WRL celebrate positive inclusion record

Welsh rugby league player Tom Morgan has shown that the sport continues to be an exceptionally inclusive one which further builds upon its wonderful heritage and values.

Having appeared on Channel 4’s “Undateables” and ITV’s “Loose Women”, Morgan, who has Tourette’s and Asperger’s syndrome, became a media and Twitter sensation, so is perhaps a name many people have now heard of.

Morgan, who plays for South Wales Scorpions, has brought Rugby League’s culture of acceptance back into the limelight.

In a recent interview he said: “The club are as good as gold. I’m comfortable there. I like Rugby League. It’s a man’s sport and more gentlemanlike. You get what you see. There’s no cutting the corners and there is more honesty, it’s the best sport in the world I think.”

But what about names such as Billy Boston, Roy Francis, Clive Sullivan, Dalton Grant or Regan Grace?

Many who are not Rugby League fans will perhaps not know of these wonderfully talented Welshmen. However the fact that they are all black, highlights how inclusive Rugby League has been in the past and continues to be right through to the present day. Some of these names are absolute icons of sporting equality.

In September last year, Sport Wales launched new research which showed that people from black and other ethnic minority (BME) communities still face barriers to participating in sport. However Rugby League has a long history of inclusion, especially in race, leading where other sports have only followed.

Cardiff born Billy Boston MBE became one of first black sporting icons of British sport, a huge star of the 50s and 60s in Rugby League, breaking scoring records, helping Great Britain to win the 1960 World Cup and going on to be regarded as one of the sport’s greatest ever players.

Boston was one of two Welshmen unveiled in the huge bronze statue outside of Wembley Stadium in London last year which contained five of the sport’s greatest ever players. A fitting permanent memorial to a Welsh sporting legend which will be seen by millions of people who visit the national stadium each year.

Roy Francis, from Cardiff, became the first black elite professional coach of any British Sport. Following a very successful playing career in the 30s, 40s and 50s which saw him represent Great Britain, Francis went on to become one of the pioneers of British Sport. He coached Leeds to the Premiership in 1967 and a year later to the memorable Challenge Cup “watersplash” Final victory at Wembley. Francis also coached at the elite level in Australia and his man-management, coaching methods and use of psychological techniques were considered years ahead of their time.

Over 25 years before Paul Ince became the first black England Football captain, Welshman Clive Sullivan from Cardiff became the first ever black international captain for any British sport, when he captained Great Britain to win the 1972 Rugby League World Cup. Three years later he captained Wales to a third placed finish in the 1975 World Cup, one of three he played in and finished a legend of the sport. Sullivan is held in such high regard in the city of hull that following his tragic death at 42 years of age due to cancer, Hull renamed one of its primary link roads, the A63 into the city centre, Clive Sullivan Way.

Now, with prejudices vastly decreased in every sport, black players like Phil Joseph, Regan Grace and Dalton Grant were three stars in the Wales Rugby League side that won the 2015 European Cup. Grant was a pivotal player in that Welsh success with tries against Scotland and France.

Grant, who was brought through the Wales Rugby League player pathway as a junior, and now plays for Dewsbury Rams in England, said: “I had some hassles in other sports when I was younger but I’ve never experienced any prejudices in Rugby League in a decade of playing the sport. I’ve always seen Rugby League as a sport for all. I’m extremely proud to be a part of it and of course to be a Welsh international and European Cup winner.”

Regan Grace from Port Talbot represents the next generation of Welsh Black Ethnic Minority stars coming through the Wales Rugby League system. His exceptional pace and talent saw him sign with St Helens, alongside his cousin Calvin Wellington, and at 18 years of age he made his international debut for Wales in the 2015 European Championships. Both have already featured for the St Helens first team this year in friendly matches.

Wales Rugby League’s CEO Chris Thair said: “Rugby League has a wonderful culture which has always embraced people from different backgrounds. Perhaps the only discrimination it shows, is towards those that don’t work hard or have an intolerance of others.

“The Welsh nation has produced some truly wonderful Rugby League players which have been pioneers of sport, rightly lauded to legendary status within the sport and their communities. Wales Rugby League continues to bring through people from differing backgrounds and will do so in the future, not because of any targeted programmes, just due to having the right culture in place and working tirelessly to maintain that culture, a virtue of living by its values.”