Source: England Rugby

RFU committed to improving Diversity and Inclusion

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  • Research informs development of D&I action plan across four key areas
  • RFU board target 30% female and 15% BAME representation by August 2022 latest
  • Appointment of new D&I Council Implementation Group
  • Short-form educational documentary on Swing Low to be launched
  • RFU support Black Lives Matter and Rugby Against Racism Messaging

The RFU has announced its progress and plans to improve Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) in rugby.

Following in-depth research, the Union has made a commitment to improving D&I across four key areas of the game:

Fans, Followers and Partners; Game Play – Players, Coaches, Match Officials; Staff and Board and Game Administration – Volunteer leaders within Clubs, Constituent Bodies and Council.

RFU Chair, Andy Cosslett said: “The RFU needs to step up its efforts to improve diversity and inclusion across our game. We are living through testing times, but this will not deter us from grasping the opportunity to better reflect the society we live in.

“We have worked hard to understand our starting point and are now underway with a plan that we are confident will produce big improvements in our diversity and inclusion over the next few years. Rugby Union has always prided itself as being a ‘game for all’…we must now demonstrate beyond any doubt that we mean it.”

The RFU has conducted research with over 4,400 people from the rugby community to understand attitudes and opinions to D&I in rugby and it has undertaken a detailed analysis of sport participation from Sport England Active Lives and YouGov data.  The findings will inform areas of focus for D&I action planning in each part of the game.  The results included:

  • Despite growth of the women’s game and the most diverse England men’s team ever, compared to the overall England adult population, those who participate in rugby union are significantly less likely to be female, of a BAME ethnicity and of the lowest socio-economic group.
  • 57% of those involved in the game agree that rugby is representative of the local community it is in, but only 31% agree it is representative of the general population. ​
  • Compared to the overall England adult population, those that consider themselves followers of rugby union are significantly less likely to be female, under 55 years old, of a BAME ethnicity and of the lower C2DE social grade.
  • Respondents from every background said they personally experience less discrimination in rugby compared to everyday life.  5% claim to witness discrimination often in rugby versus 11% in everyday life.
  • Survey respondents who have been involved in the community game for ten or more years (the vast majority) agreed that they experienced or witnessed significantly less discrimination in rugby last season than when they were first involved in the game.
  • Of those who witness discrimination often or sometimes in rugby 25%, the primary characteristics they have seen someone discriminated on were race 54%, sex 31% and sexual orientation 30%. ​
  • Females, those of a BAME ethnicity and those of an LGB sexual orientation have a significantly lower perception that ‘Rugby in England is inclusive for all’ versus their counterpart characteristics.
  • Research on Swing Low, Sweet Chariot concluded that 74% of people, rising to 84% of those from a BAME background agreeing that it is important for England Rugby to actively educate fans on the origins of Swing Low while 69% of respondents said the song shouldn’t be banned. The RFU will use the findings of the detailed research to inform action plans for four key areas of the game.

Further updates on the action plans will be announced in the future and interim progress includes:

Staff and Board

The RFU Board has made a new commitment to achieving a Board composition of 30% females and 15% BAME by 1 August 2022 latest.  The current board of 14 consists of four female members and by 2022 there will be two BAME members.

The targets have been set to provide real commitment from the top of the game on the desire to improve in areas of diversity and inclusion.  The Union is also undertaking research among colleagues to gain insight into what teams look like to better understand the employee profile so that targets can be set to achieve a greater diversity balance.

Game Administration – Volunteer leaders within Clubs, Constituent Bodies and Council
The RFU Diversity and Inclusion Working Group, Chaired by Genevieve Glover has now appointed its members to implement recommendations that were developed by the previous D&I Group to improve diversity and inclusion among volunteer leaders at Club, Constituent Body and Council.  The vision of the group is: building an inclusive and sustainable game through skilled and diverse leadership.

In the coming months the Group will be working on ensuring its recommendations are ratified and joined up with the wider RFU plan and reflect the current vision for diversity and inclusion in English rugby.

Speaking about the appointments Genevieve Glover said: “I was thrilled with the high level of applicants for these volunteer roles; we have an impressive, diverse and energetic team committed to effecting real change alongside our RFU colleagues.”

Fans, Followers & Partners
The RFU has stated it will not ban Swing Low, Sweet Chariot as it has a long-held place in rugby history however, the Union will use its social media and event audiences to proactively educate fans on the history and provenance of the song as well as providing platforms for diverse voices across the game.

Ahead of the first England game since lockdown, the RFU will release a short form documentary on the history of Swing Low.  Featuring prominent current and former BAME England players as well as Josephine Wright, Professor of Music and Black Studies at The College of Wooster (Ohio), USA.  The film will debut on England Rugby channels on 23 October and it will also feature in matchday content when fans are allowed back into stadiums.

The RFU is committed to using its channels to listen, educate and provide a platform for a wide range of diverse voices across the game.  Recent examples of this include (links).
The RFU is also working with all partners to ensure diversity across its content to ensure equal prominence of women and BAME participants; the recent England Umbro kit launch being widely praised evidence of this strategy in action.   Recent examples of this include:

Jimmy Peters story
Maggie Alphonsi thread
Rugby, race and the women’s game
 part 1
Rugby race and the women’s game part 2

In its marketing and match day presentation the RFU will continue to support the message of Black Lives Matter as well as Rugby Against Racism.  The Union is not making or supporting political statements but recognises both messages are powerful in the need to take positive steps forward in diversity and inclusion.

Game Play – Players Coaches, Match Officials
The RFU plans to build on the success of its community rugby programmes which include the All Schools participation programme which is an initiative that started in 2012 as part of the Rugby World Cup 2015 Legacy Programme to increase the number of secondary state schools playing rugby union and to encourage new players to join local clubs. In 2017-18 it found that BAME participation was at 22%.  And in addition, over 10,500 students have joined local rugby clubs having been part of the All Schools programme.

Since its inception in 2016, 23,000 women have attended ‘Inner Warrior’ camps, a series of rugby fitness training camps for women, run by clubs across the country designed for fitness and as a great introduction to rugby for those that have never played.  This has and will continue to ensure the continued growth in women and girls participating in rugby.

England’s men’s and women’s players and match officials will be consulted and given the choice on how and if they wish to make gestures to help raise awareness for diversity and inclusion before the start of each future game.  The RFU will support any player and match official gestures, but equally believes the plans off the England stage are equally important in driving necessary improvement and change.