Wales

WRU orders player to retire at 56

Stephen Clee holding a rugby ball
Image caption Stephen Clee has played amateur rugby for 36 years

Thirty six years after starting to play amateur rugby, a 55-year-old player says being forced to retire on his birthday due to Welsh Rugby Union insurance rules is age discrimination.

Stephen Clee from Tonyrefail, Rhondda Cynon Taf begun playing rugby, aged 19, in 1974.

But he will have to quit playing when he turns 56 in February.

Age Cymru supports his claim of age discrimination, but the WRU say it is a matter of safety and common sense.

"I've been semi-retired for years now, but my sons play for Tonyrefail 2nds, and I'm a qualified first-aider, so I help out with any injuries there," explained Mr Clee.

"Occasionally, when we're short, I get a game; it's only the odd half an hour here or 40 minutes there, but for brief periods like that I still have something I can offer the team.

"I'm not the quickest any more, and I've had to switch from full-back to the second row, but it's a running joke in the club that I'm fitter and stronger than a lot of lads there in their 20s and 30s."

The Welsh Rugby Union would not comment on Mr Clee's individual predicament, but issued a statement on the issue: "The Welsh Rugby Union match insurance policy covers all registered players who have not achieved their 56th birthday.

"This covers all league, cup and friendly games sanctioned within the rules of the WRU.

"The WRU encourages individuals beyond the age of 56 to consider coaching or match official roles to remain active within the sport."

Blanket ruling

Yet in England, the Rugby Football Union has no such arbitrary cut-off age. Instead they require any player over 50-years-old to attend regular medicals.

The RFU say they are aware of "Numerous instances of people playing amateur rugby well beyond 55."

Mr Clee, who runs at least four miles twice a week, is calling for a similar system of medicals to be introduced in Wales.

He has offered to provide his own insurance after this season.

But he has been told by the WRU that even if he could find a provider to cover him, the WRU's insurance policy for all the other players and match officials would be invalidated by having someone of his age on the field.

Whilst Mr Clee accepts that rugby can be a dangerous game, and that the risks involved increase as physical fitness decreases, he thinks it's far too simplistic to have a blanket ruling that older people are necessarily less fit.

It is a message echoed by Martyn Jones, Age Cymru's Equalities Policy Advisor.

"We encourage all people, whatever their age, to keep active because we understand the massive health benefits this brings in later life," he said.

"It would be a shame if Mr Clee was forced to stop playing the game he loves purely because of his age.

"Making assumptions about the physical ability of individuals on the basis of their age is something we're trying to change in society. Because stereotypes of old age are so strong, we often forget how diverse a section of society older people really are and that there is huge variance in their needs, interest and abilities ."

One in four Welsh adults are currently over 65, a figure which will rise to one in three by the year 2031

Age Cymru explained that whilst employment law prohibits discrimination on the basis of age, there is no such legislation to prevent it amongst providers of goods and services.

Mr Clee is vowing to fight on.

"I never set out to be a campaigner, I just want to play," he said.

"My wife thinks I'm mad, and every year I get ribbed in the dressing-room when there are lads calling it a day, who were actually born after I'd already started playing."

"But none of that matters, so long as I have the desire to play, and I have something to offer the team. I'm not going to let this drop."