Former OURFC player Gemma Robson who now lives in Juba, South Sudan, where there is a real lack of sporting opportunity beyond football reports on how she has taken rugby to the worlds newest country.
“Playing rugby at Oxford made me fairly evangelical about convincing others of how rewarding and inclusive the sport can be and after spending my first few weeks in the country shouting about rugby to everyone who would listen, a friend and I managed to persuade ten (extremely hungover) NGO workers to come to a touch rugby session on a Sunday morning (I was persuaded that attempting full-contact in a city with no A & E department might not be the best idea!). People were initially very reluctant to play, especially women – my two female housemates had to be emotionally blackmailed into attending – but every time someone was coaxed down to the pitch they left beaming and brought two more people with them the next week.
Team sports in Juba are often played predominantly by expat workers, on the one astro pitch in the city, and whilst there are mixed gender teams, there are far fewer opportunities for women. We wanted touch 7s to be inclusive and really pushed for national players and women to join. The first tournament grew out of Sunday rugby, with sponsorship from South Sudanese and international businesses, who provided the pitch, a bar and BBQ on the day, prizes for the winning teams, and had kit brought in from Uganda. The tournament was a huge success: we had 80 people playing, the absolute maximum we could fit into the 6 hours in which we had the pitch, and were oversubscribed, not bad for a Sunday morning under a blazing 40°C sun. There were a minimum of 2 women per team, and around a third of those who played were South Sudanese. The tournament was meant to showcase what rugby could be in South Sudan. Off the back of the event, one of the sponsors has pledged to get a South Sudanese full-contact 7s team up and competing in East Africa within 2 years. Touch 7s has started that process, and can be used to leverage funds, and provide advertising and volunteer coaches, but the important thing going forward is for rugby in South Sudan to be a South Sudanese owned initiative. We’ll continue with touch every Sunday, and we plan to run similar tournaments every three months to keep on encouraging a more and more diverse group of people to see rugby as a sport which is for them too.”
Congratulations to Gemma for taking rugby to yet another country, if you would like to know more about rugby in South Sudan or if you would like to offer any help, then please email Gemma at firstname.lastname@example.org