English rugby’s Gallagher Premiership teams will show various forms of support this weekend after other sports recently joined in worldwide protests against racism following the May death in America of George Floyd. 

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Floyd died after a police officer knelt on his neck, sparking worldwide protests that were followed by English Premier League and Championship football clubs displaying their solidarity in a number of ways, including players and officials taking a knee before kick-off of every match during the reconvened season in June and July.

With the Gallagher Premiership now set to resume after a near 23-week lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, there had been speculation as to how the dozen clubs would approach the racism issue in this weekend’s restart fixtures.

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Under the banner of Rugby Against Racism, it has now been confirmed that three Premiership clubs – Harlequins, Leicester and Wasps – will collectively take the knee prior to kick-off in their respective matches. 

Bath have planned a huddle, Northampton a circle, Bristol will form a heart shape, Gloucester and Worcester will form V shapes, while London Irish, Sale and Saracens will wear special t-shirts in the build-up to their games. Table-toppers Exeter have also voiced their support of the campaign.

Speaking ahead of the round 14 fixtures which begin in London with the Friday night meeting of Harlequins and Sale, a Premiership Rugby statement read: “As rugby returns this weekend, it does so with added purpose and determination to tackle the major issues that sport and society are facing.

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“Premiership Rugby today commits to making English professional club rugby a more diverse, welcoming and inclusive environment for our staff, players and fans while also supporting societal change. 

“We are committed to building on our work through initiatives like Project Rugby to support black communities, as well as plans to further enhance work in LGBTQ+ rights, gender equality and to improve the access to our sport for those from low socio-economic groups and those with disabilities.

“For the start of each game in the first round of Gallagher Premiership Rugby, Premiership Rugby is proud to support our clubs and players as they show respect for black lives and racial equality. Time will be given before games to honour equality, under the banner of Rugby Against Racism.

“All of our clubs will be taking action this weekend to mark their commitment to racial equality. Some of those actions include: Bath will show their commitment to racial equality at the weekend, forming a huddle in unity shortly before kick-off. 

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“Bristol Bears will form a heart-shaped formation before kick-off, with the 23 players in the formation representing every player, staff member and supporter of the club. The club explains that the Bears culture is about ‘love for our teammates and love for our community’. They are honoured to represent a team and a city that is unique, diverse and multicultural. The Bears culture promotes equality and the club are fully in support of rugby against racism.

“Exeter Chiefs are proud to be part of a fully-inclusive sport that does not discriminate against race, colour or creed. Ahead of our restart fixture against Leicester Tigers at Sandy Park, the Chiefs will be showing their full support for Rugby Against Racism.

“Gloucester and Worcester Warriors will take the same approach for their match with both clubs supporting Rugby Against Racism and their players acknowledging the moment in a V. Harlequins will be supporting Black Lives Matter with the squad taking a knee. 

“Leicester Tigers will take part in the competition-wide acknowledgement of Rugby Against Racism ahead of kick-off in Round 14. The matchday squad will, as one, take a knee during the period allocated ahead of the match getting underway. 

“London Irish will show their commitment to racial equality when the Exiles travel to Bath this weekend. The players will wear Rugby Against Racism t-shirts in the pre-match warm-up, as well as showing their commitment shortly before kick-off at The Rec. 

“The Northampton Saints squad will support Rugby Against Racism when they host Wasps this Sunday at Franklin’s Gardens. The 23-man matchday squad will wear t-shirts with the message. Prior to kick-off, the players will form a circle formation which they have chosen to signify the importance of inclusivity and togetherness for everyone in the game.

“Sale Sharks stand together in the face of all discrimination. To demonstrate this, the entire Sale Sharks matchday squad will be wearing Rugby Against Racism t-shirts when the team run out this weekend at the Twickenham Stoop.

“Saracens will show their commitment to racial equality. The players will wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts in the pre-match warm-up, as well as showing their commitment shortly before kick-off. Wasps will be supporting Black Lives Matter with the squad taking a knee.”

A working group comprising of black players from across the league, along with Ugo Monye and James Bailey, added: “Together, we the players stand united in the fight against racism, and we are proud to support the positive message that Black Lives Matter. We are not endorsing a political ideology. We are uniting as players to combat racial discrimination, in our sport and in society.”

In addition to Premiership Rugby endorsing the statement regarding racism from the working group comprising of black players, the league’s governing body have also committed to the following actions:

  • Work to improve the representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) players on the RFU level 3 coach education and referee course, along with mentoring opportunities from current DORs and match officials;

  • Premiership Rugby staff and BAME players to be sponsored as candidates for Sporting Equals LeaderBoard programme to ensure there is a pipeline of board-ready candidates representative of society as a whole;

  • Confirm the continuation of Project Rugby – which is run with England Rugby and Gallagher – to increase access to the sport for young people from a BAME background. In the last four years, 13,500 young people from BAME backgrounds have been introduced to the sport by Project Rugby;

  • Review of recruitment practices and the measurement of protected characteristics in the staff and playing group, so that future progress can be appropriately tracked;

  • Engage with BAME players to build protocols ensuring all our professional players feel safe and protected.

Premiership Rugby CEO Darren Childs said: “Improving inclusion is vital for the progress and popularity of our sport and there is an urgent need for change. I wholeheartedly support the measures set out in our Rugby Against Racism programme and will be making sure these measures underpin Premiership Rugby’s strategy to make a tangible positive difference in our sport and society.”

RPA CEO Damian Hopley added: “Positive dialogue is continuing with the aforementioned player group and we look forward to working closely with PRL, the clubs, RFU and other stakeholders to deliver tangible progress around opportunity, leadership and education.”

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