Steeped in tradition, rugby clubs around New Zealand have long been used as a place to not only play sport, but also come together as a community, and socialise.
When COVID-19 hit Aotearoa in 2020, it upset the flow of things at the long-running Christchurch-based Linwood Rugby Club, established in 1886.
Since the pandemic, the club has suffered a loss of membership, has had many community events cancelled, while families and communities have felt isolated.
People could not socialise and connect with team members, friends and family, Strength and Conditioning Coach Jason Tiatia says.
With an increasing number of Pacific people becoming involved in the club in recent times, Linwood Rugby Club has seen a need to reflect and support diversity within it.
“We want to see Pacific players and members being involved in a more culturally appropriate way,” says Jason, who is also the “unofficial Linwood Club Committee Pasifika Cultural Advisor”.
Linwood Rugby Club also want to celebrate Pacific people in a way which is meaningful to its members.
“There is a large number of young Pacific players, coaches, and parents and we see this as an opportunity to assist with their involvement and development,” Jason adds.
Funds have been needed to do this, so earlier this year, the Linwood Club Committee reached out and successfully applied for the Ministry for Pacific People’s Community COVID-19 Fund.
The committee has already put the funding to good use, rallying its Pacific members and wider community to get involved, celebrate diversity and revitalise the club.
“We have had three fono and talanoa sessions on sharing potential goals and aspirations as Pasifika, at Linwood,” Jason explains.
“We have also shared food and connected with other teams and management about the concept of cultural values and shared values, and we have supported and gifted our guest speakers or cultural workshops to show we appreciate their time.”
The committee has purchased and prepared ula lole as cultural resources, and families have connected more while making them, and the committee has reconnected with previous members, encouraging them to stay involved in the club.
“Our women’s team members are also feeling more included in the club, which is a positive,” Jason adds.
He says support from the Community COVID-19 Fund is vital as it breaks down barriers, so individuals and groups can advance, while enabling Pacific people to take part with pride, and not feel apologetic about it too.
“This whole process has created closer relationships at the club, and people have a better understanding about diversity.”
Linwood Rugby Club’s once vibrant atmosphere has been restored, and is not letting the pandemic get the better of it.