By NATALIE COOPER
The British Asian Rugby League will host the Italian Rugby League team this weekend in Leeds, as the two sides battle it out in a charity match for the White Ribbon Trophy.
The teams last played against each other last year in a match in Rome, when the BARA team, coached by Garry Schofield and founder Ikram Butt, lost out to a last-minute conversion in a 22-20 defeat.
The White Ribbon Trophy is in aid of the White Ribbon Campaign, a charity which aids male and female victims of domestic violence. Since 2004 WRC has worked in the UK to raise awareness of domestic violence and encourage reflection and discussion that leads to personal and collective action among men.
The Italian team from Lega Italia, officially recognised by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) as the only governing body for rugby league in Italy, flew into the UK yesterday on the 26 May. The team will then be presented to the media at Headingley on Friday 27, before visiting the Makkah mosque to meet members of the Leeds Interfaith Forum.
Last year members of BARA met with the Pope at the Vatican to discuss interfaith initiatives. Dr Muhammad Asim MBE, who was part of last year’s delegation, will host the Italians at the award winning Makkah mosque. He commented: ”During my visit to the Vatican, I talked to the Pope about using sports to connect with young people. BARA and Italian Rugby League both aspire to use the power of rugby to create safe, inclusive programmes for young people affected by poverty or conﬂict, and empower them.
“The community is, therefore, very much looking forward to hosting Italian Rugby League at Makkah mosque, and working together to inspire and empower young people of all backgrounds.”
The match will be held at the South Leeds Stadium this Saturday (28 May) with kick off at 3pm. Ahead of this however, rugby fans can enjoy a Mixed Ability Exhibition Game at 12pm with players from various clubs across West Yorkshire taking part, including the Bingley Bumble Bees.
Former England, Leeds and Featherstone Rugby League professional Ikram Butt who founded BARA 12 years ago commented: “We were treated like kings last year in Rome and again earlier this year as guests of Lega Italia when we discussed the White Ribbon Campaign and interfaith initiatives with the Pope at the Vatican.
“We hope to return the compliment and provide a competitive match for the Italian squad who are representing a fast growing governing body that is becoming the standard bearer for the 13-a-side code.”
“I’d like to put on record my thanks to Gary Hetherington from Leeds Rugby, Darren Williams from Hunslet Hawks and Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake, as well as all of the sponsors, for their support in making this tour a reality,” added Ikram.
Pierluigi Gentile, founder of Lega Italia, commented: “We are looking forward to our UK visit and thank BARA for making it happen. We hope to participate in another close, exciting game of Rugby League.”
The tour is sponsored by KASA, Regal, Inspirational Women Foundation, Durham Accountants, Malik Halls, Highgate Solicitors, Click Your GP, AG Graphic Solutions, Mini Travel, Sporting Change and PRomotion. All proceeds from ticket sales to the tour will be donated to WRC and BARA.