26th June 2019, 14:05 | rfl

Ralph Rimmer - Equality of aspiration, access and opportunity is vital in sport

Ralph Rimmer - Equality of aspiration, access and opportunity is vital in sport

We read with interest the Elitist Britain 2019 report (published 25 June) looking at the lack of diverse socio-economic group representation in leading roles in the workplace, politics, and in sport.

The issue of social mobility and representation is one which concerns us at the RFL as a publicly funded national organisation. And because rugby league is focused on increasing life chances and demonstrating the impact of sport for social good in some of the country’s most economically and socially disadvantaged communities, as well as delivering national teams to inspire the country and make us proud.

The Elitist Britain 2019 report makes for some attention grabbing headlines: 37% of male British rugby union internationals attended fee-paying schools, and about one in three Olympic medallists; though as ever there are complex, multi-faceted issues here in sport, as there are in wider society. Arguably the serious lack of representation of diverse socio-economic backgrounds across Westminster, Whitehall and business is a greater concern than in sport. But both are very important.

Sports, like rugby league, have been rightly challenged by government and funders to evidence their impact in their communities, and demonstrate how they are addressing all forms of underrepresentation. We are doing this and taking the message direct to Government and opinion formers. Rugby League delivers a significant social impact and represents a huge return on public investment.

Rugby League is funded by Sport England for participation and the performance pathway to the national sides, reflecting its national importance to the funder and Government.

Almost 50% of all rugby league (clubs and schools) is played in the national top quartile of deprivation, and there are particular costs and challenges in this which policy makers need to consider.

The sport excels in providing an elite performance pathway to representative honours for England for state school pupils. This is in sharp contrast to cricket or rugby union (43% of men and 35% of women playing international cricket for England went to private school). 

100% of the England squad who took on New Zealand last Autumn are state school educated.

The most talented players should represent their country in rugby league; and in all sports. 

But we can learn a great deal from other sports, and we do, in particular around great programmes which engage BAME (black and minority ethnic) state school pupils such as those delivered by the ECB.

And there is no reason whatsoever why rugby league cannot be enjoyed by young people in independent or public schools; in fact as we launch new resources to help teachers coach rugby league 9s we hope more schools get involved, inspired by the home world cup in 2021. 

We are proud that RL performance progression is amongst the strongest in sport. The International team has moved from 3rd to 2ndin the world, reaching a world cup final and winning 10 out of their last 12 games. And player improvement is evidenced by the closing of the margins in all games. The progress of all three teams in the England Performance Unit (men, women, wheelchair RL) is on track.   

Equality of aspiration, access and opportunity is vital. The importance of role models – elite athletes and representative participation – is key. As the saying goes ‘we cannot be what we can’t see’. This means that sport needs to address all forms of inclusion and diversity – ethnicity, sex, gender, disabilities, sexual orientation – together and including socio-economic advantage and disadvantage. Not doing so means that many would be participants or national team representatives are doubly disadvantaged.  

We need to look at the sector sport by sport. But we also need to consider that within sports some parts of the sport are more open, more representative, than others.

Reports like this are useful in challenging all of the sector, and those who make decisions about investing in sport.


Ralph Rimmer - RFL Chief Executive Officer