Jamaica international and new Huddersfield captain Michael Lawrence is determined to drive racism out of rugby league.
The 30-year-old is the only player on an eight-strong Rugby Football League Inclusion Board drawn from a wide range of backgrounds such as education, media and business designed to promote diversity and anti-discrimination and he is keen to have his say.
“I feel a big responsibility to put across what’s happening in the professional game,” Lawrence told the PA news agency. “It’s something I’m passionate about.
“There are definitely still some problems to overcome. You only have to go on social media to see it’s alive and kicking in general in the country in many sports.
“There’s definitely some stuff that can be done to make the situation better.”
Lawrence has been encouraged by the growing inclusivity in rugby league and says the contribution teams and players made to the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 was a step in the right direction.
The RFL have announced that all matches in 2021 – the new Super League season kicks off on Friday night – will start with a 13-second pause to enable players to make their own point, whether that is by taking a knee or other ways to express their support.
“It wasn’t just a gimmick last year,” Lawrence said. “It’s something that is ongoing, there is no end date.
“Rugby league is pretty much inclusive and became even better over the last few years with the PDRL and the women’s game is growing but more can be done, you can never rest on your laurels.”
Along with fellow Jamaicans Ashton Golding and Jordan Turner, Lawrence opened up to Sky Sports last year about his own experiences of racism, recalling how he was told as a 14-year-old by his coach that he was “going to have to be 10 times better than anyone else” to get international recognition.
“I thought it was important to share my own experiences,” Lawrence added.
“I feel there was a lot of positive stuff last season and, when I was approached by RFL to join the Inclusion Board, I’m one of those people who don’t start something and not see it through.
“I want to see some change come out of it by the end of the term.
“We had our first meeting a couple of weeks back and it was really successful. It went on for four and a bit hours.
“There’s a lot of stuff we are going to try to implement throughout the year, some stuff around standards and a lot of discussions with the referees as well and how they report certain instances.
“We meet every quarter but we’re in constant dialogue every week.”
Lawrence’s standing in the game was recognised by the decision of new Huddersfield coach Ian Watson to appoint him as club captain.
Watson said: “Arriving at the club, I thought it was important for the club to have a figurehead on the playing side.
“You want someone who epitomises what the club represents on and off the field. I’ve been greatly impressed by his attitude.
“Huddersfield is a diverse place and I believe that Michael’s values and attitude mirrors the values of the area, the owner Ken Davy and the club.
“Aidan Sezer will continue as our captain on the field with Adam O’Brien who both set high standards within the team.
“I wanted to add someone who would be able to epitomise Huddersfield and, as someone who’s been here his entire career, I believe he can show all of us what’s important to the club and the people of the town. We will all learn from Michael.”
Lawrence, who was Super League’s top tackler in 2020, will make the 300th appearance of his career, which includes games for England Knights and Jamaica, when the Giants take on Hull at Headingley on Sunday.
“To rack up 300 games is something I’m very proud of,” said Lawrence, who hopes to play for Jamaica in the World Cup in October.
“If you’d have said that as a 16 or 17-year-old when I was starting out, I would never have believed you.”