The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) has reiterated its policy of the ‘Spirit of Rugby Charter’ and re-emphasises its zero-tolerance policy towards behaviours that threaten its Charter.
The Charter, enshrined in the 2018 IRFU Strategy, outlines the values and behaviours acceptable within the Irish Rugby family, including Inclusivity, where diversity of opinion and culture means working together to be a vibrant and respectful organisation.
The IRFU has always believed that there is no place in our game for discrimination, harassment or bullying on the basis of any diversity characteristics; namely age, race, gender, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation.
In a world where it is increasingly important for sports to instil better discipline and principles at all levels, Irish Rugby launched the ‘Spirit of Rugby’ Programme in September 2017 to protect both the game, its players and volunteers.
‘Spirit of Rugby’ continually develops education modules to inform members of standards and expectations in relation to the values of the game. Modules include safeguarding training for coaches and volunteers, supporting them to develop a respectful safe and fun environment, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation.
Another module is ‘One Good Coach’, focusing on mental health for youth players, and ‘Tackling Bullying Behaviour’ which includes strategies to tackle inappropriate behaviour in the age-grade game.
The IRFU invests heavily in Spirit projects, including the provision of 4 Branch Welfare Officers that work with Club Welfare Officers across the country to ensure a safe and fun environment.
In 2020 a Disability and Inclusion Officer was appointed who has worked with clubs to grow the game for players with a disability, including the expansion of tag disability and mixed ability, and the setting up of the first team for visually impaired players in 2022. Disability inclusion training has been created, that all coaches and volunteers working across disability complete.
The ‘Spirit of Rugby Leadership Programme’ began in the 2018/19 season and in 2020 placed a specific focus on female leadership, leading to the recent establishment of the ‘Women in Rugby Network’ in March 2023, offering a safe space for women to voice opinions and share best practice. Through this forum, women can raise any issues affecting their development in the game and collaborative solutions will be found to ensure concerns can be addressed.
In late 2022, a Diversity & Inclusion education module became available to all coaches and volunteers to help them create a more inclusive club environment across the game. To date 548 participants have completed the module. Spirit staff have also been working alongside the provincial disciplinary officers throughout the 22-23 season on how best of tackle off-field behaviours and breaches of the Charter across all characteristics of the equality legislation, including gender.
In April 2023 a further investment was made by the IRFU by the appointment of Anne Marie Hughes as the IRFU’s first Head of Equity, Diversity & Inclusivity (ED&I). As well as working on a detailed ED&I policy, work has also started on a grievance procedure and protected disclosures process. Those who feel they are affected by discriminatory issues can contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
IRFU Chief Executive Kevin Potts commented: “The ‘Spirit of Rugby Charter’, which is embedded in the IRFU strategy, sets out the values and its associated behaviours that is expected of the rugby community, including Respect and Inclusivity. The ultimate outcome will be to encourage a culture within clubs where all participants clearly and consistently demonstrate Irish Rugby’s values through actions, both on the pitch and off it.
“The IRFU is determined to create an effective moral framework across Irish Rugby, with a specific focus on supporting young and emerging athletes, and those around them. Each member who registers with Irish Rugby commits to abide by the Charter and is expected to do the right thing and not be a bystander to any forms of bullying or harassment.
“The IRFU is committed to making Rugby a safe, enjoyable and inclusive sport for all and we will continue to strive further to make the game as accessible as possible.”