Arise Sir Kev... It’s time to give Kevin Sinfield a knighthood

It was almost impossible not to be moved by the emotional scenes at the end of the inaugural Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon on Sunday. Having pushed his great friend, after whom the event is named, 26.219 miles around the course in a specially-adapted wheelchair, Kevin Sinfield stopped a couple of metres before the finish line.

He then unstrapped Burrow, lifted him out of his chair and gathered him into his arms to ensure they completed the course together. Having carried him across the finish line, Sinfield gave his pal a kiss of affection and returned him to his seat. Teammates on the field for Leeds Rhinos, England and Great Britain for so many years, the pair once again combined spectacularly to the cheers of the crowd.

My colleague James Moore today wrote eloquently about how the image made him wince, and the worry that it could unwittingly lead to unwanted help – and unwanted touching – for disabled people in everyday life. That legitimate concern is why it’s important to stress that this moment was entirely consensual, two teammates working together to create an unforgettable image, based on a trust built on 20 years of friendship honed in the furnace of an elite sporting environment.

It was not intended to diminish Burrow or imply any form of helplessness – quite the opposite, in fact. This was a celebration of everything the pair have done to raise both awareness and money for motor neurone disease (MND) since Burrow was diagnosed with the degenerative disease in late 2019 – just two years after retiring from a 17-year rugby league career. Building on the great work started by ex-Scotland rugby union international Doddie Weir, the pair have raised more than £8m for MND charities, including the 42-year-old Sinfield completing a series of incredible physical challenges.

In 2020, he ran seven marathons in seven days, chosen because seven was Burrow’s shirt number. The following year, he aimed to run 101 miles from Leicester, where he was coaching rugby union side Leicester Tigers, to Leeds in 24 hours but got lost twice en route, so ran 104 miles instead. Then in 2022, he completed a scarcely comprehensible seven ultra-marathons in seven days – covering 40 miles per day and finishing the challenge at half-time of the men’s Rugby League World Cup final to a rapturous reception at Old Trafford in Manchester.

So, where does he get his inspiration to complete these tests of endurance? "I do it because that’s what mates do," he has previously explained in his typically understated manner.

Kevin Sinfield and Rob Burrow completed the Leeds Marathon together (PA)
Kevin Sinfield and Rob Burrow completed the Leeds Marathon together (PA)

During his playing career, Sinfield was nicknamed ‘Sir Kev’ by Leeds Rhinos fans and, frankly, it’s high time that moniker was made official. Forget the seven Super League titles, two Challenge Cups and three World Club Challenges that he won on the rugby pitch, Kevin Sinfield undoubtedly deserves a knighthood for everything he’s done for MND charities.

He was awarded an OBE for his campaigning and charity work on the 2021 birthday honours list but, inexplicably, no upgrade was forthcoming in the most recent new year honours list. That has to change in the near future.

It may be an imperfect metric but a petition on to ‘give Kevin Sinfield a knighthood’ has garnered over 42,000 signatures and as petition creator Mel Handforth wrote: “We need to publicly appreciate people like Kevin. He embodies teamwork, not only on the field for Leeds Rhinos, but more so off the field with his absolute dedication to raise awareness and money for Rob Burrow and others suffering from MND."

He has used his platform to effect real change, as shown with comments after he and Burrow were honoured at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards late last year. Decrying the delay from the government in producing a promised £50m to fund MND research, Sinfield said: "MND is not incurable, it’s just underfunded. There are people dying – families are being ravaged and that just isn’t right. I can’t see any valid reason, there isn’t a reason, why that money is being held back."

In the months that immediately followed, the money has since started to be released.

Kevin Sinfield was made an OBE in January 2022 but deserves to be upgraded to a knighthood (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Kevin Sinfield was made an OBE in January 2022 but deserves to be upgraded to a knighthood (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Aside from the vast amounts of money for and awareness of MND they’ve raised, Sinfield and Burrow have also provided a commendable example of male friendship. Two men from the hyper-masculine, alpha world of a sport like rugby league being so open about their companionship and love for each other is an important, and sadly all too rare, sight.

The Leeds Marathon aimed to raise funds for The Rob Burrow Centre for Motor Neurone Disease Appeal and the Leeds Hospitals Charity, as well as a host of other causes and ahead of the race, Sinfield thanked those involved for "creating something so incredible in Rob’s name". He also described the event as “a celebration of friendship."

In fact, friendship was at the heart of the whole event. “I ran the London Marathon three weeks ago and everyone wants to know what your time was,” explained Sinfield. “But this, it doesn’t matter how long it takes. The longer it takes, the more time I get to spend with Rob.”

It is not my place to comment on the worthiness of all those currently in line for knighthoods and damehoods but in a world crying out for laudable public role models, I can safely say that few will be more justified than the man from Oldham being officially dubbed Sir Kevin Sinfield.