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Featured sport: Rugby

Author: Jacob Cawthorne

Featured sport: Rugby

This feature summarises how rugby contributes to the achievement of development goals.

Why is rugby well-suited to developing people and communities?

In 2009, World Rugby identified five key characteristics of the sport:

Integrity - Integrity is central to the fabric of the game and is generated through honesty and fair play.

Passion - Rugby people have a passionate enthusiasm for the game. Rugby generates excitement, emotional attachment and a sense of belonging to the global rugby family.

Solidarity - Rugby provides a unifying spirit that leads to life-long friendships, camaraderie, teamwork and a loyalty which transcends cultural, geographic, political and religious differences.

Discipline - Discipline is an integral part of the game both on and off the field and is reflected through adherence to the laws, the regulations and rugby’s core values.

Respect - Respect for teammates, opponents, match officials and those involved in the game is paramount.

These character-building traits became known as the World Rugby core values and have become incorporated into the World Rugby Playing Charter. When they are promoted by sport and development organisations, they can benefit social development of participants, particularly young people.

Rugby is played by more than eight million men and women, boys and girls in over 150 countries worldwide. The Final of Rugby World Cup 2015 was watched by approximately 120 million viewers and broke all previous social media records for the tournament. However, rugby is not a mainstream sport in many countries and between the 20 teams that competed in the 2015 edition of the tournament, there is a big difference in the sport’s popularity, development and history.  

However, this has some advantages in development. It can have the ability to reach new audiences by introducing a new and exciting sport that may not have the preconceptions attached to it that more popular sports do. In a context where football is seen as a “man’s game”, for example, it may be effective in reaching women

To which groups is rugby best suited?

Rugby is open to all ages and abilities, and there are alternative versions suited to different groups and locations. Rugby 7s debuted in the 2016 Rio Olympics and Wheelchair Rugby has been a Paralympic sport since the Sydney 2000 games. This will likely make the sport more popular and therefore the appetite to use it in developmental projects is sure to increase.

Rugby 7s is a scaled down version of the full 15-a-side game, meaning you don’t need large numbers to play and smaller sided games can be played in a small space. Touch rugby means that the most physical aspects of the sport are taken out of the game (players are touched rather than tackled). This can be a popular choice where mixed-gender games are taking place, or in regions which have been affected by conflict.

The increased exposure of wheelchair rugby from its inclusion in the Paralympic Games, the number of wheelchair rugby clubs in competing nations has increased in tandem with the popularity for the sport. Over 40 nations compete in international competition or are developing participation programmes .

Which actors use rugby in their projects and how?

World Rugby

World Rugby recognises the power of sport as a vehicle for social change. As an international federation, an Olympic sport and as part of a team effort with the global rugby family, it acknowledges its shared responsibility and willingness to use rugby to improve lives and communities. This task is made easier thanks to a collective desire that exists across all levels of rugby to reach out and support positive development opportunities, a desire that is fuelled by rugby’s character-building values - discipline, passion, respect, integrity and solidarity – this is the spirit of rugby.

The Australian Rugby Union

The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) has, for over 20 years, encouraged the participation of Australia’s indigenous population in rugby. This has been done through the support of the Lloyd McDermott Rugby Development Team . The programme began as an effort to improve the integration of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders into Australian society, and the project has grown to include teams of both genders and many age groups. It now aims to provide education and opportunities to enrich the lives of young indigenous members of Australian society. In a country where rugby is one of the most popular sports, this project breaks down social barriers and attempts to improve the lives of participants.

The Saracens Sport Foundation

The Saracens Sport Foundation  (SSF) operates a range of programmes on education, employability, inclusion, health and well-being. Working with the local community in North London, the SSF use rugby-themed lessons and activities to improve educational attainment among young people. It also offers an apprenticeship programme for 17-18 year old men and women. The HITZ Programme uses rugby to improve social cohesion and inclusion of young people from difficult backgrounds. Sarries RFC uses touch rugby to encourage young people with high functioning disabilities, such as autism or ADHD, to participate in sport. As well as regular exercise, this programme is aimed at improving social skills.

Global Rugby Collaborative 

The Global Rugby Collaborative (GRC) advocates for the role that rugby can play in development. GRC recognise that young people across the world are suffering from social exclusion, gang violence, lack of resources for education and health, and diminished community integration. There has been an increase in “Rugby4Good (R4G)” projects, in efforts to engage these populations. However, GRC believes that these projects struggle for resources, expertise and support. GRC was established by Play Rugby USA, and provides a resource network where relationships can develop to provide support for new and existing projects.

School of Hard Knocks

Founded in 2012, School of Hard Knocks (SOHK) uses rugby to engage young people in schools in London, and has recently started offering the same opportunities in Cardiff, South Wales. The young people that SOHK work with are often disengaged from education and struggle with motivation; SOHK uses rugby to increase personal confidence and their sense of wellbeing. The results of an independent study at the Glasgow Caledonian University Department of Forensic Psychology suggested that the success of School of Hard Knocks delivery is founded upon three well-established psychological principles: self-control, social bonds and self-efficacy.

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