What does Freedom of the City mean? Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield’s honour explained, what it allows you to do

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The Freedom of the City honour previously held special privileges, but now is mainly ceremonial

Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield have been granted Freedom of the City of Leeds. The former Leeds Rhino players were honoured for their sporting achievements and work to support those with motor neurone disease (MND).

Burrow who was diagnosed with MND in 2019, described Leeds as the “place where my dreams came true” and thanked his family, who “give me reason never to give in”. He also praised Sinfield, “who has gone above and beyond for his mate”.

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Sinfield was unable to make the Freedom of the City ceremony which took place on Wednesday (11 January) due to commitments with his new role in England’s rugby union team.

But what does a “Freedom of the City” title mean? Here’s everything you need to know.

What does Freedom of the City mean?

Freedom of the City is the highest honour a city can give to someone of value in its community. The award goes as far back as 1272, with previous holders being granted special status in the city allowing them privileges including rights of pasture and control of trade.

 Ex-Leeds Rhinos rugby league player Kevin Sinfield (R) and former teammate Rob Burrow at Emerald Headingley Stadium in Leeds (L) (Photo: Getty Images) Ex-Leeds Rhinos rugby league player Kevin Sinfield (R) and former teammate Rob Burrow at Emerald Headingley Stadium in Leeds (L) (Photo: Getty Images)
Ex-Leeds Rhinos rugby league player Kevin Sinfield (R) and former teammate Rob Burrow at Emerald Headingley Stadium in Leeds (L) (Photo: Getty Images) | Getty Images

Nowadays the role is mainly ceremonial, with those holding the title not holding power in the city’s council.

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In America, the Freedom of the City award is called the Key of the City, with those who receive it sometimes getting a symbolic key.

What does Freedom of the City allow you to do?

Freedom of the City previously gave anyone with the honour special privileges. According to York council’s website, the “Freemen of the City of York” once had an important role, but now the honour holds no privileges and is entirely ceremonial.

In the past anyone with the honour held the rights of pasture, control of trade and of city strays, they were also involved in running the city up until 1835.

HMS Westminster crew members march in London as part of their “Freedom of the City” honourHMS Westminster crew members march in London as part of their “Freedom of the City” honour
HMS Westminster crew members march in London as part of their “Freedom of the City” honour | Getty Images

A military unit or regiment that is granted Freedom of the City used to be able to march throughout the city with “drums beating, colours flying and bayonets fixed” according to Birmingham council.

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However, now any military units that hold the honour celebrate by marching on designated days often called Freedom Parades.

What does Freedom of the City of London mean?

The Freedom of the City of London award goes back as far as 1237, but today is more a ceremonal honour. Recent recipients include singer Ed Sheeran and former England cricketer Sajid Mahmood.

What has Leeds said?

Burrow and Sinfield were honoured by the city of Leeds which has been their home since they both joined the Leeds Rhinos, however, Burrow is originally from Pontefract, with Sinfield growing up in Oldham.

Leeds Councillor, Dan Cohen, told Leeds Civic Hall that the pair’s bond is the “absolute personification of true friendship”. Whilst Councillor Robert Finnigan said MND is an “evil and wicked disease”. Adding: “This is what real inspiration looks like. It motivates us all to work harder to support and finance the fight against MND.”

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Reported by PA Media, Burrow’s wife, Lindsey reflected on their life in the city, saying: “Leeds is a wonderful city and it is the place where Rob has spent most of his adult life playing for the Leeds Rhinos.” She added: “The support that the people of Leeds have shown Rob since his diagnosis has just been incredible. So we’re really, really proud of Rob and it’s great to be here today.”

What is Motor Neurone Disease?

MND is a condition that affects the brain and nerves called motor neurones. According to the NHS, it causes weakness that gets worse over time and can shorten life expectancy. There currently is no cure for MND, but there are treatments available to help manage the symptoms and reduce their impact.

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