The Rugby Blacklist: recognising black excellence on and off the pitch

Feb 15, 2023

This Black History Month and beyond, we are so proud to spotlight the work of the Rugby Black List, a new UK-based initiative that aims to promote equality, diversity and inclusion in men’s and women’s rugby union. It was founded by Sagan Daniels, who has long been invested in championing those from ethnic minority backgrounds in sport, chiefly as an RFU Community Rugby Coach and Club Developer. Garnet Mackinder, Head of Equality at Sport England (and a retired premiership rugby player) has also been working closely on this initiative, which was sparked after a conversation with Leon Mann MBE, founder of the Football Black List.

We all know the expression ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ so well, and this is at the heart of what the Black List wants to achieve: promoting more Black representation, so that more and more Black individuals and communities will feel rugby is for them and contribute their talents to life on and off the pitch. The Black List wants to make sure that representation extends, at both community and professional levels, to volunteers, match officials, and administrators as well as athletes, especially as it is in those areas where it has been more difficult to attract Black talent.

Its launch kicked off in style on January 16 with an event in partnership with England Rugby at the House of Lords. It was an awards ceremony that celebrated the contributions and achievements of Black, Afro Caribbean and ethnic minority players in rugby, and also included awards for coaches and leaders. The seven awards categories ranged from Rising Star to Life in Sport, with attendees and winners including Zainab Alema, Shaunagh Brown, and Simi Pam. 

"It was an incredible occasion and opportunity to celebrate the work that black people are doing across rugby union, from standout players and performances, to work at grassroots level, to the pioneers in the sport who have paved the way for the next generation of black players. Having an event like the black list has been a long time overdue and a welcome addition to rugby."  - Simi Pam

In yet another optimistic sign of growing general interest in rugby, the event achieved an excitingly high profile with a feature on BBC News, headed by an interview with Brown. Sky Sports also mentioned the Black List, focusing on Luther Burrell’s comments at the event on racism in rugby.

 We spoke to Garnet about the Black List, and she gave us her own thoughts about the initiative:

''We're really proud of the Rugby Black List event we delivered in January, but we're already thinking ahead to the next one and how we can further improve it. We know that these events aren't going to fix all the issues, but if we can inspire even a small number of black people to get involved in rugby in any aspect then we see that as success. We hope that over the years there will be more people to choose from for the awards. For example there are a lack of black match officials and black female coaches. I hope we can look back in a few years time and see progression with more black role models in these spaces.''

In another interview, with The Voice, Daniels mentioned that he is working on making the event an annual occasion to celebrate the work of the past year, but also to make sure that people get the chance to network and form connections with prominent leaders in rugby.

Daniels ends on an urgent note: ''I want to keep on getting better and keep on inspiring people and keep on amplifying rugby as a place for everybody, especially those from Black and ethnic minorities. I think it’s so important that we do this, and I think we need to keep on doing it until it’s not needed anymore.''

Images by courtesy of Simi Pam

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