Feature: Rugby gaining popularity in South Sudan

Source: Xinhua| 2019-04-15 15:50:09|Editor: xuxin
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JUBA, April 15 (Xinhua) -- In a dusty playground west of Juba, capital of South Sudan, Malou Juma struggles to get hold of the ball with his hands as several opponents are scrambling to wrestle him down.

Juma, 12 years old, is trying his luck in rugby, a new sport introduced into the East African country a year ago.

"I started playing rugby in January (2019), and I realized it is a good game," Juma told Xinhua in a recent interview. "Through rugby, I have become strong and healthy. I have also made new friends."

Football and basketball are the main sports in the world's youngest nation, but rugby is expanding and finding footprints in South Sudan thanks to efforts by volunteers who helped set up a youth rugby league.

But since its introduction, hundreds of children in the conflict-torn country have picked up interest in the game of rugby.

Apart from the health benefits, the game of rugby is also being used as a platform to promote peace between communities torn apart by South Sudan's five-year-long conflict.

"I have made three friends since I started coming here. We eat and play together and even visit our homes yet we only met this year. Our parents have also become friends," said 11-year-old Emmanuel Judy.

James Tongun, 19 years old, coach of Rhino Rugby Club located in Juba's Gudele suburb, conducts free weekly training sessions to Judy and dozens of her colleagues in an effort to build a generation of South Sudanese rugby stars.

"We are bringing the children together so that they don't go to the streets. We are trying to create some opportunities for these children," Tongun said.

Tongun said the training programs include sessions that seek to promote discipline, respect and culture of nonviolence both on and off the pitch.

Rugby is also being used to empower vulnerable children acquire new life skills, Tongun added.

"Most parents just keep their children, especially daughters at home to do domestic work. But we are now trying to convince them to allow their girls to play sports and make them leaders of tomorrow," Tongun added.

Ian Spence, founder of South Sudan Tag Ruby Foundation said rugby has proven to be a strong tool in peace building in South Sudan because most of the players come from diverse ethnic groups.

Run by volunteer coaches and administrators, the youth rugby league has opened five clubs and attracted over 300 children aged 5-19 since its establishment in February 2018.

"It (Rugby) has so much potential than just the game. If you talk about peace building, this is the perfect sport for it," said Spence. "The game has massive impact on the community and the peace building process because it helps bring community together."

With no major sponsors, Spence and his team of volunteers hope to use their limited resources to expand rugby across South Sudan in a bid to set up a national team in the near future.

"We take the kids from very small age and hopefully as they grow and get older, they will become more and more wise to the game and understand it," said Spence.

Spence added that South Sudan has high potential to excel in the global rugby arena if the country can invest in the sport.

"Maybe five or ten years from now, we may see the first South Sudanese national team playing at least on the sevens circuit. We just have to keep it going," he added.

Emmaul Levi Masua, executive director of Community Development Program Organization (CDPO), a Juba-based charity organization, acknowledged that sports like ruby play a vital role in promoting peace and unity in violence-prone communities like South Sudan.

Masua said his organization will partner with the youth rugby league to recruit children, especially girls to explore their potential in rugby.

"We identified Ruby as one of the platforms to create awareness about issues affecting young people. We want to provide some basic platform to the kids to initiative some basic discipline and respect because they (Children) are the future of South Sudan," said Masua.