Rugby League’s work in embracing inclusivity and tackling homophobia has been recognised by the RFL receiving the prestigious Stonewall Sports Award of the Year.
The award, which celebrates the impact and contribution of sporting organisations and athletes in breaking down the barriers of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) inclusivity in the sporting environment, was presented at a gala dinner at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London last night (Thursday November 1).
The RFL beat off stiff competition from medal winning Team GB Olympians Carl Hester and Lee Pearson CBE and Team GB Paralympian Claire Harvey to clinch the award, which comes less than 12 months after the RFL climbed 40 places in the Stonewall Top 100 Employers Index to be named in 53rd position.
“As a sport we are delighted, honoured and proud that we have been chosen as the winner of the Stonewall Sports Award, particularly given the outstanding field of nominees including successful Olympians,” said RFL Equality and Diversity Manager Sarah Williams.
“The award is the result of four years work by the RFL and the wider sport to engage with LGB communities and to tackle homophobia in sport. This has been a genuine team effort, from our Chief Executive Nigel Wood, former Chairman Richard Lewis, the executive team and staff in all areas of the business and of course our clubs, coaches and players.
“The RFL and our clubs have been responsible for some truly groundbreaking events; Oldham, Sheffield Eagles, Super League teams Leeds Rhinos and London Broncos have all dedicated games to LGB inclusion and players like Matt Cook from the London Broncos have embraced the opportunity to make a public stand and say that homophobia has no place in Rugby League or for that matter in any sport.
"We have led the way among sports organisations in recent years, introducing the 'Tackle It!' programme, undertaken research into homophobia in sport programmes and launched a school education resource to support the 'Tackle It!' campaign and stonewall's work to end homophobic bullying."
Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill said: “The RFL has led the way in tackling homophobia in sport. The commendable work done by the governing body and teams like the Sheffield Eagles and the Leeds Rhinos will help prove that no sport need tolerate homophobia.
“Gay Rugby League fans across the country will be proud to know that anyone can aspire to join a team and play the game.”
Former Cronulla chairman and life-long Sharks fan Damian Irvine gives his thoughts on the club's magical run in 2016.