This winter saw something occur in the Vancouver rugby community that hasn’t happened for a long time. In fact, Old Man Winter himself has probably had a hard time remembering the last time something like this happened. Vancouver has a new rugby club. Not a spin-off, merger, or social club. A new club built from the grassroots, player by player, intent on playing competitive rugby this fall.
So who are these folks and what are they up to? When some other clubs are having trouble finding enough players to field teams each week, why go to the hassle of establishing a brand new club? They call themselves the Rogues and they’ve decided to go it on their own in order to fill a niche in the rugby community in Vancouver. The Rogues are committed to building a diverse membership and look to groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in the sport as their membership base. This includes players of various sexual orientations, ethnic and racial minorities, and women.
Why is this important? In many cases potential players who perceive themselves as outsiders withdraw from participation rather than face the prospect of conflict. Often the reason players step on the pitch for the first time when they’re in their early 20’s or later is not because they were never interested when they were mini or junior age, but because there was some barrier to their participation. Whether that barrier is actual or perceived doesn’t matter, it’s real enough to the players involved.
Growing up, kids often don’t even attempt to play if they feel different – we all know the playground is tougher than the boardroom. Perhaps a promising high school player drops out of the game after he graduates because he figures he can’t both play rugby and be truthful about his sexuality. Or maybe a girl of East Indian origin overhears racial slurs while entering the locker room one day. These experiences have a profound effect on the individuals, but they also mean that we, as a sport, may be losing some very talented athletes and ambassadors.
The Rogues philosophy is that they’re simply here to play rugby, and none of that stuff should matter. More importantly – and this is the difference – they’ve created an atmosphere where you can be yourself and not feel uncomfortable doing so. Dean Knight, who calls New Zealand home but is playing with the Rogues while studying at UBC, says, “Rugby is rugby the world over. It’s just that the banter around the clubhouse is different at this club”.
You might think that given their mandate the Rogues would be about political statements or affirmative action. Take one look at them and you’ll see that nothing could be further from the truth. They really are out there to play the game. In just 4 months, with no real recruiting campaign, paid membership is pushing 30 active players with another 15 on the prospect list. Just like most other clubs in town, the players come from all walks of life. The Rogues count among their active members a professor, two lawyers, a plumber, several students, a videographer, a Gap clerk, a doctor and a teacher. Players come from many backgrounds – Asian, East Indian, Polynesian, Caucasian, and Hispanic. Gay, straight, and everything in-between. The thing is, it’s hard to put a percentage to any of these categories, and the Rogues like it that way. “The whole idea is that kind of information isn’t relevant to playing rugby or to teambuilding, so we don’t track it,” says Development Officer Dinuka Samara.
After four months of practices and fundraising the Rogues are looking forward to their first matches this March. It’s motivating just to watch them practice. It’s great to see the enthusiasm and talent dripping out of the pores of some of the players that were new to the game just four months ago. The Rogues want to field a team for VRU league play this fall, possibly put together a team for the over-40 league, and garner enough interest to launch a women’s side. If they can stay headed the way they’re going they shouldn’t have any problems staying competitive.
The Rogues hope the future holds expansion into 1st Division play and a U-19 development squad. Right now, though, the club is concentrating on finding coaches, trainers, and more experienced players. “What we need are more players that can step into a leadership position on the field and be role models for our newer players,” says Samara. “It’s a great opportunity to use your skills and experience to give something back to the rugby community.”
Log on to www.roguesrugby.ca to learn more about the Rogues RFC, or call 604.812.3603. For information on coaching and training positions, or to schedule matches, please call Dinuka Samara at 604.916.2100.