#TackleTheToughStuff: Michael Lawrence

17 May 2022

#TackleTheToughStuff: Michael Lawrence

In October 2020, the Rugby Football League launched 'Tackle It' – a sport wide action plan to make Rugby League a truly inclusive sport.

Tackle It was created to address issues around inclusion, diversity and discrimination – prominent topics across sport and society. The action plan is being overseen by a diversity and inclusion board and driven on the ground by a working group within the RFL.

Huddersfield Giants star Michael Lawrence sits on the advisory board alongside a workforce from both inside and out of rugby league circles and he is the sole representative for the players, tasked with driving change across the sport.

Lawrence has become a passionate driver of positive change in rugby league - he holds an integral role on the diversity and inclusion board as the player’s collective voice. He understands the responsibility of ensuring that those voices are heard and that players are fairly represented when addressing key issues across the game.

“I think it’s massive to have a players perspective and a players voice because you’re the ones on the ground and out there playing the game,” explained Lawrence, who has spent his entire professional career as a one-club man at Huddersfield.

“But also, it is good to have people from other backgrounds – sometimes from outside the sport as well – to come with fresh eyes, fresh ideas and look at it from multiple angles like we do on the inclusion board.

“If it’s just people from within the game we can get a little bit of tunnel vision, so I think it is good to share ideas with those outside the sport and different people from different backgrounds.”

The board is tasked with tackling four key strategic goals. They focus on widening the reach and impact of rugby league, diversifying the sports Talent Pool and Workforce, improving the culture of rugby league, and encouraging the reporting of discrimination whilst ensuring appropriate sanctions are in place.

But they can’t make these changes alone. The sport must work together to address these issues and influence each strategic goal as a collective.

Lawrence is acutely aware that the success of Tackle It relies on more peoples support from across the game, something which is already building real traction.

“We want to increase the visibility of Tackle It. We want to get more clubs involved in the programme. We want to make them ambassadors and have ambassadors at more clubs that are going to push it. We want to be able to go to every ground and see Tackle It, make it more visible and continue to push the campaign.”

Community clubs situated in the heart of rugby league towns and cities are already striving to make a difference, too. Lawrence’s amateur club, Newsome Panthers, are starting their own initiative aimed at creating more opportunities for young people to play the sport – regardless of their background. And it's these small but significant gestures that can help drive tangible changes across the sport.

“My old amateur team, Newsome Panthers, have a great initiative that they’re just about to start up where they’re going to bring boots or playing equipment that they’ve grown out of and pass down.

“With the rise in cost of living, paying for things like memberships is going to become more difficult and some families may have to make that choice between doing extra activities and sports and having to pay bills. Newsome Panthers and the local area is a working-class area – most people that play the game are from working class backgrounds and aren’t in the most affluent of areas, so stuff like not having to pay for boots, equipment or gear for training is going to help. It will make the sport even more inclusive than it already is.

“Hopefully by starting this initiative it will soften the blow and help these families in some areas. I think it’s great – hopefully it can kick on around other community clubs. Rugby League is a sport where everyone mucks in and helps each other out and I think it’s a good way to do that.”

As well as attracting more people to play the game, Tackle It is also tasked with retaining those within the sport who have faced various forms of discrimination. In the age of social media and the pressures that are put on players, coaches and administrators, it is integral that individuals who are targeted have the right support, and the culprits are held firmly accountable.

“We’ve been looking to support those that have suffered discrimination so that we don’t lose them from the game. People that have been discriminated against have turned their back on rugby league and we’re trying to make sure that doesn’t happen. We’re trying to ensure there is support and there is a way to keep them in the game.

"We want cases of discrimination to drop and not happen but when it does happen, we want to see it reported. We want people to feel confident that there is a system in place where people will be held accountable. Through research and speaking to many different people in the game that have faced discrimination, one of the main reasons that they haven’t reported it is because they feel like nothing would ever be done and people won’t be held accountable for what they’ve said.

“One of the things we’re trying to put in place is to make sure that these people [who face discrimination] feel comfortable and confident that they’ll be given the support and that people who have been discriminative towards them will be held accountable for their actions.”