The RFL’s 12th Annual Safeguarding Conference at the weekend broke new ground, as it was staged as a virtual event for the first time as a result of the ongoing issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

That made it an unusual Conference debut for two newcomers from the RFL: Kerry Simmons, who was appointed the game’s new Safeguarding Manager last summer; and Sandy Lindsay MBE, one of the four Non-Executive Directors on the RFL Board who has taken a role as the Board’s Safeguarding Champion.

Both were full of praise for the role of the Conference delegates – so easily overlooked, but so important to the sport at all levels.

“The Annual Safeguarding Conference has become established as an important event in the calendar, so we were determined to find a way of ensuring it went ahead in 2021 despite the current restrictions,” said Kerry Simmons.

“A virtual Conference presented additional challenges, but we’ve already had some really positive feedback, and I’d like to thank our delegates and our keynote speakers for delivering another successful and valuable event.”

The speakers included Maggie Oliver, who resigned as Detective Constable of Greater Manchester Police in 2012 to play a key role in the exposure and conviction of the Rochdale grooming scandal; and Chris Atkin, the Salford Red Devils and England Knights half-back who was a relatively late developer in the game, and stressed the importance of accentuating enjoyment and inclusion as opposed to a win at all costs attitude.

Rob Hicks, the RFL’s Head of Competition, Strategy and Governance who is also a member of the full-time panel of match officials, opened the Conference, and all were invited to work in groups to share ideas on how Rugby League should approach the return to activity through 2021.

Sandy Lindsay MBE said: “Like Kerry, this was my first time at the RFL’s Annual Safeguarding Conference. It’s such an important part of the sport, and safeguarding is something for which the RFL has earned widespread respect across sport.

“That is thanks to the commitment of the people who attended the Conference. Their work is behind the scenes and not often recognised, but they are real unsung heroes, without whom the sport could not function.

“We recognise that on the RFL Board – in fact we refreshed our own safeguarding training with the NSPCC last summer.

“Congratulations and thanks are due to Kerry and her team, the keynote speakers and to all the delegates. It was great to have a current Super League player in attendance, and talking about the positive side of safeguarding – the priority to ensure that all youngsters can be involved and enjoy the sport. Now we are all looking forward hugely to the resumption of more Rugby League activity as we move through 2021.”

The Conference was recorded, and will be available on the RFL website soon.

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