RPA - 5th April 2023 - Elite Rugby Inclusion and Diversity Action Plan

RPA - 5th April 2023 - Elite Rugby Inclusion and Diversity Action Plan

5th April 2023

The RFU, Premiership Rugby, Premier 15s and the RPA are today publishing its Inclusion and Diversity Action Plan for the elite game.

Inclusion and diversity have been a significant focus for rugby union over recent years, and while a great deal of work has been undertaken across all areas of the game, revelations last summer by Luther Burrell about his experiences of racism and classism during his career in the sport necessitated a deeper look at these issues and the broader culture within the elite end of the game.???

The Rugby Football Union (RFU), Premiership Rugby (PRL), Premier 15s (P15s) and Rugby Players Association (RPA) have used the findings of elite game research into racism and classism and the impact of Luther’s experiences to focus and accelerate work that was already underway, to listen to the experiences of those in all elite rugby clubs and to agree an action plan.

While rugby union has been and continues to be enjoyed by millions of people in England, the experience of inclusion is varied across the game and representation of diverse groups is low. Ensuring inclusivity is at the heart of everything we do is critical to our evolution and the diversifying of our sport. It will enable greater access to our game, a more equitable experience all around and a greater diversity of talent being represented at the top of rugby union.??

No single entity can do this alone. It requires situational and behavioural changes, underpinned by collective understanding, collaborative effort and transparency.

Bill Sweeney, RFU CEO, said: “To embed the change we all want to see following Luther’s frank and disturbing feedback to us about his experiences, requires collective action from all the major stakeholders in the English game.?

“The findings from our research into racism and classism in rugby union have been revealing and have hardened our resolve to address and remove these forms of discrimination and experiences from our game and put inclusion at its very heart.

“The action plan we have developed, with Premiership Rugby, Premier 15s and the Rugby Players Association, aims to evolve the culture in rugby, build greater awareness through education and develop systems that are underpinned by greater engagement with under-represented groups in the game to today. By ensuring diverse voices are being heard across all levels of the sport, we will broaden and provide better access for future players, coaches and leaders.”

“Working together, the RFU, PRL, P15s and RPA, will act collectively to eliminate any form of discrimination from our game and ensure club environments are inclusive for any player from every background.”

Simon Massie-Taylor, Premiership Rugby, CEO said: “There is no place for racism in our society or the game of rugby. “We understand the issues around us and have pledged to educate our game and implement change through the Action Plan that has been announced today.

“As part of the Action Plan we can confirm that mandatory training will involve all players, coaches and staff at Premiership Rugby clubs - starting before the end of the season. These training sessions will tackle the issues highlighted by players across the elite game.”

Christian Day, RPA General Secretary of the Trade Union, said: “The RPA welcomes the Inclusion and Diversity Action Plan as a positive example of collaboration between the game’s stakeholders and it is action such as this that Luther was calling for when the news of his experience first broke. This has included consistent involvement of the RPA’s player-chaired Diversity and Inclusion Board, a valued and influential forum for representing player voice. We must aim to set an example as a sport that is inclusive to all players, staff, and fans, regardless of identity or background. At the RPA we encourage and value open and honest conversations, challenge and innovation. Always with the aim of improving the culture that our members, and all, will then benefit from in years to come.”

Research into the experiences of racism and classism in elite rugby in England and the game-wide I&D Survey?

Between September and December 2022, the RFU, PRL and RPA commissioned independent research into players’ experiences of classism and racism in the elite game and launched, for the first time, an elite game-wide inclusion and diversity survey to gather broader sentiments in the game. The insight is based on the findings of interviews with primarily senior players but also staff, parents and academy players. While the survey gathered insights from approximately 500 people at the top end of the men and women’s game.

Key findings from the research are:?

  • Rugby is by its nature an inclusive sport. Once you are on the pitch, no one cares about your background - the only important thing is how well you play.?
  • However, discrimination and experiences of exclusion remain. The qualitative research found that in every area of elite rugby - men’s and women’s, national team, clubs and academies – players had experienced some form of racism.?
  • Additionally, a sense of belonging is not universal while the perceived need to assimilate, as well as being stereotyped, exists, particularly for players of colour.?
  • Classism, either accessing and navigating through the pathways or personal experiences within elite environments, is an issue which affects the game and fuels an elitist perception.?
  • Reporting of incidents of discrimination is low across the elite game and it is felt that leaders are the cornerstone to driving change for the better.?
  • The burden to call out poor behaviour and discrimination tends to land on under-represented groups.??
  • Efforts by the game to respond to discrimination to date, while well intended, have been either short-lived or perceived as performative.?
  • Disparities and inequities between the men and women’s game is the biggest inequality faced by women.?
  • Microaggressions are mostly experienced or witnessed by women and ethnically diverse communities.?
  • While there is a sense that discrimination is decreasing in the game broadly, this trend is moving at a slower pace for women and ethnically diverse communities.?

The findings of the research have been presented to key personnel at the Premiership clubs including CEOs, Directors of Rugby (DORs) and HR teams, the RPA’s D&I Player Board, and the RFU I&D Advisory Group and Council I&D Implementation Group. Collectively the RFU, PRL, P15s and RPA have considered the recommendations in the independent research and are committed to the following I&D Action Plan