Sale Sharks’ men’s and women’s teams will mark World Down Syndrome Day 2023 (WDSD) and the ‘Lots of Socks’ campaign this weekend by running out in odd socks.
Alex Sanderson’s and Rachel Taylor’s sides both face off against Saracens on the same weekend with the men’s fixture at the AJ Bell a pivotal, top of the table clash.
And both squads will wear odd socks as part of the annual campaign, which is run to raise awareness of Down Syndrome and increase public awareness about the genetic condition.
People with Down’s Syndrome have an extra copy of the sock-shaped 21st chromosome and, as such, those looking to support the campaign are encouraged to wear odd socks.
This weekend’s activity is part of an ongoing commitment from the club to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to play rugby.
In 2020, the club launched the first Down Syndrome rugby team – The Sharks Crusaders Fin Club – which was named in recognition of Sean Browne, who played for the team until his death last year. His favourite team was the New Zealand Super Rugby side, the Crusaders.
Sale Sharks Brand and Community Manager and Women’s player Vicky Irwin said: “This is our third year of wearing odd socks in recognition of World Down Syndrome Day and we fundamentally believe this small gesture is hugely appreciated by the DS community and elevates their profile.
“Our ethos as a club is being much more than rugby, and we have the world’s first down syndrome rugby team, which is growing year on year. We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to play rugby and we are leading the way on this.
“The Sharks Crusaders Fin Club are part of our club DNA, and we will continue to raise awareness and support the community through internal club activities. “
Down Syndrome rugby sessions are held every other Sunday at Sharks’ Carrington training ground. The next session runs on March 12.
Sale Sharks Disability and Inclusion Coach, Meg Kirby added: “Our sessions are action packed and there’s even a chance for the parents to get involved. The feeling you get during and after the sessions are unmatched. It’s great to see everyone’s smiles beaming ear to ear.
“There is never a dull moment with this lot, and it’s one of the highlights of my role within the club. I can’t wait to see this session continue to grow and see how far this club can take it.
“This past season, we have seen a huge rise in the uptake in our sessions and even flew to Venice for the first-ever international inclusive tag rugby tournament. The boys loved it; the weekend was full of rugby, food and laughter. They all brought back memories they will never forget.
“I am so proud to see that rugby has brought these individuals together and it just shows the value of the sport we love. The Crusaders now are much more than team-mates, they are the closest group of friends and a vital group within our Sharks Family. I am just lucky to witness their relationship and rugby skills blossom.
“I would like to say thank you to all the parents and careers who come along; you play a such an important part, and I am forever grateful for your support. A special shout out to Adam Dolby (Freddy’s dad) for his continued dedication to the club and being a valuable member of our Sharks Family.”
Julie Duff, Chair at Cheshire Down Syndrome and the parent of long-term Crusader, Josh, said: “Firstly, thank you for helping us raise awareness of Down Syndrome. By continuing to have the conversation about what the condition is, we are breaking down myths and misconceptions every year. Having Sale Sharks’ support in this is invaluable!
“He absolutely loves the sessions. The coaches at Sale make the training accessible for him so he gets the same opportunity as his brother, to play rugby with his mates. What a team they are too – the joy that they get from playing, and the camaraderie they have both on and off the pitch, is a privilege to watch! Thank you, Sharks.”
So, Sharks Family… this weekend, grab some odd socks and wear them proudly as we all celebrate World Down Syndrome Day together.