiaid Assistant Coaches, Jade Phillips and Christen Rees-Jones – unfortunately both injured for the Nationals).  However, this element of surprise may gave them an edge in games against the more experienced teams such as the Cyclones and Warriors who may be expecting a straight forward victory over the Kites.

The west Wales players have the opportunity to put down a marker at the 2013 Nationals.  This will be a chance to measure themselves against current international players and see if they have got what it takes to pull on the red vest in the future.

International Ambitions

Ymarfer Barcutiaid | Kites Training, Laugharne | Talacharn RFC

Kites MO take on the Kites MXO in a training game

Since it’s inception in 1991, Touch in Wales has been centred around Cardiff but this has been detrimental to the development of the game.  Is it realistic to expect a country in which only 2,000 people play Touch in two or three leagues to produce the 112 top-class players required to field seven international Touch teams?

Up until recently, around 5% of the people that play Touch in Wales, played for one of the international teams.  There was no regional structure and the overwhelming majority of Wales players came through the Cardiff system.  Compare that to the Wales national rugby teams where you have nearly 80,000 participants that eventually filter into the five national sides (Wales, Wales Women, Wales Sevens, Wales U20, Wales U18).  In other words, less than 0.2% of rugby players in Wales will play on the international stage.

In order to win Grand Slams and reach the final four of a World Cup, a large player base is required in which the most talented players are filtered from the club to the regional level and then on to international honours.  International sport is about the cream of the crop representing their country.  This years Wales Touch Nationals are the first step forward towards realising this goal.

The Nationals will ensure that the game becomes more widespread across Wales and whilst initially there may well be a discrepancy between the emerging regions and the Cardiff heartland, it is unlikely that this will be the case for long.  The Red Kites are a prime example of a group of players that may not have played Touch for a long period of time but are willing to put in the hard work and commitment needed to play at the regional and possibly international level.  Who knows, perhaps the Nationals will uncover some hidden gems for next years Euros.

The inaugural Wales Touch Association Nationals are being held at Swansea University Sports Centre on Saturday 6th and Sunday 7th April.  Games tap off at 10.00am and culminate with the Mixed Open final at 3.30pm on Sunday and the Mens Open final at 4.25pm.  More information available here

Dyfrig, Adam - Barcutiaid

Barcutiaid | Kites; Dyfrig Gibbs (left) and Adam Lopez

All photos copyright, Lleucu Meinir