Tackling stereotypes this Rugby League World Cup
Now the Rugby League World Cup has kicked off, the sport is inspiring players to join National Lottery Funded projects such as the Learning Disability Super League, giving people with learning disabilities and autism the chance to play rugby league for the clubs they love.
Oliver ‘Ollie’ Thomason and Mathew Price are serious about their rugby and like nothing more than a bit of friendly banter.
Asked who will win the upcoming Rugby League World Cup, Matthew, 24, said, “Australia. I want England to win, but I think it will be Australia.” Ollie, 30, disagrees. He said, “Aw, come on! I think it will be England because we’re playing on our home ground.”
Ollie, who has Down’s syndrome and Matthew, who has been diagnosed with autism and ADHD, are both members of Warrington Wolves Learning Disability Team (LDT), an organisation started by Ollie’s brother Craig. The team plays a specially-adapted version of the game in which tackling opponents is replaced by snatching a yellow tag from their shoulder and score lines matter less than getting involved, making friends and building self-confidence.
Realising the potential, the social care charity Community Integrated Care got involved and created The Learning Disability Super League. With the help of funding made possible by National Lottery players it gives people with learning disabilities and autism the chance to play rugby league for the clubs they love.
Craig hatched the idea for a learning disability team when he joined Warrington Wolves as a disability coordinator. He said, “Ollie would come to the matches and he’d cheer the team. I thought ‘why can’t he play? I’m going to do something about that.”
Ollie and Matthew aren’t just players at Warrington Wolves LDT; they’re also Sports Inclusion Assistants. Their role is to encourage others to give the game a shot and look after them when they do.
Ollie said, “We try to get people enrolled into our sport and get them active, healthy and strong. We don’t want anyone to feel left out or not looked after.”
Matthew said, “Inclusion is something I’ve been doing almost accidentally for a while. I like helping the younger players on the team get a bit more involved - I’m passionate about it. Now I’m getting paid for it as well.”
Asked what he loves about the sport, Ollie said, “Rugby league to me is like an extended family. It’s not just about boys, it’s girls too [the teams are mixed]. It’s not just about competition and winning, it’s about taking part and everyone feeling welcome.”
The action on the field keeps the players coming back for more, but Craig points out training and matches are just part of the story. He said, “It’s more than playing a sport. It’s going on a coach with your teammates, going out for team meals and assisting with coaching. It gives them real aspirational hopes and dreams of becoming someone they might have thought they couldn’t be.”
He added, “Ollie and Matthew are both in paid employment and sport has been a catalyst for that. A few weeks ago Matthew was a match day photographer at a Super League game and he’ll be a photographer at the Rugby League World Cup.”
Matthew said, “Rugby league has given me a world of confidence. It’s a very, very inclusive sport and anyone can play it. There have been times when we’ve played at the Halliwell Jones Stadium [The Warrington Wolves’ home ground] and all the fans have given us a standing ovation. It’s just amazing.”
Thanks to National Lottery players, over £30 million raised each week for good causes across the UK, funding projects supporting The Learning Disability Super League and helping communities come together across the UK.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.