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Major launches touch initiative

Boris Johnson on Friday launched a Rugby Football Union initiative aimed at halting the alarming decline in playing numbers, declaring it could help combat gang culture.

The Mayor of London used the 'O2 Touch' event at Tower Bridge to voice his determination to increase participation in the sport by enticing people into trying touch rugby.

Figures show that the number of adults playing the game at least once a week has dropped from 230,000 in 2009 to 177,900 at the most recent update. Johnson, a keen rugby fan, has allocated £115,000 to provide Londoners with free touch rugby sessions in the workplace in a scheme called 'Touch London'.

"Rugby is a fantastic game and I want to see a big expansion of people playing it in London," Johnson told Press Association Sport.

"In many parts of London people don't get the opportunity to play with an elliptical ball in the way that I think they should. There are lots of people like me who loved association football but didn't have the ball skills. In rugby you pick the ball up and if you have a bit of energy, you can play it. Loads of kids have benefited from it.

"I played a lot when I was younger and I enjoyed it very much. Many of my happiest moments came playing rugby, I can't deny that. Believe me, if you've played an hour and half of rugby and you've really enjoyed it, you're not going to want to go off and get involved in some gang fight.

"I want to see an increase in playing numbers and the decline could be to do with people thinking it's too physical, there's too much contact and that's why the touch element is important.

"We'll get people starting with a bit of touch and they'll understand how easy and painless it can be."

O2 Touch falls under the banner of the RFU's 'Choose Rugby' campaign, which has the goal of increasing playing numbers ahead of the 2015 World Cup.

The RFU has lost over £1million in public funding following its failure to grow the sport at grass roots level.

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