Forces veterans could soon be following in the footsteps of Royal Marine-turned-Rugby League referee Jack Smith under a new programme being launched by the RFL.
‘Lead the Game’ is a joint venture between the RFL and the UK Armed Forces Rugby League Group. It will offer up to 30 veterans a year a structured pathway towards attaining accredited match official qualifications, alongside accessing broader health and wellbeing activities.
The project will partner with the Saints, Warrington Wolves and Wigan Warriors foundations, who will identify and work with veterans living in their communities. Smith, a former Warrington Crosfields amateur who left the armed forces after being shot by a sniper in Afghanistan in 2010, has been named lead ambassador for the project.
Lead the Game project ambassador Jack Smith says:
“It’s really exciting to see the power of Rugby League being used to support the wellbeing of veterans in the North West.
“There are plenty of similarities between Rugby League and the forces in terms of discipline and camaraderie, so my background really helped my development as a match official. I hope other veterans will follow suit, and I’m sure that this time next year we’ll see veterans from the first cohort taking lead match official roles at the men’s and women’s Armed Forces world cups taking place alongside RLWC2021. Being a part of a global event will hopefully act as a catalyst for their career progression to the game’s premier competitions in the years to come.”
The RFL has strong ties with the Armed Forces, which includes engagement at major events, playing, coaching, mental and physical fitness sessions, and volunteering opportunities. Funding for the three-year Lead the Game project has come from the Veterans Foundation, matched in kind by the various partner organisations.
Veterans Foundation CEO, David Shaw, adds:
"The Veterans Foundation is delighted to award the RFL with a grant to encourage and support many veterans into employment as match officials, as well as improving their wellbeing and fitness. We are also heartened to know that this project has the backing of the UK Armed Forces Rugby League Group. We wish the RFL every success and look forward to hearing about the outcomes."
The Rugby Football League employs 350 match officials across its pathway from the community game to the professional leagues. Each veteran taking part in the Lead the Game project will be allocated a mentor from the RFL’s Match Officials department to guide them through the process of achieving officiating qualifications through to refereeing within the community game. Super League referee Liam Moore will be one of the officials involved in the mentoring scheme.
More information about the work of the Veterans Foundation is available at veteransfoundation.org.uk