Integration can only help game go forward, says Stevo
Last Updated: 16/07/09 9:46am
He's well-used to blazing a trail for Asians in rugby league and Ikram Butt told Boots 'n' All he is not about to stop now.
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"The most important factor is that the game is now getting near towards ethnic people in schools. In the past that wasn't possible."
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Butt, the first Asian player to be capped for Great Britain in either code of rugby, will look proudly on this weekend when the first British-Pakistan rugby league team make their debut.
This Sunday the side will take on the Great Britain under-18 Community Lions in a curtain-raiser before Bradford play Wigan at Odsal on what will be an historic occasion for rugby league.
"We've got a good mix of experienced lads who have been playing for years in the amateur game and some young kids who are playing for local clubs," said Butt, whose book 'Tries and Prejudice' offers an insight into the life of a rugby league-playing Muslim living in Yorkshire.
Butt, who acts as a Connecting Communities Manager, added: "I love rugby league because it's been really good to me, it's made me who I am - the discipline, the character.
"There are people out there who are putting barriers up but barriers are there to be broken down."
His passion is reflected within the British-Pakistan rugby league squad, who to a man are keen to develop the game through integration.
"We're proud to be Pakistani and British at the same time and obviously everybody wants to play for Great Britain," said Amjad Hussain.
Team-mate Imad Nasar, who also plays for Salford Reserves, added: "I think it is important in these times to integrate the community and to show British Asians can live in harmony in British society and contribute."
A lack of numbers continues to hinder the development of the game, but Marsha Singh, MP for Bradford West, believes that a change in attitude could help to solve that problem.
"I'd hazard a guess that rugby league has not been a game that they or their parents have been familiar with from their countries of origin," said Singh.
"Because they lack that familiarity it's not something that they would normally think of going towards. Things are changing now."
Stevo, in the Boots 'n' All studio, agreed saying that thanks to the endeavour of people like Butt, the profile of rugby league continues to attract new audiences.
"The most important factor is that the game is now getting near towards kids of different ethnic groups in schools. In the past that wasn't possible; there were a lot of barriers to overcome and a lot of people didn't invite them," said Stevo.
"A lot of clubs now are aware of what is happening and it's a very slow start. Ikram has worked extremely hard, especially over the last 10 years; he's always worked hard to get the community to understand it.
"Let's hope it continues because the professional clubs are quite happy to bring the talent through."