Unity in the Rugby Community: A Night of Rugby with the UNFPA
By Kiera Fitzgibbon, RUNY
Community. Inclusion. Family.
These are some of the words that kept popping up from players who attended last Thursday evening’s rugby exhibition match at the United Nations. Players came from all over the Tri-State area, such as Pelham Rugby Club, Gotham Knights RFC, New York Rugby Club, Queens Rugby Club, Fairfield University, Sacred Heart University, Village Lions, Suffolk Rugby and White Plains Rugby Club. As part of RUNY’s partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), we invited these clubs to participate in an exhibition match on the Front Lawn during the United Nations General Assembly Week. The goal of our event was to show how sports can be a vehicle for breaking down sexual and gender discrimination worldwide.
I talked to members of Morris Rugby, Brooklyn Women’s Rugby Club and Fordham Rugby to talk about their experience playing at the United Nations and what they love most about rugby.
“RUNY does a great job uniting the rugby community to bring all levels of rugby together.”
Walking around talking to club members, I could feel the power of rugby as it united all these players from different clubs to come together to do what they love – play rugby. “It’s a unique and welcoming community that’s unlike any other,” shared Maggie from Brooklyn Women’s Rugby Club. A rugby team has an unbreakable bond that not only helps the team perform well on the field, but also unites rugby players worldwide. “You meet rugby players wherever you go; that sense of community goes beyond the members of your team, it’s the global rugby community as well,” shared another player from Brooklyn Rugby Women’s Club.
As the pillars of the RUNY and UNFPA partnership, inclusion and acceptance are a huge part of these clubs’ culture as well as the global rugby community. Many of the attendees have been playing rugby since they were teenagers; some were fairly new to the sport. Regardless of their rugby history, all of the players kept praising the inclusive, positive atmosphere of the rugby community. To these players, their team is their second family who support and protect each other on the field and are their closest friends in their personal lives. Dan from Morris Rugby has played rugby for 13 years, which is a testament to the power of rugby. He, like many others, continues to play rugby for the “good camaraderie and welcoming nature” that is at the core of the community. “The atmosphere is second best to none,” he said.
“I can be authentic with my teammates.”
A player from Fordham shared, “it’s where I can be my truest self and exemplify my personal qualities that I can’t in other sectors of my life.” On a rugby team, there’s no judgment based on who you are or where you come from; the team wants to draw in athletes to experience the wonderful world of rugby. “It doesn’t matter how much of a weirdo you are, anyone can join rugby,” shared a member of Morris Rugby. The Fordham girls shared the best part about their club is seeing their teammates slowly come out of their shell. “The great thing is when you have freshmen join who are quiet and shy but give it some time and you see them gradually come out of their shell and open up to the team. It’s an amazing experience to watch them grow as an individual and as a team player over the course of four years.”
Seeing the players hang out before the match and watch them all play together despite only meeting a few minutes beforehand, I could tell they all felt comfortable with each other. A couple of RUNY athletes were there to support and coach the players during warm-ups and the match itself. They encouraged the players to learn each other’s names to effectively communicate with each other to work as a team. In a matter of minutes, players were calling out to each other to help figure out the next move. After the match, players stayed behind to mingle with other clubs. It didn’t matter who won or lost, these players were beaming with pride for what they’ve accomplished and excited to have played at the UN. It was great to see how focused and driven the players were but also see them just have fun.
“It’s a great opportunity to be a part of a positive social engagement.”
To these players, a chance to participate in a rugby match at the United Nations is an opportunity not to be missed. Now more than ever is it crucial to work together to create impactful changes for a better future. Through this event, we hoped to bolster the attendees’ passion for the sport and show rugby as a catalyst for future personal development and a more peaceful future. This event harped heavily on the core values of rugby that these players live and breathe every single match, practice and day of their lives. Players were excited to share that with other rugby clubs and expand their ever-growing rugby community network that focuses on the same principles of inclusion, community, empowerment and teamwork that the RUNY and UNFPA partnership will promote.
As this event also focuses heavily on female rights worldwide, many of the female players came out to represent women in the rugby community. “Playing rugby empowers me as a woman in the sports community,” shared a Brooklyn Women’s Rugby Club player. “I’m stronger and more capable because of the skills and values I learned playing rugby.” RUNY’s Assistant Coach Tiffany Faaee gave a moving speech at the conclusion of the event reflecting on the empowerment rugby gives its players. Faaee has played rugby since she was a child and worked her way up the ranks to become Captain of the U.S. National team in the Rugby World Cup. Now, she is the first female coach in the U.S. men’s professional rugby. She has firsthand experience of the uniting power of rugby and admires its “unique ability of empowering inclusiveness and gender equality.” Her hard work is an inspiration to young female players, and she is proud to use her voice to empower the next generation of rugby players.
Players and spectators alike all left this event with a little more knowledge about rugby but also experienced the power of rugby in personal and athletic development. It was an empowering event that demonstrated how sports can be instrumental in a peaceful, united and empowering future.
Thank you to everyone who attended the event!
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