Putting players first as the World Cup kicks off

Putting players first as the World Cup kicks off

Players are at the heart of what we do.

Rugby League Cares is an independent charity that puts the welfare of the sport’s most important stakeholders first.

Since we were established in 2013, we have supported thousands of players in a myriad of ways.

From awarding education and training grants to help players prepare for the next chapter in their post-playing careers through to emergency interventions when a current or former player is in crisis, RL Cares is here to support Rugby League’s heroes.

Many of our staff members are current or former professionals, all of whom do a brilliant job making a positive difference to the lives of people in Rugby League communities.

The work of our colleagues has never been more important, not least as the sport embraces the eagerly-anticipated Rugby League World Cup, when players from around the world compete in the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments.

Representing your country comes with unique pressures, as does being a match official in a international fixture, an administrator or one of the small army of volunteers charged with delivering what is expected to be the greatest World Cup of all time.

Over the last two years, RL Cares has been leading the way in delivering the Rugby League World Cup’s ‘Mental Fitness Charter,’ a visionary and unique feature of the tournament that will leave a tangible and enduring legacy, regardless of results on the pitch.

Even before the whistle sounds at the start of the opening game at St James’ Park, Newcastle, RL Cares will have touched on the lives of more than 10,000 people through its involvement in the World Cup.

And in the weeks leading up to the big kick-off and through the tournament itself, we have been busy supporting all the players, referees, touch-judges, administrators and volunteers with face-to-face delivery of world-class mental fitness and resilience programmes.

“We’ve been incredibly busy over the last two years and have made a really positive difference to the lives of thousands of people,” said Keith Senior, the former Leeds, England and Great Britain centre who now leads the charity’s community and welfare programmes.

“Our partnership with Movember has seen us deliver Ahead of the Game to 10,000 junior Rugby League players at community clubs and we’ve also done mental fitness presentations to more than 1,000 tournament volunteers.

“RL Cares staff have also delivered mental wellbeing workshops to the officers and staff at most of the World Cup host towns and cities, and the feedback we’ve received has been amazing. We feel really privileged to be able to make such a positive difference.

“Since the nations began arriving in the UK, we’ve delivered mental fitness workshops to the playing squads and coaches, arming them with the skills and techniques they need to manage their own mental wellbeing and look after each other.”

Senior and his colleagues, who include former Ireland international Bob Beswick, current England women’s player Amy Hardcastle, Halifax players Cory Aston and Kevin Larroyer, Batley Bulldogs coach Craig Lingard and former Halifax star Damian Gibson, continue to deliver to the competing nations.

“Our focus for the players is on early intervention: recognising that you may have a problem and knowing where and how to get the help you need,” added Senior. “I know from my own experience of being on tour how being away from home for such an intense, extended period can be a challenge.

“It’s not easy telling your coach that you’re struggling and sometimes all a player needs is someone independent to speak to. That’s where Steve McCormack comes in.”

RL Cares Director of Welfare McCormack who will coordinate player welfare provision for every World Cup participant for the duration of the tournament.

He will also act as the dedicated player welfare manager for the England men’s team, a role replicated for England women and England wheelchair by his RL Cares colleagues Steve Hardisty and Francis Stephenson.

“We have always been aware of the need to create an environment that better supports all mental wellbeing and mental health,” said McCormack.  “RL Cares has been busy behind the scenes creating a robust wellbeing plan for all teams and staff talking part in the World Cup.

“Our relationship with Movember has enhanced the quality of support available and we are proud to showcase the work of both charities during the tournament.

“We believe that our programmes will make a positive difference to the lives of players, staff and the families of everyone involved and put our whole-person welfare provision at the forefront of our sport.”

RLWC Chief Executive Jon Dutton believes the work of RL Cares before and during the World Cup will have an enduring legacy in Rugby League communities across the world for many years to come.

“We believe we are the first global sporting tournament to have a Mental Fitness Charter,” said Dutton. “The Charter was launched in 2020 by Prince Harry at Buckingham Palace and has already gone on to make a positive impact on the lives of so many people.

“We are very conscious that people have had their lives turned upside down by the pandemic and for many of the players, the tournament will be the first time they have travelled away from home and been away from family and friends for a long while.

“We want to make sure we look after them and our partnership with RL Cares ensures we can do that in the best way possible.

“The 12-month delay has allowed us to reach more people than we could have imagined and has meant that the programmes RL Cares delivers will have an even greater social impact.”