RFL tackles gay equality in parliament

To showcase the inclusive nature of Rugby League, the RFL held an event in the House of Commons on November 16 to highlight its commitment to challenging homophobia and ensuring that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are welcomed and valued throughout the sport.

Sarah Williams, RFL Equality and Diversity Manager is delighted to be launching a ‘Guidance for Rugby League Clubs – Challenging Homophobic Abuse and Behaviour’ booklet.

Hosted by Greg Mulholland MP in the Macmillan Room of Portcullis House in the House of Commons, special guests included Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone MP and Ben Summerskill from Stonewall.  Unfortunately, Gareth Thomas Crusaders and Wales RL star – and former Great Britain Rugby Union Lions Captain – was unable to attend due to illness.

The event was an outstanding success, with Members of Parliament and Lords being joined by players, the media, and stakeholders who take this issue seriously.  Sheffield Eagles were also in attendance to present their new, specially-designed kit carrying the ‘Homophobia Tackle It!’ slogan which will be worn at a home game in February 2011, which is also LGBT history month to highlight LGBT issues.

Opening the event, Leeds North MP Mulholland said: “Rugby League is perceived to be one of the toughest and most ferocious sports anyone could play.  Whilst this is true in terms of the way the game is played, Rugby League has a history of being one of the most welcoming sports around. I am proud to play a sport that anyone can play irrespective of ability, gender, race, sexuality or background.  It’s testament to the work of all involved in the sport.”

The RFL takes very seriously its commitment to inclusivity and is the first and only sports governing body to join the Stonewall Diversity Champion programme. RFL Chief Executive Nigel Wood said: “Many believe Rugby League to be a brutal sport.  I will not disagree that the on-the-field product can appear combative and aggressive, but it is always played in the correct mindset of competition and fairness.  This latter point translates across all those involved in Rugby League, and is the reason for the event today.”

Stonewall CEO Summerskill added to this sentiment saying: “The vision shown by Rugby League in recent years has been ground-breaking in making the sport more welcoming and accessible. Stonewall’s Diversity Champions demonstrate a clear commitment to improving the working environment for their lesbian, gay and bisexual staff. For many, sport is still one of the last great bastions of homophobia but we warmly welcome RFL’s commitment to openly challenging prejudice and unfairness.”

Although he was unable to attend, Thomas sent the following message to those that attended. “All sports have a significant role to play in challenging homophobia and I am delighted to show my support to Rugby League and the RFL which has made such strong commitments to taking important issues like this seriously and is leading the way in terms of inclusivity.”

Whilst being presented with her Sheffield Eagles shirt, Featherstone said: “Fans, players and officials know that racism is unacceptable, but sadly homophobia continues to be an issue in sport, at all levels. The Government is committed to stamping out homophobia wherever it occurs, so I’m delighted to see the Rugby Football League and the Sheffield Eagles working hard to tackle the problem. They’re setting a really positive example that all other sports bodies should be proud to follow.”

Rugby League is not only committed to challenging homophobia, its on-and off-field Respect campaign is a model for many other sports, including football and tackles all aspects of offensive and anti social behaviour.

The RFL is re-launching its Tackle IT! Campaign to include six equality strands in one comprehensive campaign for the 2011 season. A package of activities to support the initiative is also being developed including – a matchday text line incident reporting service for all 36 professional clubs, posters, DVD and learning resources and an improved matchday incident reporting mechanism.

For further information on the RFL Equality agenda and LGBT specific initiatives, please contact Sarah Williams, RFL Equality and Diversity Manager at sarah.williams@rfl.uk.com or visit the RFL website www.therfl.co.uk

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