Rugby changing lives in South Punjab
Fifteen universities from across Pakistan competed in the 8th annual Pakistan All Universities Rugby Championship, hosted by the Lahore University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences in Lahore.
The tournament is organised by the Higher Education Commission (HEC), also a member of the Pakistan Rugby Union with a dedicated sports department that competes in the Pakistan National Games in all sports.
The inclusion of Rugby as an Olympic sport spurred its inclusion by concerned sports governing bodies in Pakistan’s provincial and national games, and so the search and opportunities for talented rugby players at all tiers from the grassroots to the national levels has picked up pace significantly.
Almost all players that participated in this year’s universities’ championship are either on full or partial scholarship, on the basis of rugby. This has given young rugby players from all over Pakistan an added incentive to take up rugby, and a chance to transform their lives.
One such success story is the coach of the tournament’s runners-up, Punjab University, in Waseem Abass. Abass hails from a family of farmers in Fort Abbas, a small rural town in South Punjab.
Abass has represented the Pakistan national team in XVs and 7s, and was one of the first youngsters to benefit from a scholarship program. He received a full scholarship on the basis of rugby at Punjab University, one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Pakistan.
Abass became the first member of his family to graduate from university. After attaining a Bachelors of Science Honours degree in Sports Sciences, he was hired as coach of the university rugby team as well as a physical education teacher at a school in Lahore.
|“I started playing rugby when I was 18. I was always good at sports and played every sport, but there were not too many opportunities in our town. I fell in love with rugby and did really well at it,” recounts Abass.
“At that time I never thought rugby would change my and my family’s lives. I am the first person in my family to get a university degree, and through rugby I have been able to travel to many different countries. I can truly say my life would have been totally different if it were not for rugby.”
Success stories like his, he explains, have “inspired other kids in my village and in South Punjab to take up rugby. Currently quite a few of them are now studying in different universities on rugby scholarships.
“For most kids from South Punjab just getting admission to these universities would have been next to impossible; but, to be able to get full scholarships is simply life-changing.
“I now try to give back and volunteer in the Get into Rugby program as a coach, and also as a referee in festivals. I enjoy introducing rugby to new children, especially in rural towns. I know rugby has a way of changing their lives for the better and giving them opportunities they might not have had otherwise.”
Commenting on such promising developments, Pakistan Rugby Union Chairman Fawzi Khawaja says: “We are thrilled at how rugby has been able to uplift the lives of boys all over Pakistan via the university rugby scholarship programmes.
“We have several examples where boys from underprivileged areas get into the rugby scholarship programmes and now are coaching Rugby teams enjoying good salaries.
“Pakistan Rugby Union is now working hard to provide Women with the same opportunities in Rugby through the Universities scholarship programmes and create a pathway for these young women players”
Photos : Rugby Facebook Page