Written by John Davidson
Former Gateshead Thunder coach and Hemel Stags CEO Dean Thomas believes more needs to be done in UK rugby league to provide opportunities for BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) people in coaching and administration.
In Super League, the Championship and League 1 there are just two black coaches, in Wigan’s Adrian Lam and London Skolars Jermaine Coleman, and no BAME club chief executives in the sport.
While black players have made a huge impact in rugby league over the years and continue today, from Billy Boston to Martin Offiah, Jason Robinson, Ellery Hanley and Jermaine McGilvary, there remains a large under representation when it comes to coaching positions and in boardrooms.
Thomas played for York and Barrow in the 1990s, and has also worked as a conditioner at Salford and as head of youth development at Sheffield.
The 54-year-old says the transition of BAME players into coaching roles is tough and we need to understand why more are not entering that field.
“When you’re applying for mainstream jobs that are in the heartlands you [black coaches] don’t seem to get a look in,” he said.
“And I don’t know why that is. Maybe outside the heartlands they have a bit more of an open mind to black coaches.
“It’s really difficult to get into the mainstream but it’s good to see Craig Richards with England women. My experience has mostly been positive, but you’re not getting black coaches in mainstream jobs.
“Having applied for a few of them and you’re not getting a reason, you’re not getting an interview. I’d love to see people like Leon Pryce, Karl Pryce, Jermaine Coleman given more opportunities in representative roles.
“It’s really how much is the sport doing, not to balance it, it’s not about balance, it’s about opportunity. So if you’re a coach and you’re going for an interview and you haven’t got that well-heeled name or you’ve got a good story, but we’re not keeping stats or data on the types of coaches that are applying for these roles.
“So if you’re black and you’re applying for a role and you’ve got some stats that say 20% of the coaches who applied for this job were black, none of them got to interview, why not?
“We’re not keeping these stats, we don’t know what the situation is. Without that kind of information we can’t enforce change.
“We need to get some data, we need to understand what’s happening in the game, where ethnic minorities are if they’re applying for jobs. If they’re not applying for jobs – why?
“It has to be a gradual change and we’re trying to do that by making people aware that there is inequalities in society. There is inequalities in all sports and in all sectors, and it’s up to us with the support of others is something we’re going to address and come at it full on.”
In June the RFL released a statement underlining their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and claimed it will make greater efforts to increase the numbers of black and minority ethnic people within the game.
Thomas believes rugby league has done well in addressing equality in gender areas and those physically disabled, but feels improvement can certainly be made around diversity and inclusive.
“I think the sport has done a great job in gender equality, in ensuring that all people with disabilities are involved in the sport,” he said.
“But what it now needs to do is work extra hard at its diversity and inclusion agenda. There’s lots of good people in the RFL who are doing things, but getting that data, understanding who’s applying for those roles and understanding how we get to the national average of people from BAME within the sport.
“It is hard. [But] it’s something that clubs should look at.”