Ellen Beale from the NRL talks about their inclusion framework
Thank you, so yes Ellen Beale. I have the great fortune of leading the Community Team at the National Rugby League. I have to apologise. My voice is still a little bit croaky after the last month. We had an amazing finals series. We had lots of underdogs making the finals and Paul, this is for you - the mighty Cronulla Sharks completed the fairytale winning their first ever premiership since joining the competition 50 years ago so it was an amazing game and very exciting.
Lots of people say to me, “So it must be awesome having got through the Grand Final. Are you going to have a couple of months now just resting and planning?” No, working in the Community Team it just doesn’t stop. In fact tomorrow is our ninth Annual Harmony Cup so we’ll have 46 teams, 600 females and males representing 13 cultural groups coming to Western Sydney tomorrow to compete to win the Harmony Cup so my team is extremely busy at the moment and this is one of my favourite events. I actually had to host a Dinner the other day and I had to welcome the participants and you’ll like to hear this Peter, I shared with them when I was 12 I made my first ever Under 12s representative netball team in the Inner West of Sydney. I was the only Anglo-Saxon girl on the team. There was a Greek girl, there was a Lebanese girl and the rest were of Maori origin. What I remember from that year - I don’t remember if we won or lost a tournament. I don’t know how good we were but the girls taught me how to do the Haka and I’ve got still some really good friends from that group and that’s what I shared with all of the participants at that event that you’ll remember the people that you meet, the pride that you have in the actions that you take. You’re not going to remember whether you won or lost so hopefully that’s what we’ll see tomorrow.
Harmony Cup represents just one of the things we do in this space. We’ve got our All Stars game; we’ve got our Pacific Test. These are great ways that we bring communities together and celebrate the rich culture that exists in Rugby League and we truly do believe that our sport is one for everybody and there are opportunities both on and off the field. That’s reflective in our communities and I’m going to share a little bit about our journey in this space and I thought I would start by introducing you to one of the most important men in Rugby League, Jimmy Stavrianos. If you’re on Twitter if you follow Rugby League at all you will know Jimmy Stavrianos. I told him I was going to be sharing his story and he thanked me and he thanked you for listening. He’s an amazing man. He’s more important that John Grant or Todd Greenberg or Cameron Smith and Ruan Sims, our National Captains. He’s the guy that you will meet if you come to Rugby League Central and he’s the first face you will see and we are going to share his story.
I thought I would provide some context in terms of our vision, purpose and values and I’d share the journey that we’ve been on and it truly is a journey. We’re really proud of a lot of the stuff that we do but we also know we’ve got a long way to go so Jimmy celebrated 25 years with the NRL this year so 25 years he’s been involved in the game. We had a celebration at the Sydney Cricket Ground where we showed this video which I will share with you via Paul on the big screens and we had every single person that’s interacted with Jimmy over the last 25 years sharing a snippet of information about Jimmy. He is just the most amazing man you will meet. The smile that is on his face at all times - last year he had what he calls the most positive experience of his lifetime. The NSW Origin Team invited him to come and work as part of their Training Team and he was asked to turn up at 7am to ensure that all of the equipment was out and Jimmy turned up at 6am every day to ensure that he was an hour ready and the smile on his face and the change that that created in our building was just phenomenal.
We through Origin period you can imagine are just stretched beyond stretched. Everybody is a little bit cranky and Jimmy’s face just made everything feel good and it reminded us about why we do what we do so I encourage you to have a look at Jimmy’s story because it brings tears to my eyes every time and we actually have Rebecca Wilson who passed away in that story sharing all of her really happy memories of Jimmy too so it’s a nice one to watch at this time.
So Jimmy just represents one person in Rugby League. There are so many great people. I often have to pinch myself when I think about the fact that I get to work in sport and I get to work in Rugby League every day. If you talk to the many volunteers, the people that work in football, the players about why they do what they do they often will reflect on the really positive experiences they themselves have had.
When I reflect on my first rep team at 12, when I reflect on all the wonderful people that I’ve met, all of the things that I’ve learned about myself both good and bad; I’m ultra competitive and don’t really handle losing very well but I’ve learnt a little bit about how to do that and the great confidences that I’ve gained, I can’t believe my luck in being able to contribute to other people having similar experiences and that’s I think what keeps us honest and what keeps us motivated and keeps us really focused on ensuring that our game is one that welcomes everybody irrespective of your background.
If you have a quick look at the screen here so across the whole of the game we’ve got people who basically say that their country of birth or that of their parents or grandparents come from 140 different countries. It’s pretty phenomenal so our game has a long proud history. We started back in 1908 but we’ve got appeal to first generation, second generation and newly arrived migrants and that’s something that we pride ourselves on and we really focus on.
At the elite level of our game we’ve got 27% of our playing group - so 27% of our elite playing group are from Pacifica backgrounds and that’s up from 9% back in 1998 so we’ve made a really concerted effort in terms of our Pacifica neighbours and we can see that they’re coming and joining our game and they’re actually rising through the ranks which is exciting to see. We’ve also got 12% of our elite playing group identifying as Indigenous and when you look at our National Team that actually increases to 39% of our Kangaroos and our Jillaroos are of Indigenous background so that is incredible in terms of our ability to talk to that community and to show that we really do support and encourage people from those backgrounds and those players without us having to ask for them to get involved in things will just volunteer their time and energy to appear in advertisements, to come along and talk at various events so embracing those people and encouraging and empowering them is so important to us.
In fact Rugby League was the first National sporting team to appoint an Indigenous Captain so Arthur Beetson was the first Indigenous Captain of a sporting team back in 1973 and that’s something we’re incredibly proud of and we still celebrate today.
In terms of people who work within our sport we do regular reviews of people’s cultural ancestry and we’ve got within our NRL and the State Leagues we’ve got people who have ancestry in 34 countries so quite often people will say to me, “Oh it must be pretty tough being a female working in Rugby League. It’s all blokes isn’t it - a boy’s club?” You would be really surprised. Again if you came to Rugby League Central you would look around and you would see great diversity in terms of the people you meet particularly there’s a lot of - it’s almost 50% females so that’s really great when you come in for an interview that you’re actually meeting a really diverse group of people. It’s not just bulky big footballers. There’s lots of us who love the game and want to contribute.
Our female participation is something we’ve been really focused on in the last couple of years and we’ve seen huge growth in female participation. You can see here on the board it’s gone up 27% in 2016 and that’s seen year on year growth for the last few years. That’s something that we’re really focused on. An example of something we’ve done this year historically the Jillaroos would play before the Kangaroos so our National female team would play before the male counterparts and we would call them curtain-raisers. This year they’re double headers and they will continue to be double headers and I can tell you if you were in Newcastle for that match the female game was a much better game and got a lot bigger response and people still like seeing the girls hitting each other very very hard - I’m not quite ready to volunteer for that but I might give it a go and also there’s lots of really good insights into our fans and members but I just thought this was really interesting in terms of the age groups.
I had before I started working in Rugby League assumed that it was all 20‑40‑year-olds that would be interested in our sport but it’s actually quite evenly spread across all age groups so it’s a game that really does appeal to lots of different people.
How and why we’ve achieved this? It’s something that we have actively tried to ensure that we are welcoming to all so we know why we do what we do. This is our game plan. We’ve got a really clear vision to be the most entertaining, engaging and most respected sport in our mission to bring people together and enrich their lives. We’ve also got the four values of excellence, inclusive, courage and teamwork and the reality is without diversity and inclusiveness, without creating a game that welcomes everybody, without creating equal opportunities for people there is no way that we’re going to achieve any of this vision and mission so I think at the heart of it community is absolutely critical and we are encouraged to ensure that whenever we’re making decisions that we keep all of these top of mind.
So within the Community Team we feel there is huge opportunity but we also feel huge responsibility to do the right thing and to make a difference so our mission is to lead and inspire people to be the best they can be by providing pathways and opportunities to live positive, respectful and healthy lives. Put really simply, when people ask me at a barbecue, “What do you do?” I say, “I have the really great pleasure of using the NRL and Rugby League to talk to people about the importance of good health, whether that’s mental or physical health, about getting a good education and having aspirations and being respectful and of being inclusive”. It sounds pretty simple - a little bit harder to do in practice because of so many great things that we want to do so I thought I might share with you what keeps us motivated. If we get it right we believe we’re going to have communities that feel together, strong and proud. They’re the three actions that really keep us honest.
We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved to date. We know we’ve got some more to do but we’ve got some incredible initiatives in place. We’ve got our All Stars, we’ve got Harmony Cup, we’ve got the Pacific Test. We do cultural competence trainings with our staff and with the clubs. We’ve got an ‘In league and harmony program’ that’s been running with newly arrived migrants for the last five years. We’ve got policies and protocols and guidelines in place. We’ve got amazing partnerships with the Human Rights Commission, with Pride and Diversity, with ‘Our Watch’ with Reconciliation Australia but we know that not all of our policies and protocols and guidelines are well understood and always consistently applied. We know that there’s more work that we could be doing and I put the puzzle pieces up here because it feels like we’ve got all of these great things but we haven’t quite connected them to form a true picture of what we want to do and who we want to be so we engaged the Human Rights Commission late last year and they’ve developed a report for us and a number of recommendations on how we could go from good to best and we presented to the Executive a couple of weeks ago and it was quite funny. We were sort of expecting that they would be asking us lots of questions but the reality was they just went, ‘Yeah, this is great. So what do you need us to do?” so that was the best possible way to start this project.
We’ve got a really clear vision now. I’m sure you guys can’t see that up the back but for us it’s about really clearly defining who we are and what we want to do and what does diversity inclusiveness mean in our sport and getting everybody across whole of game to be able to sing from the same songbook. It’s about having a framework which is a relatively fancy way of saying a checklist. Whenever we want to do something we will say, “Does it do this? Does it meet those requirements? Will it be appealing to every element of our communities? We’ll have reviewed all of our programs, initiatives and policies and make sure that they meet the requirements of that checklist and we will ensure that we’ve got really strong partnerships for the future going forward and they’re financially stable and sustainable and that we are measuring and evaluating them all of the time.
Really quickly some lessons learnt - don’t try to be all things at all times. That would be my key thing. I know that’s really hard because there are so many good things that we could be doing. I think prioritise, prioritise, prioritise. I can’t tell you the number of calls that I take daily from organisations wanting to work with us and I would love to be able to say yes to all but what we’ve learnt through experience is when we do that we don’t get the depth of impact that we need to achieve and so just know that we will be doing it. We just need to make sure we do it in the right sequence and that we meet the needs of our communities and we listen to our communities because when we listen we get it right and we make a significant difference.