Sure, the sport of touch rugby involves two sides, vying for victory, but on Saturday 16 July at the Kick Cancer into Touch event in Cessange, it was clear that everyone was on the same team.
Photo: LaLa La Photo
Even at the end of the day, when organiser Joe Lister handed out awards for the final match, he rewarded the ‘losing winner’ with cold beers all around, and the ‘winning winner’ with Champagne.
Team spirit reigned and the heavens didn’t. In fact, some players went home with sunburns as well as tired legs and the satisfaction of supporting a great cause. Playing fees, generous donations, and food and drink sales tallied up to about €3,000 at the end of the day, all of it for charity and most of it to Omega House and Een Häerz fir kriibskrank Kanner in Luxembourg.
It was the 16th time the event has been organised, and even before that, Lister and event co-founder Mea Shepard had been organising seven-a-sides to raise money to fight cancer.
“Kick Cancer Into Touch has become a tradition in the immigrant community”, Lister said, insisting on the use of the word ‘immigrant’ rather than ‘expat’. “If you’re wealthy you’re called an expat. If you’re not, you’re an immigrant. Rugby is about collaboration, not exclusion. That’s so important nowadays. It’s about community at every level.”
This year, not only will part of the proceeds go to refugees in Luxembourg, there were three refugees out on the pitch playing the game. Nasser Alkar from Syria has been in Luxembourg 5 months. The judo and kickbox instructor was new to rugby, which he quickly learned was much more than just a sport. “It’s the first time I feel part of this kind of family,” he said.
Abbas Lali from Afghanistan, in Luxembourg just a month, also does judo and kickboxing and was a rugby newbie. They were both invited, along with a Bosnian refugee, to play with Rugby Club Luxembourg, exemplifying the club’s philosophy of social outreach.
Another RCL player, Edoardo Angioni, takes his rugby skills off the pitch--not only the skills of running and tackling, but the life skills of responsibility and fair play. He works at the Dreiborn Centre Socio-Educatif de l’Etat (Dreiborn youth home), and has worked in Schrassig prison, where he and RCL’s Paul Sweetham trained prisoners to play in a seven-a-side against the national team. They won.
Even 15-year-old Oscar Whiteman says that the best part about rugby is the “camaraderie and the celebration”. He grew up with the game, as the son of former player and coach Tony Whiteman. “A bunch of us came to Luxembourg in 1993, then in ’98, and now the early players are coaching the next generation,” said Tony. “That’s just what you do.”
The camaraderie was in full evidence at the Boy Konen pitch--but so was the celebration. When RCL veteren Ken Lindsey was given a bottle of Champagne for having manned the grill the whole, hot, summer day, he immediately stripped off his shirt and did a Maori warrior cry.
And Bethany Trees, who played her first rugby match on Saturday, was given a beer and told to down it in honour of her 18th birthday that same day. She did it, in one go. Her brother Callum, who plays on the junior team, and sister Caitlin, who also played for the event, looked impressed. Mum Claire a little less so.
The spirit of helping out extended till the end, with players and spectators helping to fold up benches and clear up drinks and the grill area. The president of RCL, Fred Gabriel, looked on as he sipped a beer, but the man was on crutches. Watching to make sure everything was left tidy, Gabriel said 550 players are out on the pitch every week and that rugby has really taken hold in Luxembourg.
So much so that in addition to the Boy Konen pitch having just been renovated for €1.2 million and inaugurated on 3 July, the capital’s mayor, Lydie Polfer, has promised local rugby players a sorely needed second pitch.
It’s a smart investment. Not only are Luxembourg players good--they just qualified for Germany’s Rugby Bundesliga--but the benefits of playing rugby spread far out from the pitch.