Working with our partners at ACME whistles, we have been shining a spotlight on inspiring people within the world of rugby.
One such person is Bedfordshire based Graeme Bloom, who has been paving the way for people with physical disabilities within rugby since his diagnosis of MND in November last year.
Since beginning on his quest to become a rugby referee, Graeme has worked closely with RFU referees to get experience and open discussions about the support people with physical disabilities need in order to get involved.
Motor Neurone Disease is a condition that affects the brain and nerves, causing muscular weakness that gets worse over time.
Despite his diagnosis, 38-year-old Graeme is determined to chase his dream of becoming a rugby referee completing the Take Up the Whistle course run by the London Society of Rugby Football Union Referees.
“Being given the MND diagnosis last year made me want to challenge myself,” Bloom told RUCK.
“As I push myself to achieve my dreams, I want to both inspire others and help make rugby more accessible to everyone.
“While sport in general is making great strides towards diversity and inclusivity, I feel there are still some stumbling blocks when it comes to how physical disability is represented within Rugby Union.”
Graeme has taken inspiration from retired Leeds Rhino scrum half, Rob Burrow MBE, who was diagnosed with MND in 2019. He wants to help educate people about the condition, which approximately 5000 adults are living with in the UK.
Graeme also has Asperger’s which can cause him to suffer with anxiety and depression, but he has found solace in the rugby community.
“I’ve been an official at a number of games this season, performing pre-match stud checks, taking charge of the coin toss and blowing the whistle at the start of both halves of the game,” he added.
“The support I’ve received from some of the referees has been great. I have quite a selection of whistles now, including an ACME Thunderer, and I’ve also had some kit donated to me too.
“Another issue for me is that a lot of club facilities are not disabled-friendly.
“More money needs to be invested in club houses so that wheelchair users, and other disabled people, can get more involved in the sport.
“Sadly, people see someone in a wheelchair and make assumptions about their lack of ability when they should be considering what we can do.
“I want to be the driving force for change within rugby, making it a truly accessible sport.
“Seeing Nathan Mattick become the UK’s first powerchair referee for football really filled me with hope. I want to inspire other disabled people to also reach their full potential.”
Through his efforts, Graeme caught the attention of Oxfordshire Society of Rugby Football’s vice president, Rob Cross, who connected with Graeme on Instagram and struck up a friendship.
“When I heard how passionate Graeme was about refereeing, I invited him to a game at Banbury rugby club to support me,” Cross said.
“Graeme had a headset and mic so he could listen to me throughout the game and get some more insight into the role of a ref.
“Rugby is a real community sport, and the support Graeme has received from various clubs has been great.
“He’s really determined to fly the flag for people with disabilities within rugby, particularly the refereeing side of things, and people are starting to take notice.
“As a sporting community we need to start living by World Rugby’s diversity and inclusion policy mantra of ‘see it, be it, play it’, representing disabled people in much the same way as we represent people from the LGBTQ community, women and people of colour.”
The team at RUCK and ACME Whistles will be following Graeme on his journey and wish him all the luck as he continues to develop his skills and experience with the hope of fully getting behind the whistle as the UK’s first fully qualified disabled rugby referee.
For more information about ACME Whistles, visit www.acmewhistles.co.uk