What do rugby and multiculturalism have in common? You'd be surprised. Rugby, originally an upper-class British sport, was quickly embraced by indigenous populations and expatriates throughout the Commonwealth.
For instance, the Maori are celebrating 100 years of rugby and their contributions to the formidable All Blacks - including their emblematic black jersey and silver fern.
As early as 1927 the Maori rugby union embarked on a world tour which included Canada.
Canada's rugby community reflects our diversity through the women, men and youth who play.
Our national teams have had players from many different backgrounds such as current player Phil Mack and former player Bob Ross, both Aboriginal players, hall-of-famer Gareth Rees, whose parents emigrated from Wales, and Joe Dolesau, of Fijian descent.
Rugby's roots are deep in Nanaimo predating the Clippers and Raiders by decades. The Rovers was formed in 1888 and was soon competing with Vancouver and Victoria for the McKechnie Cup.
Over the last century the club has evolved with the Nanaimo Hornets emerging in 1960s and building their clubhouse in 1976.
Historically, mostly immigrants from the United Kingdom joined rugby clubs when they arrived in Canada.
Clubs provided more than just a chance to play a beloved sport, they provided a social network. Today, rugby clubs welcome immigrants from all over the world as well as transplants from across Canada.
Many of the Hornets members originally come from other countries.
The Hornets provides an important support network to new arrivals and their families. Akira Takekawa joined the club shortly after he arrived in Nanaimo 14 years ago; he had played in Japan.
At the time, he says that he spoke very little English "but the Hornet members were very helpful and friendly towards me and I felt very welcomed."
Even after a four-year hiatus in Edmonton he was welcomed back as one of their own and never treated like a foreigner. Takekawa still plays and he met his wife through the club.
According to Steve Hancock, board member, founder and lifelong player, "rugby embraces anyone willing to put on a pair of boots. .. regardless of race, religion, income and occupation." He believes rugby attracts a certain type of individual because of its focus on team.
"All 14 players are helping 15th player get across the try line."
Rugby is unique to other sports because of its ideology. The social laws of the game have been established to honour your opponent, support your teammates and most of all, after the final whistle blows, to show respect to one another through hosting.
An important part of the game takes place off the field where the players, family and friends socialize and the home team provides the visiting team a meal. Another unique feature of rugby is the tradition of touring. Clubs learn about other cultures and nationalities when they travel to foreign countries or they billet players in their homes.
My husband, Manvinder Samra, has played and coached for many years.
As a high school coach he had the privilege of taking young rugby teams on tour to New Zealand, Australia and the U.K. He saw the kids come back enriched from these cultural exchanges. The Hornets have done hundreds of tours in North America and overseas.
Rugby is contributing to the sense of community in Nanaimo. The Hornets have succeeded in bridging the gaps of race and culture by providing a forum where people from all backgrounds can come together in a safe welcoming environment.
The whole family gets involved and it isn't unusual to see the next generations, both girls and boys, playing for the team.
Rugby supports multiculturalism literally on the ground.
Tracy Samra is a lawyer, consultant and former bureaucrat with more than 20 years experience working with Aboriginal groups in Canada. She is Cree and recently relocated with Nanaimo to live the Island life. She will write a regular column for the Daily News and can be reached via email at: NDDColumn@gmail.com
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