People with learning disabilities captivated the crowd at rugby league’s Dacia Magic Weekend event at Anfield Stadium, with the launch of the Community Integrated Care Learning Disability Super League.
Super League and the Rugby Football League have partnered with the national social care charity, Community Integrated Care, to create a ground-breaking adapted form of rugby league for people with learning disabilities and autism.
Backed by 12 major rugby league clubs and integrated into the Super League calendar, this is the first ever example of a professional sports league sharing its brand with a learning disability sports programme.
The launch gave almost 160 people the opportunity to play in front of tens of thousands of people at the famous home of Liverpool FC. Playing in the half-time slot of the headline fixtures of the Dacia Magic Weekend, the Learning Disability Super League teams took centre stage at the event, which was attended by 56,869.
The event was proudly supported by Castleford Tigers, Hull KR, Leeds Rhinos, St Helens, Wakefield Trinity, Warrington Wolves, Widnes Vikings, Wigan Warriors and York City Knights.
The Castleford Tigers learning disability players were roared on from the stands by supporters from across the sport, who cheered them on as Super League heroes.
The Community Integrated Care Learning Disability Super League teams were also given the opportunity to play in the shadows of Anfield Stadium, in special festivals at Stanley Park.
The programme has been praised by participants and their family members, social care sector organisations and the rugby league community for its impact in promoting inclusion and developing invaluable social and life skills of participants. Many players described their experience as “a dream come true” and “life-changing”.
Mark Adams, CEO of Community Integrated Care, said: “We believe that the launch of the Community Integrated Care Learning Disability Super League at Anfield was one of the most significant moments in our 31-year history and an unprecedented success for the social care sector.
“We have been humbled and astounded by the impact this has made on players and their loved ones and the support that we’ve been given by the public. This has only been possible because of the values and commitment of Super League, the RFL, the clubs, and the entire rugby league family. This project delivers more than just the opportunity to participate in the great game of rugby league – it brings communities together, creating unforgettable opportunities and changes lives.”
Robert Elstone, CEO of Super League, said: “I am so proud of the Community Integrated Care Learning Disability Super League. The launch was inspirational and represented everything that Super League is about.
“We should thank those behind the initiative, in particular our partners at Community Integrated Care, our Clubs for supporting their teams, but most of all, our players for their dedication and commitment – anyone who pulls on a Super League jersey is a special human-being.
"The launch was one of the highlights of the 2019 Dacia Magic Weekend. It was incredible to see the passionate support from the Anfield crowd in cheering on the players. I’m excited for how this programme and partnership with Community Integrated Care will continue to develop in the years ahead.”
RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer said: “Rugby league is always for everyone. This means everyone who wants to play our sport or be involved in it in other ways should be able to do so in the way that’s right for them.
“The Community Integrated Care Learning Disability Super League is a wonderful partnership. The Rugby Football League also looks forward to working with Community Integrated Care on volunteering opportunities, as the sport works together to ensure that all parts of rugby league are inclusive and welcoming.
“Playing at Anfield was a very special achievement for all players. I know that they and their loved ones enjoyed every minute, and they should feel very proud.”