Fairness and equality have been important values for Rugby League ever since the sport was founded in response to social and economic injustice over 120 years ago.
In the late 19th century working people, particularly in the north of England, faced hardship if they played sport because they had to take time off work to do so and could not be compensated for their lost pay. The only solution was to form their own competition, the Northern Union which quickly evolved into Rugby League.
The world has changed much since 1895, but Rugby League has retained the strong, healthy and successful links with its local communities that are as important today as they were then.
Those communities together form the Rugby League family, whose interests are championed by Rugby League Cares, a charity which works with the whole game across the UK focusing on four main areas of activity: education and welfare, benevolence, community development and heritage.
Community development is a large part of the work of the charity, and it takes many forms, including arts projects covering dance and music; health programmes for both mental and physical wellbeing; and, of course, sport programmes.
In the last 50 years, population changes have transformed the communities in the towns and cities where Rugby League is played, and a sport which prides itself on inclusivity has always demonstrated a readiness to reach out to people who have never experienced the game before.
Connecting Communities is an outreach programme which is working with the many diverse communities that exist within and around established Rugby League clubs. The project has three separate but connected programmes running in Kirklees, Bradford and Leeds, all of which share one thing: they have been designed, and are being delivered, by people within the community rather than being promoted by the sport.
The Kirklees programme is being led by Starr Zaman and the 20:20 Foundation. They have been delivering a non-contact form of Rugby League to young people in Batley and Dewsbury and have built basic rugby skills activity into the various parts of the summer programme offered by the 20:20 Foundation.
The response has been really encouraging with many young people enjoying their first taste of Rugby League. Starr is keen to promote the positive aspects of participation in a sport that has a long and proud heritage in local communities.
“We aim to break down the idea that Rugby League isn’t seen as a sport by South Asian communities,” said Starr. “Rugby League is more than just a sport, it’s a family and as we are people from areas where Rugby League is embed we aim to make the South Asian communities claim back part of our family.
“Rugby League is a sport with great health, social, career and learning opportunities and aspects of the Rugby League family is something we the South Asian community is missing out on.
“Connecting communities aims to introduce aspects of the sport to everyday activity. Our project will have sublime key messages of Rugby League which will hopefully be designed and consulted by you the users.”
One of the first activities that Starr arranged for youngsters from a local faith school was for them to attend a Super League match between Huddersfield Giants and Warrington Wolves.
Super League is the Rugby League equivalent of football’s Premier League and the students and their teachers had a great time not only watching the game but meeting one of the stars, Huddersfield’s 6ft 8in giant of a player, Eorl Crabtree.
The Head of
Rugby League Cares, Chris Rostron, has been delighted by the progress made by
“It has been fantastic to see the communities themselves engaging with a sport that brings so much fun and health advantages,” said Chris.
“Communities are at the heart of everything we do as a charity and it is vitally important that the sport does all it can to engage with local people who share and respect our values and principles.
“Connecting Communities is establishing some terrific new relationships and doing a brilliant job communicating the message that Rugby League is a welcoming and inclusive sport which can make a positive difference to people of all ages.”
Connecting Communities is supported by Sport England and organised by Rugby League Cares. It will continue giving hundreds of local people the chance to get involved with a sport that has its roots very firmly in the local community.
To find out more information about Rugby League Cares please visit www.rugbyleaguecares.org
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