Rugby League has established a foothold in India after almost of decade of hard work on the part of a number of organisations including the British Asian Rugby Association (BARA) and the Leeds Rugby Foundation (LRF).
The Bombay Gymkhana club, a sporting organisation used by many of the country's richest individuals including a number of prominent Bollywood actors, has committed to establishing a Rugby League presence and will be developing the sport for juniors, men and women in partnership with Ikram Butt, head of BARA and manager of the Foundation's Connecting Communities programme.
A dual code international, having played Rugby Union for Pakistan and Rugby League for England, Butt explained, “This formal agreement has taken me well over 10 years to develop and was initially driven by BARA but is now being pushed with the help of the Leeds Rugby Foundation and Leeds Metropolitan University.
“We now have an established premier club with over 135 years of history that is financially independent and, more importantly, involving genuine people who want to see Rugby League develop. A few of Bollywood’s star names are also keen to help us promote the game," he continued.
“This partnership is quite unique and pioneering and follows the visits of Bollywood star Rahul Bose and Bombay Gymkhana Committee Member Chaitanya Sinh to Headingley Carnegie stadium to speak with students and Leeds Rugby Chief Executive Gary Hetherington.
“My most recent visit to India was back in July when I put a number of players through their paces and presented the club with 22 junior Rhinos jerseys.
Butt added, “This is a big step towards a vision of seeing Rugby League played throughout South Asia with a similar initiative in Pakistan to be announced later this year. Bombay could well be a good venue for a World Club Challenge fixture or a Super League clash in years to come and this link up will have a significant impact within our own local South Asian communities.”
Chaitanya Sinh commented: “I have had numerous rounds of discussions with the Bombay Gymkhana Managing Committee and we have finally decided to institute a sustainable grass-roots programme to spread and develop rugby league for all ages and introduce a high performance elite programme for senior mens and womens teams."
“We will be looking at an exchange of coaching resources and cultural exchanges which meet all of our objectives and I look forward to working with Ikram, BARA and the Leeds Rugby Foundation in pushing the profile of this very exciting sport,” added Chaitanya.
Paul Rowson, Executive Chair of the Leeds Rugby Foundation, noted, “We are delighted about strengthening our relationship between the Bombay Gymkhana club and are keen that this continues and grows. We look forward to hosting Chaitanya in Leeds next March to further discuss and explore opportunities of working together.”
Ikram Butt was recently awarded a Doctorate in Sport Science by Leeds Metropolitan University for his pioneering sport development initiatives within the UK and abroad.