Huddersfield Giants star Michael Lawrence was revealed by the RFL last week as a player representative on a new body that the governing body hopes will help further diversify Rugby League while countering discrimination against members of ethnic minorities.
The RFL Inclusion Board will have eight members, including Lawrence and RFL non-executive director Dr Rimla Akhtar MBE, who will chair the new board, as well as former Rugby AM owner Alex Simmons, who is also the Operations Director for the Jamaican Rugby League team that will play in the World Cup later this year.
Lawrence, who will be the only current player on the Board, was one of three Huddersfield players who discussed the impact of racism on Sky Sports last year during the Black Lives Matter protests.
And that led to him being contacted to take up his new role.
“Players taking the knee brought a big awareness of the issue, but there were mixed reviews and some confusion, with Black Lives Matter having some political ties that people didn’t agree with,” said Lawrence.
“That led to the RFL wanting to create their own Rugby League approach to this problem, with no political ties to divert attention.
“Rugby League is an inclusive sport – look at PDRL and Women’s Rugby League, for example – and we want to build on that with ten to 15 goals that are all measurable. The RFL is talking to clubs about what they will do to change over the next few years.
“I was approached to join the Board by Alex Simmons, who said it would be good to see a player represented on there and I was happy to put my name forward.
“The RFL already has its ‘Tackle It’ plan, which can lead to long term change and in my view only positive things can come from what the new board intends to do.
“All around Yorkshire, for example, there are massive Asian and black communities.
“We need to interact with schools and parents to give them a taste of the game.”
And Lawrence’s personal history illustrates the capricious nature of how youngsters start playing the game.
“My parents both born in Jamaica, but they came here as young children when my grandparents came to Huddersfield to work in the textile mills, which were widespread in those days.
“And for me, rugby wise it was just luck that I started playing. The back of my house backed onto a rugby field. My mum had no idea about the game, but a neighbour saw I was an energetic kid and advised her to take me over, which she did.
“My dad wasn’t a sporty person so it was just luck that I got started. My first junior club was Thornhill. We moved to live in Newsome, which is a suburb of Huddersfield, and I got to school and asked if there were any local clubs.
“I signed joined Newsome Panthers as a six-year-old. In my team I was the only non-white kid until I was ten or eleven, but three or four other kids then joined me at the age of ten.
“Huddersfield is a multicultural town with strong Asian and Caribbean communities and I would love to get them more involved in Rugby League and perhaps supporting the Giants.”
The Inclusion Board will hold its first formal meeting in March.
The above content is also available in the regular weekly edition of League Express, on newsstands every Monday in the UK and as a digital download. Click here for more details.