Harlequins fullback Aaron Morris says it is incumbent upon English rugby to recognise the need for more black and minority ethnic coaches and administrators at the highest levels.
While black and mixed-race players feature heavily for England and the Premiership clubs, Saracens skills coach Joe Shaw is currently the only front-line black coach operating in the top-flight, while Maggie Alphonsi is a lone representative on the RFU Council.
Morris, who was racially abused himself as a youngster growing up in Bedford, believes the Black Lives Matter movement has shone a light on racial injustice and wants to see real change, rather than the subject being paid lip-service before it withers away.
Morris, 25, told The Rugby Paper: “This all started from something so tragic in America but the progress of that movement and how it’s moved into the UK is an example of how black and minority ethnic people here want to stand in solidarity with African Americans in response to the kind of police brutality and violations we’re seeing over there.
“We also want to shine a light on the systematic racism in the UK which permeates all areas of society, whether that be rugby, the criminal justice system, healthcare or education, because it’s present in every part of life and it’s something a lot of people are waking up to.
“Personally, my experience isn’t going to be as representative as some because I’m of mixed race and with my skin you do experience a level of privilege that darker skinned men don’t, but all black men in the UK will have felt racism at some point in their lives.
“I remember being sat down by my dad when I was six or seven, having been on the end of a racial slur at school, and him telling me that it was something that was part of life and that I’d have to work twice as hard to make it because of the colour of my skin. It’s still prevalent in people’s lives, but it’s now about how we all accept that and create change.”
Former Harlequins academy coach Warren Abrahams spoke recently about how he felt he had hit a ‘ceiling’ as far as promotion chances were concerned, while both Alphonsi and England star Maro Itoje have aired views on the lack of black representation.
Morris adds: “Warren spoke eloquently about the lack of opportunities for black coaches and Maro has spoken about that as well – and rightly so.
“No one is doubting the influence black or mixed race players have on the field and if you look at the team that represented England at the World Cup in Japan, it was the most diverse team we’ve ever put out, but it’s incongruous for there to be so little representation off the field.
“Whether that’s in coaching, or at board level within clubs, or on the RFU Council where Maggie Alphonsi is the only member who’s black, we need to see more representation off the field to give black and minority ethnic people real hope.”
Meanwhile, former England U20s man Morris is turning his attention to nailing down the Harlequins No.15 shirt with rival Mike Brown nearing a return to fitness.
Brown underwent knee surgery in November, opening the door for Morris to enjoy his best Premiership campaign to date before the lockdown.
Morris, who joined Quins from Saracens in 2016, said: “It’s been my best season in terms of stringing games together and the flow of playing week-to-week.
“I’d been really enjoying it, so to stop when we did was annoying, but there’s a lot more to come from me and I still have England as my ultimate goal.
“Mike’s been concentrating on his rehab and you don’t become England’s most capped fullback without being super competitive, so I know he’ll be coming full metal jacket for the No.15 shirt when he’s back in full training, but I’m ready for that.”
An U20s World Cup winner alongside former Saracens colleagues Itoje and Nick Tompkins in 2014, injuries precluded him from taking the next step.
However, he added: “International rugby was a long time coming for Nick, but he’s doing well for Wales now and you never know what can happen. I’ve got to stay fit and keep getting picked by Quins, which will put me in the window to go further.”