The Rugby Football League has stepped up its efforts to combat discrimination by launching a four-point plan to make the game more inclusive.
Rugby League versus Discrimination: TACKLE IT, launched to coincide with the beginning of Black History Month, aims to widen the reach and impact of rugby league, diversify the game’s talent pool, improve the game’s culture and encourage the reporting of discrimination.
Organisers have pledged to examine player and coach recruitment and development and ensure zero tolerance of all forms of discrimination.
Black players have made a huge impact in rugby league over the years, from Billy Boston in the 1950s to Martin Offiah, Jason Robinson and Ellery Hanley in the 1980s and now Jermaine McGilvary, but the only current black coaches throughout the three tiers of the professional game are Wigan’s Adrian Lam and London Skolars’ Jermaine Coleman.
RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer said: “We have listened to the lived experience of black players and coaches, volunteers, administrators, fans and external partners and huge thanks go to everyone who has contributed enough for their insight, honesty, and commitment to getting us to this point.
“From here on, it’s down to all of us to deliver. Actions speak louder than words. It’s Rugby League versus Discrimination and tackling it is a team effort.”
The RFL has set up an inclusion and diversity advisory board chaired by Dr Rimla Akhtar, an RFL non-executive director, who said: “Rugby league has an opportunity now to become a genuinely anti-racist and anti-discrimination sport.
“In our 125th year we are still not fully representative of our communities.
“Across all aspects of the game we continue to miss out on immense talent, passion, skills, and experience, as well as opportunities to connect, learn, grow, and expand.
“I am confident in our ability to challenge ourselves and to change.”
The initiative has been welcomed by former York and Barrow player Dean Thomas, who is head of operations at League 1 newcomers Ottawa Aces and has been critical of the game’s failure to become more inclusive.
“The TACKLE IT Action Plan satisfies my need for a structure that can be used to measure and challenge our sport’s performance in the areas of reach, impact, talent pool, culture and the reporting process for discrimination,” Thomas said.
“Key points for me are the inclusion of black and minority coaches to observe and or be invited to participate in the England Talent Pathway.
“It is great to see Craig Richards as the England women’s head coach.
“It will be great to see talented coaches like Jermaine Coleman and Leon Pryce being able to observe and or participate in the England Talent Pathway, prior to, during and after next year’s Rugby League World Cup.”