Jason Robinson has rejoined Sale, 15 years after leading them to the Premiership title. The cross-code World Cup-winner who went on to captain England will front a diversity drive by the Cheshire club.
The 46-year-old was approached earlier this year by the Sharks’ new chief executive, Sid Sutton, about using his powerful story to inspire change. While there will be some involvement with the Sale squad – mentoring rather than coaching – Robinson will primarily focus on community initiatives, with a view to making the club more inclusive.
Robinson is enthused by a project which builds on his work over several years with school sport and grassroots rugby. ‘I want to work with people who really want to bring change,’ he said. ‘A lot of the experience I have gained has been in EDI – Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. I know what the game has done for me and I’m passionate about this. The more people we can get into the game, the more we can break down those barriers and the better the game is going to be.
Jason Robinson will focus on community initiatives in a bid to make Sale more inclusive
‘I don’t need another ambassador role. This is something really exciting that I can contribute to, because I have the experience to do it. Very few people have a story like me in English rugby. I don’t know what the odds were on me coming from council estates in Leeds, with a single parent, to going through rugby league to captaining England in rugby union and winning a World Cup.
‘How many more kids from those areas could there be? It’s not just about getting more black people into the game. It’s about getting more girls into the game and getting people from deprived areas into the game.’
Sale have made this eye-catching appointment of their former captain at a time when rugby is slowly grasping the need to become more open and inclusive – and shake off the tag in this country as a sport predominantly for the white middle classes. The RFU recently announced the formation of a diversity and inclusion working group, but Robinson is demanding action, not just debate.
The Cheshire club want to use Robinson’s powerful story to inspire change
‘Everybody wants to do something and they talk about doing something, but it often tends to be just talk,’ he said. ‘I’ve seen so much talk, it’s ridiculous. We need to start seeing results.
‘This has to be about results. It’s not an appointment to tick a box because I don’t do box-ticking. This is an appointment to really make a difference and if we don’t make a difference, then I don’t want to be a part of it.’
Robinson has never been approached by the RFU to harness his experiences and perspective for the wider benefit of the game in this country. Asked if he knew why, he said: ‘Unfortunately, you’d have to ask other people that. Some of it beggars belief.
‘I am probably the most successful and one of the most famous black people that England have ever had – and I’ve not been used. I can’t tell you why I’ve not been used because it doesn’t make sense. I am not on any advisory groups. Maybe I am doing something wrong. But I am delighted to have this opportunity with this club that I have a real soft spot for.’
The project with the Sharks will build on his work with school sport and grassroots rugby
Sutton admitted he didn’t understand why Robinson’s insight had not been tapped-into by the rugby establishment, but he is glad to have the chance to bring him back to Sale. ‘It is astounding,’ he said. ‘When you meet Jason and understand what his passion is, you wonder, “Why hasn’t this happened before?”.
‘We want Jason to be the face of the club doing the right things. We have to start bringing rugby to a wider community. I don’t want it to just be labelled as EDI – it’s about care for all. It doesn’t matter what background you’re from, what colour you are or what class or education you have, we want to cater for all and I’m passionate about getting that message out there.
‘If we can expose more people to rugby, it can change people’s lives. There’s no better person than Jason who has experienced that; lived it, breathed it and ultimately been successful, from his background to what he has achieved. There’s no better person to tell that story.’
Sale have been making progress as a team under Alex Sanderson and now, with Robinson back on board thanks to Sutton’s vision, they are emerging as a progressive club – taking steps that others will surely follow.