Image Credit: York City Knights Disability Rugby League / ‘Community Integrated Care Learning Disability Super League’
Can you briefly explain the history of York City Knights Disability Rugby League?
We’re part of the inaugural Disability Super League meaning we’re one of the founder clubs. We’ve been running our disability club for a few years and it is something we’re very proud of. Initially, it was just training for those who wanted to come but after 20 weeks of this, it needed to go to another level. We advanced thanks to the help of the RFL and Community Integrated Care who have backed us immensely and helped with exposure. The ‘Community Integrated Care Learning Disability Super League’ offers those with learning disabilities and autism the opportunity to play an adapted version of Rugby League. We cater to both learning and physical disabilities through the LDRL and the PDRL.
What is the difference between the PDRL and the LDRL?
There are two types of competition: learning and physical. The LDRL is for those with learning disabilities and the PDRL is for those with physical disabilities. The main difference between the LDRL and the PDRL is that LDRL is tag rugby and non competitive so the social element is key. It's about getting mass participation, lots of people playing, enjoying themselves and having fun. The LDRL don’t keep scores but participants have the opportunity to represent their national clubs in competitions. Since York City Knights set up their Disability League, the players have had the opportunity to play in front of Sky TV cameras at venues such as Anfield and Bootham Crescent.
What are the events that are currently taking place?
On the 19th September, York City Knights are hosting the Physical Disability Rugby League festival and the Learning Disability Rugby Leave event is on the 26th September. There will be roughly 18-20 teams attending which will make for a real carnival atmosphere! A star from The Last Leg from Channel 4 will be in attendance.
Spectators pay a small entrance fee but no players pay in order to encourage inclusivity. All clubs are registered charities and receive funding rather than asking for membership fees.
What benefits are there for the players?
We average about 25 players attending training of varying ages and abilities. There is a good atmosphere of people supporting each other and the club’s growth means we can split the group into higher and lower ability, providing a challenge for those who need it. The social aspect of this sport is what makes it.
What impact has Covid-19 had?
We ran virtual sessions over lockdown and came out with more participants than we started with. A good number of our participants were shielding so arguably they may have felt the lockdown more than most. In response, we tried to develop the profile of the sport both nationally and locally by working with special schools in the area.
Is the popularity of the sport increasing?
It’s growing but it will take time. We currently don’t have a wheelchair rugby group at the moment as with a team sport you do need the numbers meaning it is a supply for demand situation.
However, a PDRL game is being broadcast on an online stream and that is a start. We have had coverage in national tabloids and there was a world cup for wheelchair rugby due to take place this year which has been postponed to next year which would have had extensive coverage.
The success of the Disability League means other clubs are now wanting to be a part of it. In this month’s events, we will probably enter two teams but some clubs like St Helens will potentially bring three meaning there are between 18-20 teams attending.
Do you think the Disability Rugby League has the ability to go mainstream?
Within the sport, there is a lot of publicity. Outside the rugby community there is less publicity and that is the challenge for us to get more people outside the sport involved. One thing that we try to say is it’s not just about the rugby; we’re changing lives. We’re telling those stories in how coming to rugby has improved someone’s confidence, leading them to having a new circle of friends, leading to them landing a job and even getting a girlfriend. You get these multiple stories across the country and that's what Community Care is: getting people into the community and providing opportunities for those who are at risk of being excluded.
Universities currently has very limited options for disabled sport. Do you think more could be done?
There are fantastic facilities at universities but it is something Student Unions would need to decide. We encourage anyone from the University of York who would like to to come down to our training. You can always do more.