Huddersfield Giants’ Michael Lawrence happy to be voice of players in tackling discrimination

HELPING rugby league become a truly inclusive sport is something Huddersfield Giants’ Michael Lawrence is passionate about helping to achieve in his new off-field role.

Speaking up: Huddersfield Giants forward Michael Lawrence is a member of the RFL's Inclusion Board. Picture Tony Johnson.

The long-serving loose-forward will help represent players’ views and insight on the new RFL Inclusion Board which was unveiled earlier this week.

Established as part of the game-wide commitment to diversity, inclusion and anti-discrimination campaigning, its members are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds such as education, media, business and retail.

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Meeting four times per year, together they will oversee progress of ‘TACKLE IT – Rugby League versus Discrimination’, a far-reaching action plan set up last autumn, setting out how rugby league will extend its reach and appeal, diversify its talent pool, improve its culture and actively deal with discrimination.

As Super League’s top-tackler last season, it is perhaps fitting that the 30-year-old Lawrence is now central to tackling this issue head-on.

The Jamaica international spoke out about racism last year and helped drive rugby league’s stance against that but he knows the sport needs to do more in a number of areas.

“I felt off the back of last year, there was a lot of awareness brought and it built a lot of momentum,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“The Black Lives Matter movement that had started, and taking the knee, that drew attention to the issue.

Game for all: RFL chairman Simon Johnson. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

“But we felt there was a lot of confusion between the fan base and some players around types of political groups.

“We thought it was very important to step away from that and let rugby league create its own initiative. That’s how the TACKLE IT initiative came about and, when I saw it, I wanted to be a part of it.

“It is basically anti-discrimination and all about inclusivity and diversity within the sport.

“I feel only positive things can happen from this; this is the plan of action and it is in place to push forward over the next five years.

Adding his voice: Jamaica RL's operations director Alex Simmons. Picture by Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com

“Hopefully we can make some positive change.”

Other board members are media consultant Aaqil Ahmed, Amazon Web Services’ Aisha Suleiman, In Diverse Company’s Alex Simmons – the Jamaica operations director and formerly of Rugby AM – as well as Wates Group’s Nikunj Upadhyay, Inside Inclusion director Chris Gibbons and Community Integrated Care’s John Hughes.

It is chaired by RFL non-executive director Dr Rimla Akhtar MBE and on his input, Huddersfield-born Lawrence explained: “It’s more an advisory role.

“We’re all from different backgrounds – business, teaching, community coaching, the media – and I’m the only player.

“They will be asking our opinion on strategies, what we think works, what it’s like in our sectors and we’re all putting these ideas together.

“But the RFL has a team of people that will go out into the community and actually deliver workshops and these initiatives.

“They have already been speaking to some clubs to let them know the plans for the next five years. It’s something that can be monitored and be measured, which is good.

“There’s about 10 or 15 different areas they will target and one is getting rugby league to untapped communities, drawing these new fan bases – which are in the heartland of rugby league – to the game.

“It can only be good for the sport if we attract new fans.”

Board members will serve two-year terms, after which they will be eligible for reappointment.

RFL chairman Simon Johnson said: “Through TACKLE IT the whole game has made a commitment to meet discrimination head on and break down any barriers to involvement in Rugby League.

“The new Inclusion Board members can help make sure this happens and I am delighted to welcome them to the RFL.

“They are all enthusiastic champions of diversity, inclusion, equality and anti-discrimination campaigning, and will be a tremendous asset to our sport both as individuals and as a group.

“TACKLE IT is an action plan developed by the game, for the game – the result of listening and learning from people across Rugby League.

“Their insight, honesty and commitment got us to this point, from here on it’s down to all of us to deliver.

“I’ve been asked ‘what does success look like?’. It is a game that is fully representative of its communities, and where we make the most of the immense talent, passion, skills and experience which exists.

“This work complements, and accelerates, our work on the gender balance in our sport, and LGBQT and disability inclusion.”