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Racism in Rugby League

by David Kuzio

Racism seems to be on the increase in a lot of sports throughout the UK but fortunately it has never been a major problem in rugby league.

Recently an incident down under in a play off game where St Georgeís influential Anthony Mundine was involved in being allegedly abused by a fellow professional. Incidents like this puts rugby league once again under the Ďbadí spotlight and to be honest we could do without this kind of behaviour.

Rugby league has been involved in many racial disputes, for instance Billy Boston once admitted to have suffered a lot of racial abuse during his playing career, but he treated it like water off a ducks back, and didnít allow it to affect his game. Boston was involved in one major incident in 1957 that did affect him. Great Britain were due to travel to South Africa for a three test series, but the South Africans argued that if Boston was to play he would be forced to eat and sleep in different hotels than his team mates. Boston decided not to tour and if the Rugby Football League had cancelled the tour maybe racism might not be the problem it is now.

Granted it is only a minority of so-called supporters who hurl the abuse, but it is time something was done to prevent the problem increasing. Racism could also lead to crowd trouble, which could turn out like the full-blown riots occurring at the Football. So really something has to be sorted before anyone is seriously hurt.

A recent complaint about racism happened during the play-offs when Leeds entertained St Helens at Headingley. The complaint was made by then St Helens coach Shaun McRae about an alleged racist remark against a Leeds player.

McRae speaking at a press conference announced referee John Connolly had mentioned it in his report. He also said: "We asked for it to be put on report as a racial slur against one of our players. You may have noticed when Leeds scored that Anthony Sullivan ran up to the ref and asked for the incident to be put on report. The player has apologised to our player in question, but I donít think thatís good enough. This needs to be dealt with firmly and correctly."

The matter has yet to be solved, but itís up to the RFL and Leeds to find out what actually happened because we need to make sure that racism doesnít become a normal everyday item. Each club should form a campaign to try to kick out racism altogether.

We contacted the Warrington Wolves club and Chief Executive John Smith was willing to express his views on the whole situation. When asked what should be done to stop racism in rugby league Mr Smith replied: " Severe penalties such as removal from the ground and actually banned from the ground if it happens outside the ground. Clubs should also state a clear policy of non-toleration of racial abuse."

Mr Smith also went on to say: " Racism will always try to creep back in to our game as will any kind of anti- social behaviour, there is always the need to be vigilant."

As a spectator I have always believed itís the fans who mainly hurl the unnecessary abuse, Mr Smith agrees but also states: "It is mainly spectators but some players will try to use unacceptable means to unsettle an opponent."

Some players have said if a racist remark is made, it is said in the heat of the moment, personally I donít condone that if you donít want to make a racist remark keep your mouth closed. Mr Smith states that most players get on extremely well off the pitch and most racist remarks would be made in the heat of the moment.

We asked Mr Smith whether any one connected to the Warrington Wolves has ever been racially abused and what punishment should handed out to these offenders. He replied: "People have been abused but it is normally on the pitch heat of the moment occasions and as for punishment they should be handed heavy fines and if possible short and long term suspensions from the game." Mr Smith also went on to say: "Anyone attacked on a personal level can feel deeply hurt unless it is obvious it is just a momentary "heat of the moment" situation, but players are often abused for performing badly than for racial reasons."

As we see Mr Smith believes players act in the heat of the moment, but also agrees that something should be done about the abuse inflicted by a supporter. Rugby League has always been a family sport and this may change if small-minded individuals carry on abusing players just because of their skin colour, all clubs should form some campaign to stop this.

A few seasons ago a 13 point action plan for rugby league clubs to tackle racism was introduced.

  1. Clubs will formulate a statement, to be published in each match programme and displayed on permanent notice boards around their grounds, to the effect that they will not tolerate racism of any kind and will take specific action against spectators who engage in racist chanting.
  2. Clubs will undertake to prevent spectators who indulge in racist chanting or abuse from attending matches at their grounds.
  3. Clubs will make public address announcements during matches to condemn any racist chanting which arises, and to warn that swift action will be taken against offenders.
  4. Clubs will engage season ticket holders in a contract which forbids them from taking part in racist chanting.
  5. Clubs will ensure that there is no distribution of racist literature in or around their grounds.
  6. Clubs will insist upon a code of conduct for players and officials which prohibits them from making racially abusive remarks against anyone.
  7. Clubs will maintain communication with other clubs RFL headquarters, through a nominated club officer, to facilitate the effort to keep racism out of the game.
  8. Clubs will maintain a strategy for dealing with racist and abuse, and will ensure that all active stewards and, where necessary, the police, are aware of their responsibilities and courses of action in this regard.
  9. Clubs will ensure that all parts of their grounds are entirely free from racist graffiti.
  10. Clubs will adopt an equal opportunities policy in the areas of employment and service provision.
  11. Clubs will undertake to co-operate to their best endeavours with such other groups and agencies as seek to promote awareness of race issues and to combat racism in all levels of society.
  12. Clubs will ensure that their development strategies are positively weighted to encourage the playing of rugby league particularly at junior and youth levels, among such black and ethnic minorities are included within their catchment areas.
  13. Clubs will ensure that their youth, community and general development programmes conducted in accordance with the RFLís "framing the future" policy document reflect the needs of such black and ethnic minorities within their catchment areas.

Looking at this action plan not every one of these points have been used, if we are to kick racism out of our sport we need to abide by every rule given or the whole of rugby league could be affected badly.


David Kuzio is currently studying Journalism at Barnsley College and this article on racism in Rugby League is part of that course.

e-mail: toplad@wires.u-net.com with comments.
The views expressed on this page are not necessarily those of Warrington Wolves R.L.F.C.