England coach Eddie Jones has opened up about tackling racism and white privilege while growing diversity in English rugby.
The break in the rugby calendar caused by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has allowed the sport’s stakeholders to take a step back and bring some fresh thinking to the major concerns about it.
The concerns about racial equality triggered by the Black Lives Matter movement have also shone a light on rugby.
In his first major interview since the Six Nations campaign was halted by the coronavirus, Jones – who himself is from a minority background – spoke about rugby’s battle to become more diverse.
‘It’s a constant battle. It’s a very personal thing,’ Jones told the Telegraph. ‘I’ve always been pro-diversity. It’s my natural instinct. I look for players who have difficult backgrounds. That’s what resonates with me. We set out to create a more diverse team, because I feel diversity creates a stronger group. It brings different ways of thinking. The job of a coach is to put all that together, and you draw strength from it.
‘Ultimately, the players have to be good enough, but the two I’m proudest of are Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler. Both have quite difficult backgrounds, and we brought them into the side in 2016 as young kids. We had to be reasonably patient with them, but they have matured into great players.’
Genge last month revealed that both he and Jones suffered racial abuse at a stadium tunnel during England’s tour to South Africa in 2018.
‘I don’t get traumatised by that,’ Jones said about the incident. ‘I feel sorry for the person who made that comment. They’re ignorant. And someone needs to make that person aware of how they should behave. I want them to learn.’
The English RFU – which does not have a single black representative on its board – is seeking to change the perceptions of exclusivity in rugby and have appointed Genevieve Glover to work on diversity and inclusion.
‘There’s always a challenge to do more. We’ll never do enough,’ Jones said. ‘But even in the four years I’ve been in England, I’ve seen real change. The only thing that I can change is my behaviour. I want to make sure that whoever is influenced by me gets the right impression.
‘As a coach, I live by selection. The team I pick is reflective of who I value. And what I value is diversity. I can’t control what happened 100 years ago, but I can control what happens today or tomorrow.’
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