Rugby Union

Jamaica's Rugby Sevens ambitions

Despite failing to make final stages of Hong Kong Sevens, the existence of a Jamaican team is something to celebrate.
Last Modified: 24 Mar 2013 14:07
Jamaica's Andrew Hylton (R) tries to stop Japan's Kazushi Hano from scoring during Hong Kong Rugby Sevens [AFP]

In the neighbourhoods where the Jamaican rugby sevens team trains, bullets fly and local gangs rule.

Their fields are as thin as asphalt and there is no weight training room.

Poor facilities is just one bump the organisation has faced in the past few years, a larger one being the murder of Jamaica rugby stalwart Jacob Thompson in 2009.

But the sport has pressed on in a country better known for its track and field prowess, not to mention its brief foray into bobsledding. The Jamaican rugby team gained a spot in the sixth leg of the international sevens tour this year, arriving in Hong Kong last week for its debut in the 38th annual tournament.

Rugby sevens, where seven players compete in a fast paced version of the normally 15 per side game, has grown from an amateur sport to fully professional for some of the top teams.

The more than 20 nations who now compete have their eye on gaining a berth for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, where the sport will be incorporated for the first time.

The international circuit, the corporate sponsorship from the likes of HSBC, and the Olympic goal has transformed rugby sevens from amateur to professional. For the Jamaican team, however, the resources available to them have changed little over the course of time.

"We just play for the love of the game," said team captain Tyronie Rowe, 25.

His team mates juggle small children and factory jobs with a rigorous training schedule leading up to the sevens season.

Tragic death

Some major teams have fully paid players and more than a million dollars at their disposal, while others have a fraction of that. For Jamaica sevens, there is no money, having failed to gain a single corporate sponsor.  

But the team has persevered. Rowe, a father of three, dwells on the progress, pointing out that a previous game years ago against Georgia ended in a loss by nearly 90 points. Their meeting over the weekend was a 27-17 defeat.

"We are starting to get rugby back," said Jamaica's coach Conroy O'Malley.

"In our area, rugby is the one of the only ways to stay out of trouble"

Jamaican captain Tyronie Rowe

He acknowledges that disorganisation within Jamaica's own rugby administration, coupled with competition from other local sports leagues has hampered the expansion of international rugby in his country.

A major blow to the sport, however, was the murder of Thompson, an internationally respected rugby figure who was credited with building the sport in Jamaica over the span of 40 years.

"He was really the backbone of Jamaican rugby," said Jamaican sevens player Ronaldo Wade, 24. 

Rowe said he was fortunate the sport came into his life, having grown up in a Kingston ghetto. He now travels the world as a rugby player, doing 1,000 push ups a day to make up for the lack of a proper weight room.

Kids in his neighbourhood who do not commit themselves full time to sport inevitably turn to guns, he said.

"In our area, rugby is the one of the only ways to stay out of trouble," Rowe said.

Jamaica's two other games in Hong Kong were a 43-0 loss to Asian powerhouse Japan, and a 31-5 loss to Brazil, another Hong Kong newcomer. The weekend ended on a high note, however, with Jamaica scoring its five points against Brazil with a last second, air-borne try.

Rowe said he was proud of his team, and he expected to come back to Hong Kong next year, with a better result. Gazing out at the field on Saturday, he was struck at the quality of the event, and of the pitch.

"That field is like velvet compared to ours back home," he said.


Topics in this article
Featured on Al Jazeera
An innovative rehabilitation programme offers Danish fighters in Syria an escape route and help without prosecution.
Street tension between radical Muslims and Holland's hard right rises, as Islamic State anxiety grows.
Take an immersive look at the challenges facing the war-torn country as US troops begin their withdrawal.
Ministers and MPs caught on camera sleeping through important speeches have sparked criticism that they are not working.

Anti-government secrecy organisation struggling for relevance without Julian Assange at the helm.
After decades of overfishing, Japan is taking aim at increasing the number of bluefin tuna in the ocean.
Chinese scientists are designing a particle-smashing collider so massive it could encircle a city.
Critics say the government is going full-steam ahead on economic recovery at the expense of human rights.
Spirits are high in Scotland's 'Whisky Capital of the World' with one distillery thirsty for independence.
join our mailing list