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The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been keenly felt in Rugby League communities and players, officials and administrators across all levels are working hard to deliver a sport that means so much to so many people.
Most people are showing patience and appreciation for that hard work, as well as continued faith in the game they all love, but in recent months there has been an under-current of misguided and often harmful negativity from some quarters, especially on social media.
Steve McCormack said: “In my role as Head of Welfare at Rugby League Cares, I see on a daily basis how hard everyone in our sport is working and how caring and passionate our stakeholders are.
“I see the sacrifices the players and coaches make to play the games; how our administrators are fighting hard to ensure our sport is thriving when Rugby League, like all sports and businesses, is going through trying times; how hard our match officials are working; the work our club CEOs are doing to ensure we have clubs to support; and the sterling efforts of our community clubs to enhance people’s lives on a daily basis.
“I also see the selfless work the medical staff and Covid officers do at clubs, under immense pressure, to ensure the health and wellbeing of everyone takes precedence.
“It is really important to understand that, even though we all look forward to watching our clubs in action at the weekend, the most important thing is the health of players and staff, and the health of their families. Nothing should compromise this.
“Unfortunately, I also see the impact of some of the unjust negativity the people in our sport receive. We all know that being involved in professional sport comes with pressure and public scrutiny and – in most cases – rightly so.
“However, the tone of some of the comments on social media, especially the hate-filled and ill-informed criticism I read on a daily basis, is both unnecessary and unacceptable.
“No-one in our great game, be they a player, an administrator, a match official or a fan of another club, deserves personal abuse.
“Thankfully, these people are very much in the minority and their behaviour has no place in Rugby League.
“We are rightfully proud of our sport’s ability to rally round and do the right thing when times are tough: we recognise the importance of community, of the wider Rugby League family and of the need to be decent, empathetic and honest.
“Now, more than ever, we need to embrace those values and recognise the impact our actions can have on the wellbeing of others.
“Like all sports, Rugby League is facing some considerable challenges in the post-pandemic era, but we have much to look forward to.
“None of us should ever lose sight of the fact that Rugby League is the best sport in the world, with the best supporters and communities that many are envious of.
“Let’s pull together, look after each other and make sure our game and all the people involved are able to flourish like we know they can.
“Rugby League Cares is proud of the role it plays in supporting our communities and we will continue to put Rugby League people at the heart of everything we do.”
The Government has advised all people aged 70 and over to avoid social contact for 12 weeks, raising the prospect that some former players and their families could be left feeling isolated and lonely.
To support the game’s elderly heroes, RL Cares is working alongside the RFL and club foundation staff to recruit a team of dedicated volunteers who can reach out to vulnerable past players in their local communities.
The volunteers will be drawn predominantly from foundation and club staff, many of whom have already undergone the required training and safety checks needed to work with vulnerable people.
Former players and members of the public are being asked to contact RL Cares to let the charity know of any individual who might need support at this difficult time.
Once we have been informed, RL Cares will liaise with clubs to identify a suitable volunteer ‘buddy’ who will then make contact with the former player to offer the help they need: this might be doing shopping for essential supplies, arranging medical support or simply opening up regular lines of communication.
The past players’ support programme is being led for RL Cares by Francis Stephenson, the former Wakefield, London and Wigan prop, alongside the charity’s Transition Manager, Steve McCormack.
“This is an incredibly challenging time for all of us but is especially difficult for the elderly within our communities,” said Francis.
“As a charity we are well-placed to coordinate and deliver the support that the more senior members of the Rugby League family require to them through this.
“Some people might want their shopping doing, other may just need to hear a friendly voice on the end of the telephone. Whatever our past players need, we want them to know that the sport is here for them.”
RFL Chief Executive Ralph Rimmer said: “This is a typically thoughtful initiative from Rugby League Cares, and one which I’m sure the whole game will welcome and support.
“Challenging times bring the best out of our Rugby League community, and there have been many examples of that in the current unprecedented situation that has arisen in our 125th year as a sport.
“So many of our players have been unsung heroes, and it is reassuring to know that RL Cares are there to offer support if and when required.”
If you are a retired player who requires assistance, or are a member of the public who is aware of one of the sport’s heroes who may be struggling, please contact Rugby League Cares, details below. All contact will be treated with strictest confidence.
Phone: Chris Rostron, Head of RL Cares: 07917 282322
The charity is liaising with the clubs’ dedicated player welfare managers to ensure that players suffering financial, emotional or behavioural hardship have rapid access to expert advice and assistance to steer them through the ongoing health crisis.
RL Cares is also working alongside the club foundations and ex-players associations to reach out to former players who may be feeling isolated at this difficult time.
Government grants accessed by RL Cares will continue to be distributed to the club foundations over the weeks and months ahead to help ongoing projects in their local communities.
Aspects of the RL Cares health programmes, including Offload, are being taken online to reach more people at a time when social distancing regulations prevent group meetings.
To entertain fans missing their regular fix of Rugby League action, RL Cares will be streaming classic matches from the sport’s past on the charity’s Facebook page and Youtube channel.
Chris Rostron, the Head of RL Cares, said: “As an independent charity with responsibility for delivering player welfare to the professional and semi-professional game, RL Cares has the health and wellbeing of the playing community at the heart of its activities.
“Now, more than ever before, players past and present may need help and support and we want them to know we’re here for them.
“A number of Super League and Championship players have already accessed the expertise of Sporting Chance since the pandemic took hold and we will continue to keep that option open.
“Our partners, including All Sport Insurance and Barclays Banks, are all doing all they can to help players through the crisis, and we are grateful to them for their support.
“We would also like to thank the club foundations and player welfare managers for their dedication and the RFL and Super League for their continued support of our efforts.
“RL Cares aims to make a positive difference to the lives of people at every level of the sport and our small, committed team is working tirelessly to keep the Rugby League family together.”