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QRL takes pride in new rugby league journey

A matter of seconds is all that is needed to kick-start a life-long journey in rugby league for many Queenslanders.

For some, it could just be one touch of the ball, or a confidence-boosting tackle.

Or it could be the sight of a rising NRL star bamboozling the opposition with their brilliant footwork and ball skills.

Everyone’s story is different – take new Queensland Rugby League chief executive officer Ben Ikin for example.

Ikin has a 40-year connection with rugby league in Queensland, starting with his days as a junior at the Tugun Seahawks on the Gold Coast.

Those fun-filled early years will forever remain with Ikin, who used his first media conference at the QRL to share a simple but powerful message.

“I want to make rugby league accessible to more people in Queensland and those that do come into the sport fall in love with it and have a lifelong journey, as I have,” Ikin told reporters in May.

QRL team members Dave Maiden, Liberty Jones, Rikki Lee Arnold and Kev Braysher are passionate about creating an inclusive sporting environment. Photo: Erick Lucero/QRL
QRL team members Dave Maiden, Liberty Jones, Rikki Lee Arnold and Kev Braysher are passionate about creating an inclusive sporting environment. Photo: Erick Lucero/QRL

Having reached the heights of the game as a player, the former Queensland Maroons State of Origin player knows rugby league has a unique ability to capture the hearts and minds of people and communities throughout Queensland.

It’s why Ikin and the team at the QRL are on a new journey to help make rugby league the “greatest game for all”.

With those pointed words comes responsibility, and the QRL is determined to deliver positive outcomes through inclusion initiatives that focus on education and wellbeing.

The education component is already in full swing, with the QRL team drawing both inspiration and learnings through its membership with Pride in Sport.

Pride in Sport is a national not-for-profit sporting program that assists sporting organisations with the inclusion of employees, athletes, volunteers and spectators with diverse genders and sexualities.

QRL employees are embracing the program, with Pride in Sport providing regular resources and online training sessions for the 100-strong workforce who help facilitate, support and deliver the game across the state. 

There has been a particular focus on upskilling the QRL’s wellbeing team and Support Squad members, who recently completed LGBTQ awareness training.

Pride in Sport national program manager Beau Newell praised the leadership displayed by the QRL.

“Rugby League has the incredible opportunity to unite communities, inspire individuals, and foster a sense of belonging,” Newell said.

“LGBTQ inclusion in sport not only enriches the overall experience for everyone involved, but also strengthens the broader sense of community and acceptance across Queensland. 

“We commend the Queensland Rugby League for their steadfast commitment to LGBTQ inclusion.

“Through their partnership with Pride in Sport, QRL continues to demonstrate leadership in creating a more inclusive sporting environment that celebrates diversity and welcomes everyone." 

Supporting this partnership with Pride in Sport is the QRL’s overall commitment to diversity and inclusion through four key pillars – all ages, all abilities, all gender identities and sexualities, and all cultures.

This visible sign of allyship is the latest in a series of actions taken to support and promote LGBTQ inclusion, including updates to QRL Member Protection, whole-of-sport strategy and participation guidelines for trans and gender-diverse players. 

This important work is being guided by the QRL’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) committee, as well as the People and Culture team, which in August last year appointed Liberty Jones to the role of social impact and inclusion co-ordinator.

Jones is immensely passionate about making a difference and believes the focus on education is already having a significant impact. 

“This is about working together to ensure all in the rugby league community see it is a safe space,” Jones said.

“We’ve started a journey and we’re excited about where it will take us. Ultimately, we want to make rugby league a sport for all, and make sure everyone feels welcome whether you are a player, coach, volunteer or spectator.”

Jones’ sentiments are backed by CSR committee member Jason Garrick, a passionate inclusion in sports advocate whose ongoing work continues to shape the way forward for LGBTQ athletes and the QRL.

As a grassroots sports organiser who played junior rugby league in Central Queensland for the Middlemount Panthers, Garrick has been a key driver in making change.

"Sport is for everyone and Queensland Rugby League is clearly committed to achieve this,” Garrick said.

“I am a member of the Queensland Rugby League CSR Committee because I believe in the vast array of benefits to both the individual and community that arise from participation in rugby league."

This month, the QRL is sending a strong message that everyone is welcome to enjoy what the game has to offer through the launch of a symbolic merchandise piece. 

A QRL Pride cap – designed in consultation with the CSR committee, Pride in Sport and the LGBTQ community – is now available for purchase and further complements the existing QRL initiatives.

A number of the QRL team have already opted to wear the “unique” cap

“We’re thrilled with its look and feel. I don’t know if I’ve seen one similar in Queensland,” Jones said.

The launch of the cap on Maroons Shop coincides with the Brisbane Pride Festival, a month-long celebration for people of diverse genders and sexualities, and those who support them.

Proceeds from the sales of the cap will go towards developing and rolling out a bespoke education program to support rugby league communities throughout Queensland in partnership with Pride in Sport Australia.

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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