In just under two months’ time the proud island of Jamaica will face St Vincent and the Grenadines in the first qualifying match for Rugby World Cup 2019. But the game’s influence there is already far-reaching thanks to World Rugby’s Get Into Rugby (GIR) programme.
Like most inner-city communities in the Jamaican capital of Kingston, Seaview Gardens has been plagued by violent crime and gang violence. But a GIR-supported Rugby Against Violence initiative is helping to get kids off the streets by offering them an alternative, fun and healthy way to channel their aggression at the recently-formed Seaview Gardens Rugby Club.
“When starting the club, one of the aims was to get the them off the street, to give them something to do,” club official Victor Hayden told World Rugby TV.
“Once they’re here, we ensure that there’s no violence and that they show respect for one another.
“We train on Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays and by the time they go home they’re so tired they don’t have any time to hang around on street corners. The only thing they have in mind is to go home, eat some food, freshen up and probably watch some TV and then go straight to bed.”
Seaview Gardens Police Sargeant Steve Mitchell has noticed a big difference since rugby came into the lives of the young people in the local community.
“While patrolling you’ll see a lot of young persons on the street on a day-to-day basis and it’s obvious they are not working,” he said.
“We have murders, we have shootings, we have a lot of domestic disputes in this community. If we can get the youth to use that aggression, that controlled aggression on the field instead of using it on the road or in the community that would be a beneficial for us. I definitely think rugby is the way forward.”
"I have friends that I invite to the sport and they chose not to play and, now, some of them are six-foot under. When it comes to sport against violence, nothing can beat sport."
Rugby convert Martin Scott is in no doubt as to how rugby has helped turn his life around.
“Rugby’s done a lot for me, it’s taken me away from many things. Yeah, I could be out there right now thinking about killing someone, I could be looking at a gun right now but I chose not to, I chose rugby to overcome certain things,” he said.
“I have friends that I invite to the sport and they chose not to play and, now, some of them are six-foot under. When it comes to sport against violence, nothing can beat sport.”
Sheldon Jackson, chairman of the Jamaica Rugby Union executive board of directors, says the aim of the programme is to develop better people not necessarily better players.
“Our aim right now is not so much to grow rugby, or improve rugby. What we want to do is improve the person that plays rugby, because if we improve the individual and give them a better standing in life, then they will be better men and better women.
“If we can re-programme their whole social outlook on life then they’ll be a lot more disciplined on the field and therefore easier to coach. We don’t want to develop young men to play rugby, we want to develop young men to be the future fathers and grandfathers of the country.”