The British Asian Rugby Association (BARA) has been breaking down barriers for a decade now and to celebrate the important milestone, a special tour of India is set to be held later this year.
Leading a cross-section of Lords and MPs, the squad is set to embark on an August tour, nine years on from their last trip to the South Asian country.
A number of other celebratory events will also be held throughout the year, including a match with the Spanish Rugby League national side in Valencia, as well as BARA Tag Time tournaments for young people across the country in the summer.
2014 will be capped off with a celebratory dinner in recognition of the ten years hard work, and for BARA founder, and former England international, Ikram Butt, it will be one of the biggest years to date for the governing body.
Speaking to the Asian Express, he said: “It’s quite an exciting year for BARA, not just in terms of our 10 years anniversary but because we have some new and exciting projects that we have been invited to be involved in, both in the UK and abroad.
“Rugby has always been a sport for everybody, yet there are communities and cultural groups that are under-represented.
“We want to break down whatever barriers, real, or perceived that are getting in the way. Our campaign is going to reach out across the social and cultural spectrum across the board, and BARA is a statement of intent.”
Throughout their ten years of existence, BARA has made considerable progress on and off the field, with particular focus on engaging under-represented demographics in rugby, such as the South Asian community.
Although rugby governing bodies, professional and amateur clubs & local authorities have been striving to attain multi-cultural diversity within the game, they have had limited success in tapping into the untapped potential within the South Asian and wider communities. BARA was created to attempt to redress the balance, working alongside rugby bodies and other relevant organisations.
As an inclusive organisation the body has acted as positive role models, breaking down cultural and religious barriers, as well as promoting community integration, personal development, educational attainment, health and well-being and encouraging participation in sport and physical activity especially in rugby.
However, for Ikram Butt, despite acknowledging the ‘considerable strides’ forwards, there is still more work to do to ensure the wider community really get involved with his sport.
He explained: “There is still significant work required if we, as a sport, are to become fully inclusive and a personal disappointment of ours, remains the lack of the emergence of home grown Asian players, operating in the higher echelons of the Rugby Football League and Rugby Football Union.
“We also need to be more pro-active in getting key decision makers, within both the sporting and political arena, to recognise the potential links between the Asian and wider communities, sport and the integration agenda.
“We are firm believers that sport has the power to be a major factor in developing harmonious communities, and discussions are underway with Members of Parliament to look at establishing a task force group addressing sport as a vehicle for tackling integration issues.
“We remain convinced that we can use the game as a beacon for other sport bodies to follow and a key factor in BARA’s development has been the effective working relations formed with a plethora of agencies.”
He added: “The work of an organisation such as BARA is still as much needed today as it was 10 years ago.”
Highlights from BARA’s first ten years
• Launched in 2004 in partnership with the Rugby Football League, Rugby Football Union & Sport England
• BARA organise a BARA Tag Time event. Over 200 children & young people take part
• BARA recognised by Parliament during Prime Ministers Question Time, as a ‘model of good practice’ and a ‘vehicle for positive change’
• BARA tour India and win the All India & South Asian Championships
• BARA travel to Pakistan & India, coach in schools, colleges & universities
• BARA triumphant in their first appearance in Steeden Cup tournament defeating the British Police in the final
• BARA organises two rugby events in support of the Pakistan Recovery Fund and raise over £30,000
• BARA’s charitable support applauded by HRH Prince of Wales