JERSEY Reds’ incredible Championship-winning season will provide a boost to grassroots sport – but there are no plans to build a stadium to allow the side to compete at the game’s highest level, a senior politician has said.
Assistant Economic Development Minister Lucy Stephenson, who has political responsibility for sport, praised the ‘historic’ success which the Reds secured with a 43-15 win over Ampthill on Saturday.
But, despite having the trophy in their grasp, the Island side will not be promoted to the Gallagher Premiership – the pinnacle of English rugby – as the Stade Santander International ground in St Peter fails to meet the top league’s required criteria.
Rugby Football Union rules state that any Premiership side must have a ground with a minimum capacity of 5,000 for next season, with approved plans to increase that to 10,000 by the start of the following season. Any Premiership ground would also be required to provide 4,200 seats as part of the 10,000 capacity.
Jersey Reds’ home ground currently has a capacity of 4,000 and around 200 covered seats.
However, the Reds’ unprecedented success has strengthened the case for a multi-purpose national stadium – the idea for which was floated in a high-level 2018 government review of sports facilities.
Deputy Stephenson said that there were ‘no plans in place for the government to provide a larger facility for Jersey Reds’, meaning that any Premiership ambitions would need significant private investment.
She said: ‘The ground in St Peter is privately owned by the Jersey Rugby Football Club and leased to the Reds for training and matches. Since my appointment I am not aware of any approaches by Jersey Reds to the government around any capacity concerns with regards to the current facilities they use.’
However, Deputy Stephenson said she believed the team’s success could provide a boost to participation levels for not only rugby, but sport in the Island generally.
‘Jersey Reds have had a sensational season and I wish them huge congratulations on their success. This is a historic moment not just for Jersey Reds but for the Island, and a real cause for celebration.
‘Although sadly there is no prospect of promotion into the Gallagher Premiership at this point, this is nevertheless an exciting development for the club and I look forward to seeing them embrace the challenges and opportunities which may come next. At a grassroots level we know that having top-class athletes playing locally and carrying the Jersey name on their shirts at such a level is inspiring to the players of the future. I hope this weekend’s win will further strengthen local interest in playing rugby for all ages and abilities and being active more generally.’
In 2021, the government’s Inspiring Active Places strategy noted the need for Jersey Reds to ‘improve its stadium and ancillary facilities’.
Deputy Lyndon Farnham, who was Economic Development Minister during the previous term of office, said the success of the Reds highlighted the need for investment in sports.
He said: ‘My view has not really changed. I have always been an ardent supporter of sports and event-led tourism.
‘Sport in Jersey will succeed or fail based on the facilities we provide and I would like to see an improved national stadium. If we were to look at improving facilities, I think we could encourage a lot more great events to come to the Island – whether that be sporting, music or pop-culture.’
He said that without investment and support from government in the Island’s infrastructure, Saturday’s momentous achievement risks being the pinnacle of what a Jersey sports team can achieve.
Deputy Farnham added that smaller-scale investments could help improve the Island’s sporting offering.
‘I don’t think the government necessarily needs to invest in big facilities and stadiums,’ he said. ‘Smaller investment in technology inside some of our sports clubs can allow us to attract major events.
‘Most of those global events – the World Championships – are streamed online. A bit of investment to give, for example, squash the platform to stream online could mean we can bring national and international championships to the Island,’ he said.
lMatch reports and reaction: pages 52-54 and 56.