A host of Newcastle Falcons players will wear rainbow laces in their boots during Friday's televised Aviva Premiership match at Northampton Saints, raising awareness around tackling hate crime, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.
The initiative is being co-ordinated by Stonewall, Britain’s leading charity for lesbian, gay, bi and trans equality, working to create a world where every single person can be accepted without exception.
Northumbria Police have given their full backing, with 15 police officers working shifts that day across Newcastle and Gateshead also lacing up their boots using the multicoloured laces to show their support. Both organisations feel strongly about the cause and are coming together with other partner agencies to get the message out to the public that 'being you is not a crime' and that hate crime has no place in sport, either on or off the field.
Stonewall realises that most sport fans and players do welcome and accept lesbian, gay, bi and trans teammates and fans, and so the rainbow laces are therefore for everyone to come together in a sign of solidarity to send a united positive message that LGBT people are welcome in sport and across wider society.
Newcastle Falcons club captain Will Welch is fully supportive of the initiative, saying: "Rugby always prides itself on being an inclusive sport, and any way in which we can further emphasise that message is fantastic.
"A number of our players will be wearing the rainbow laces at Northampton on Friday in front of a big crowd and a worldwide TV audience, which should bring additional awareness of the values we hold as a club and a sport."
Winger Marcus Watson added: "This is a very public way for us to tell people about the values of our game. I was in the England Sevens squad last year and one of our players, Sam Stanley, was the first English professional rugby union player to come out as being openly gay. Obviously this is not just supporting him, but is supporting every player in that position, and we will be sporting those laces proudly when we run out at Northampton."
Northumbria Police Chief Inspector Steve Hails said: "We are delighted that the Falcons are joining us in promoting this fantastic campaign and the rainbow laces initiative. It's great to see a club of their stature recognising the importance of tackling hate crime and joining us in trying to get our messages out to the public.
"It will be fantastic seeing the players take to a packed out stadium wearing the laces and giving us their support. Even if one person in the crowd gets the message then it will all be worth it and it's a step in the right direction for us.
"Tackling hate crime is a priority for the force and it's something that everyone needs to be aware of as we all have a sexual orientation and gender identity and we have the right for this to be respected. 'Being you is not a crime' is about all aspects of hate crime but this initiative with the rainbow laces is focusing on hate crimes targeting sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
"Hate crime, of any kind, will not be tolerated. People should be free to be themselves and express themselves however they wish and if anyone feels that they are being targeted because of who they are then please contact us, speak to us, and we will help."
Rebecca Stinson, head of trans inclusion at Stonewall, said: "Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are not acceptable when it comes to any sport, and it is great to see Northumbria Police joining forces with the Newcastle Falcons to tackle this. Stonewall is committed to making sport everyone’s game, and with partnerships like this it is hoped we will see real change."