Vaizey: 'Shared passion for sport can keep UK together'

As parliamentary debates go, "UK media and Welsh rugby" is one of the more unusual titles.

It drew a small crowd of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs for a debate led by Montgomeryshire Conservative MP Glyn Davies. Perhaps other MPs were distracted by political events elsewhere. Mr Davies chose the title after being disappointed by the Sunday Telegraph's coverage of a narrow Welsh defeat on the rugby field.

He said: "Two weeks ago my Sunday reading was completely ruined when I turned to the Telegraph sports section to read about the two big rugby games that had been played on the Saturday. New Zealand had totally smashed England, while Wales had come within a whisker of beating South Africa - many people's favourite for next year's World Cup - and winning in South Africa for the first time ever.

"In a truly magnificent performance, Wales dominated most of the game. I was able to read extensively about the England game - (two full pages plus a good chunk of the front page). The Wales game got a few lines on Page 14. I felt so let down, so disappointed, so frustrated."

Mr Davies said he was committed to a free press and understood the need of newspapers to sell copies. His frustration went beyond rugby coverage and extended to the way sport could promote Wales and bring people together.

"It matters that England, great nation that it is, loves Wales and makes that clear," said Mr Davies. "I'd like that every part of English society, including our London-based media, would want to play a part in this."

He added: "The only way we will reach out across the world is if the national media covers Wales - the media that is read outside of Britain. That's the way in which the name of Wales will go out into the world and there is no better vehicle to do that than Welsh rugby."

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey replied to the debate on behalf of the government in a speech that was occasionally tongue-in-cheek. He did managed to namecheck a few sports stars past and present - Edwards, John, Bennett, Quinnell, JPR, Giggs, Bale - and argued that the presence of Welsh clubs in football's premier league had helped promote Wales

"The importance of sport in our national identity, and in keeping our nations together, should not be under-estimated. Were I to be indiscreet, it occurs to me that perhaps the majority of the population is more interested and passionate in sport than they are about politics and one of the things that will keep our country united is a shared passion for sport and an opportunity for all our nations to participate together in great sporting occasions."

It was a chance for MPs to highlight their own local sporting events. Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire MP Simon Hart spoke about the Ironman Wales event in Tenby this September. Mr Vaizey suggested it would be "a very good thing" if the local MP were to enter.

Mr Hart told me later: "I will if he will".

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