In February 2021, as anticipated during the last presidential campaign, the Spanish Rugby Federation (FER) officially presented its new National Inclusive Rugby Plan (PNRI). This plan includes an ‘Inclusive Rugby Regulation’, as well as a set of rules and laws for regulating the ‘National Inclusive Rugby Circuit’, alongside some additional measures to implement the plan.
IMAS recognises that FER has the right to implement the policies and regulations they deem appropriate in its jurisdiction, and we are pleased that this institution pays attention to diversity and social inclusion.
However, we cannot and do not agree with both the fundamental philosophy behind the plan or its practical application. We firmly believe that the PNRI promotes an archaic vision of rugby and society, lacking ambition, and contrary to any truly inclusive spirit.
The implementation of the PNRI represents a serious obstacle to the long fight of people with disabilities in achieving the recognition of their rights, as FER’s proposal entails the unilateral adoption of discriminatory measures against disabled participants (whom they call ‘vulnerable players’).
The PNRI proposes the categorization of players into ‘capacity’ groups according to a ‘passport’ obtained after a functional assessment. This mistakenly adopts the concept of ‘vulnerability’ as a way to single out and label people, without acknowledging their desires, aspirations and most basic human rights.
The PNRI also proposes the identification of players through scrumcaps of different colours (depending on their ability), as well as the imposition of heavily adapted rules. This not only distorts the game of rugby, it makes it completely unrecognizable and mocks real inclusion.
These impositions infringe the fundamental rights of individuals and sets a dangerous precedent for all other groups facing barriers to participation. Mental capacity, the right to self-determination and the right to social interaction between peers have in this case been completely disregarded.
This unilateral decision also breaches the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (which Spain ratified on 3 December 2007), or Royal Legislative Decree 1/2013 of 29 November approving the Texto Refundido or General Law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and their Social Inclusion. Both documents advocate the right to access and participate fully in sport, on an equal basis, in mainstream settings, and without discrimination of any kind.
For all these reasons, the PNRI in no way reflects the philosophy and methodology of Mixed Ability. It is as far as one can get from the principles and values reflected in our Manifesto and upheld by our movement.
Mixed Ability rugby was born to give the opportunity to any person, regardless of their ability, previous experience, health condition or skill level, to play rugby, as a member of a mainstream club, in their community, with their mates, friends and family members, being ‘just another player’ in the team. The opportunity to play rugby with the same rules, without being separated, assessed, classified, labelled, or told to be part of a separate league.
The accomplishment of the Mixed Ability movement has a long and successful story, starting in Wales in the 1990s, and shows that another way is possible. There are now more than 60 Mixed Ability clubs across the world, who recognise the right of all people to make their own decisions, accept risks, and be recognised as full and active members of our team, club, and community.
Due to the confusing and unclear communications on this subject, we want to clarify that IMAS, as well as the MIXAR project and the International Mixed Ability Rugby Tournament (IMART) are completely unrelated to the PNRI and opposed to the philosophy and practice contained in the plan. We would also suggest that the PNRI is far from innovative and perpetuates misunderstandings and misconceptions around disability and diversity.
IMAS believes that it has a moral duty for the movement, the signatories of our Manifesto, the clubs who practice Mixed Ability every day in Spain and in the rest of the world to make our voice heard and leave no doubts about where we stand.
Therefore, if you believe in the right of people with disabilities to participate and compete as equal members of a team, sign the Manifesto, share this letter on social media and write to FER via email or social media to express your disappointment.
We have already made known our position to FER and President Alfonso Feijoo, in a constructive way almost a year ago, asking for assurances that Mixed Ability rugby as promoted by IMAS can continue to be practiced without being subject to the rules of the PNRI.
We’re still waiting for an answer.