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FORMER national female rugby standout, Kwanieze John, arrived in Antigua on Thursday for a special five-day programme intended on raising an island-wide awareness towards the quickly growing sport.

The seasoned ex-athlete was approached in 2013 by the sport’s regional governing body - North American Caribbean Rugby Association (NACRA) - which saw her fit to begin tutoring youngsters throughout the archipelago of islands.

Thus far, John and several other representatives of NACRA have setup several developmental rugby bases throughout the Caribbean islands eager to see the sport as part of their nation’s sporting culture.

John and NACRA have already touched St Kitts/Nevis, Guyana and Curacao and have now approached Antigua. John will be joined by regional manager Tom Jones and development officer, Scott Harland, who will together assist in the introduction of rugby throughout the primary and secondary schools.

On this major initiative, the 24-year old explained: “NACRA had an initiative of introducing rugby into islands where there is no rugby. The governing body invited about six to seven Caribbean islands to the Caribbean Championships in Cayman Islands recently and this was done for them to get a first hand view of the game. Following this experience, St Kitts was the first island to call NACRA pledging strong interest in the sport.” According to John, this unique programme was initiated by the region’s respective National Olympic Committees. She currently serves as a rugby instructor who assesses the development of coaches primarily. In most islands without rugby, NACRA opted to train the teachers of both primary and secondary educational institutions to also serve as temporary coaches.

In St Kitts, the Ministry of Education and Sport Department was heavily involved in the introductory programme and have given the green light for continuity.

Speaking on her works in St Kitts over the past two years, John continued: “My initial visit (to St Kitts) was focussed on the primary and secondary schools where I coached about twentyfive teachers how to introduce rugby in their schools. For my second visit, I focussed on the sport department coaches and there were about thirty participants.

We (NACRA) provided them with the necessary resources such as balls, cones and equipment so that they would be able to run their school programme and use rugby as a tool in their sport development.” John also spoke of NACRA’s recent project alongside the International Rugby League Federation’s “Get Into Rugby” programme. This worldwide project also aims to develop the sport with new players, coaches and administrators.

Additionally, it encourages rugby in a safe environment which will assist in breaking barriers and mental blocks about the sport. Top priority on NACRA’s list is to also ensure that rugby remains safe, injury-free and fun.

“We will continue work with them (Caribbean islands) to develop a union or rugby organisation in Antigua and Barbuda. Based on how discussions go in Antigua, we will arrange for another visit more than likely in the summer. The ‘Get Into Rugby’ programme can also be incorporated into sport camps. It is not difficult to teach and learn. The sport is almost adaptive,” concluded John.

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