The British Asian Rugby Association (BARA) will meet Italy on Saturday (28 May) at Hunslet Hawks’ South Leeds Stadium, writes Rob Wilkinson.
The sides will contest the White Ribbon Trophy in a repeat of last year’s clash in Rome when BARA, coached by Garry Schofield and founder Ikram Butt, lost out to a last-minute conversion in a 22-20 defeat.
The party from Lega Italia – officially recognised by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) as the only governing body for Rugby League in Italy – will be presented to the media at Headingley on Friday before visiting the Makkah mosque to meet members of the Leeds Interfaith Forum.
There will be a mixed ability exhibition game as a curtain raiser to the game at the South Leeds Stadium, with players from the pioneering Bingley-based Bumble Bees taking part along with players from other clubs across West Yorkshire.
The tour is sponsored by KASA, with additional support from Regal, Inspirational Women’s Foundation, Durham Accountants, Malik Halls, Highgate Solicitors, Click Your GP, AG Graphic Solutions, Mini Travel, Sporting Change and PRomotion.
The tour will also seek to promote the White Ribbon Campaign aimed at reducing domestic violence against women and children.
Pierluigi Gentile, founder of Lega Italia, said: “We are looking forward to our UK visit and thank BARA for making it happen. We hope to participate in another close, exciting game of Rugby League.”
Butt, a former England, Leeds, Featherstone and Hunslet player, founded BARA 12 years. He said: “We were treated like kings last year in Rome and again earlier this year, as guests of Lega Italia, when we discussed the White Ribbon Campaign and interfaith initiatives with the Pope at the Vatican.
“We hope to return the compliment and provide a competitive match for the Italian squad, who are representing a fast-growing governing body that is becoming the standard bearer for the 13-a-side code.”
He added: “I’d like to put on record my thanks to Gary Hetherington from Leeds Rhinos, Darren Williams from Hunslet Hawks, and Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake, as well as all of the sponsors, for their support in making this tour a reality.”
Dr Muhammad Asim MBE, who was part of the delegation to meet the Pope at the Vatican, will host the Italians at the award-winning Makkah mosque. He said: “During my visit to the Vatican, I talked to the Pope about using sports to connect with young people. BARA and Italian Rugby League both aspire to use the power of rugby to create safe, inclusive programmes for young people affected by poverty or conflict, and empower them.
“The community is, therefore, very much looking forward to hosting Italy RL at Makkah mosque, and working together to inspire and empower young people of all backgrounds.”