Ben Cohen’s dad Peter was trying to break up a fight outside a nightclub in Northampton in October 2000 when he was fatally injured.
The 58-year-old suffered serious head injuries and died in hospital a month later.
Three men were subsequently jailed for the attack.
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Fast forward to Sydney, Australia, in November 2003, when England rugby international Ben won the World Cup thanks to Jonny Wilkinson’s memorable drop goal.
Were you thinking of your dad in the final as the match against Australia edged into extra time?
“Not with 30 seconds to go,” explained Ben. “I was thinking we have to win this game. It was a nail-biter for sure.”
It has to inspire you. My brother went on to join the police, my sister became a paramedic – both because of what happened to our dad. I went on in my rugby to be a world champion.”
And yet Ben admitted that the sudden death of his father drove him to succeed.
“My dad got beaten to death while he was protecting someone,” he said. “I felt lost and angry about the whole injustice of it all. I got rid of a lot of my hurt and aggression playing rugby.
“But, looking at the plus side, it made me overachieve. It helped me achieve greatness in rugby which I don’t think I would have ever got without the anger and pain of what happened to my dad.
“Don’t get me wrong, I would give it all up in a heartbeat to get him back and for it not to have happened.
“It has to inspire you. My brother went on to join the police, my sister became a paramedic – both because of what happened to our dad. I went on in my rugby to be a world champion.
“So you look at these obstacles or situations which can ultimately set you on a different path. It is amazing how such a situation can spark something and that is what it did to us all.”
However, Ben, who was capped 57 times by England and whose uncle George was a member of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning football team, admitted he was never able to mourn his father’s death until he set up The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation.
It was started in 2012 as the world’s first foundation dedicated to raising awareness of the long-term and damaging effects of bullying.
Their work is around education, helping to increase equality and diversity, as well as raising funds to financially support organisations that are standing up to bullying.
According to the StandUp Foundation, up to 50% of children and young people, as well as many adults in the UK say they have experienced bullying.
Those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are more likely to be bullied which can lead to isolation and loneliness.
Victims can suffer from low self-esteem, poor achievement, an increased risk of depression and anxiety and, in extreme cases, a higher risk of suicide.
Over the last decade, The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation has supported 43 charities and organisations.
Ben admitted that progress has not always been easy with the combinations of Brexit, Covid and in 2022 the war in Ukraine.
“It is incredibly tough,” he said. “Charities are putting their hands out for help, doing amazing work, but unfortunately it is hard to raise the money.” Bullying comes in many shapes and forms. Ben suggested that when he was at school, bullying was a note sent around the classroom.
Education is really important and the generation which is coming through is really going to drive the cultural change and more understanding.”
Today, social media adds a whole new dimension.
“Bullying is something that is precise and concise. Something that is recurring and happening daily,” he said.
“You are singled out. It is you they are specifically after. It is as simple and as devastating as that.
“The Foundation is about anti-bullying and, as we know, bullying comes in all forms. Our message is broad, it’s not pinned to one specific area: racism, homophobia, transphobia sexism. It is about equality and diversity.”
Ben conceded that the waters around gender equality definitions sometimes get muddied. Specifically, around bullying, he pointed out that in the workplace some people can miss the point about the difference between bullying and accountability.
“If you go into work, you are not working and someone says, ‘can you get on with your work’, now that is not bullying, that’s accountability. Just do your job,” he explained.
“As a boss, you want to get a workforce which is pulling in the right direction.
“How do you create an environment which is inclusive for everyone, what does leadership look like, how do you lead, are you approachable, do you call it out, can employees put their heads above the parapet?
“It’s where you channel the education to get people to understand what diversity and inclusion is.
“Education is really important and the generation which is coming through is really going to drive the cultural change and more understanding.
“I just think sometimes it can get a little lost in translation.”
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