Former Featherstone Rovers winger Ikram Butt has recently returned from Rome where he got to discuss rugby league with Pope Francis.
BARA (British Asian Rugby Association) founder Butt scored 66 tries in 168 appearances for Featherstone between 1990 and 1995.
He played for England against Wales at Cardiff while he was a Featherstone player.
The trip to the Vatican was arranged by Pierluigi Gentile, head and founder of the ‘rebel’ Lega Italia, recently officially recognised by
Italian sporting authorities as the only governing body for rugby league in Italy.
Accompanied by Leeds-based Imam Qari Asim MBE and a number of Italian Rugby League players and officials, Butt spent several minutes discussing the
game as well as the White Ribbon campaign aimed at raising awareness of domestic violence against women and the importance of faith within sports.
Butt said: “He is a very engaging personality and easy to see why he’s made such a positive impact since becoming the Pontiff.
“He listened carefully to what we had to say and was well aware of rugby league as a sport. It was an amazing opportunity to talk sport and other issues with once of the most iconic figureheads on the planet.
“I have to put on record my thanks to Pierluigi and everyone at Lega Italia.
Despite the ongoing governance issues within international Rugby League, Lega Italia is a perfect platform to drive the thirteen-a-side code forward in Italy and now has the legal status to achieve its objectives.
“Garry Schofield and I took a BARA team out to Rome to face the Italian rugby league ‘renegades’ last year and just lost thanks to a last gasp penalty. We’re hoping to play host to the Italians later this year in Leeds and continue to build on the partnerships developed using rugby as a means to tackle violence against women and girls and interfaith dialogue,” added Butt.
Qari Asim, Imam at Leeds’ Makkah Mosque, said: “Popes are usually circumscribed by tradition and hemmed in by bureaucracy but Pope Francis seems to have broken the papal protocol. His interventions in global politics, as well as his displays of public humility, have made him popular amongst not only Catholics, or Christians, but also amongst people of all faiths as well as no faith.
“I was keen to share some of the remarkable work that faith communities have done in Britain to strengthen interfaith relations, which is very much in
line with his views about faith communities working together like a family.
This represents the same ethos of BARA and the many sporting community initiatives that have been led by Ikram and his team.”