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  • Writer's pictureMark Fairweather-Tall

Discover the link between SWBA and wheelchair rugby in Kenya

Steve Jones, baptist minister and sports chaplain for Ospreys Wheelchair Rugby visited Kenya in 2018. This led to the opportunity to bless people in a unique way...

At the end of 2020, eight specialist wheelchair rugby chairs were shipped to Nairobi in Kenya in an initiative to see wheelchair rugby kick-started in that nation.

The project is a partnership between a number of organisations : Ospreys Wheelchair Rugby , RMA Sport UK, a manufacturer of sports wheelchairs based in Bridgend and Sports Chaplaincy Wales, the charity which trains and places volunteer chaplains in Welsh sports clubs at all levels.

In 2018 Rev. Steve Jones, sports chaplain and chairman of Ospreys Wheelchair Rugby encountered the President of the Paralympic Committee of Kenya while he was working as part of the chaplaincy team in the Athletes Village at the Commonwealth Games in Australia.

(Steve is on the back row, second from the left)

The President had noticed Steve’s day rucksack that had the Ospreys wheelchair rugby logo on it and asked for a coffee and meeting with him to discuss wheelchair rugby and how to get the sport started in their country. The president explained to Steve that they had some wheelchair basketball players in Kenya who really wanted to play rugby as an alternative. That encounter led to an invitation to Steve to visit Nairobi to meet with the Paralympic management and the wheelchair basketball teams.

In the autumn of that same year Steve travelled to Kenya and spent a number of days getting to know the disability sport set up there and to meet government officials. It became clear that the biggest obstacle to the sport ( which is now very popular here in Wales) starting in Kenya was the lack of any specialist, rugby wheelchairs at all in the country on account of their high cost. Upon his return to Wales Steve mentioned this at one of the training sessions of the Ospreys Wheelchair Rugby team. The coach Paul Jenkins and a number of the players spoke up about trying to do something to help.

In the following weeks a number of the Ospreys players dug out their older, second-hand chairs and donated them. Steve then had discussions with RMA Sport UK, the firm in Bridgend from whom the Ospreys team buy their new rugby chairs, and the management of the firm very generously offered to donate some chairs themselves and to recondition the second-hand chairs for re-use out in Kenya.

Steve Hughes, Commercial Director said :” RMA Sport is proud to be affiliated with Steve at Sports Chaplaincy Wales and the Ospreys Wheelchair Rugby Team. As a company we are enthused by the prospect of wheelchair rugby being extended into new territories where there is a growing interest and passion for the sport. We are delighted we could donate chairs to this worthwhile cause and recondition other chairs to assist in this exciting project. The RMA Sport Team wishes everyone associated with this venture every success and all the best for the future”

The last part of the jigsaw was for Steve and Sports Chaplaincy Wales to raise funds to cover the freight shipping costs from Bridgend to Kenya. Steve comments : “ Through the very generous giving of some individuals here in South West Wales, these chairs will now be shipped to Kenya to enable the authorities there to plan the commencement of this wonderful sport in their country. We are wondering now if, when the first team is set up out in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, we can twin that team with the Ospreys team here in Wales for cultural exchanges and who knows, maybe even a match against each other in a few years’ time. “

One of the trustees of Sports Chaplaincy UK is Anne Wafula Strike, a former GB Paralympian wheelchair racer, who is originally from Kenya. She comments : “Kenya is rich in Sporting talent but Disability sport still faces significant economic and cultural barriers. This gift will kickstart this new sport in my motherland and I am very grateful to Paul Jenkins, Wales wheelchair Rugby players, Ospreys and Steve. I am very excited for the athletes in Kenya who will get to have a taste of wheelchair Rugby”.

The President of the Kenyan National Paralympic Committee who has been involved in this initiative from the very start said: “ I am very grateful to the people of Wales for the assistance they have afforded us and I hope our two countries can partner further and grow this sport in Kenya”.

One of the players that Steve met out in Nairobi, Caleb Henry Odiyo ( pictured below) , who is now acting as the Chairman of the newly-forming Kenyan Wheelchair Rugby Federation, comments “ We are thrilled to have your support. Through your donation we will be able to accomplish a lot of work towards promoting wheelchair rugby in the country and in Africa. You truly make the difference for us, and we are extremely grateful.”

At the end of a year in which the world has seen a lot of bad news, it is great to be able to report some very good news. Paul Jenkins, Senior Coach of the Ospreys Wheelchair Rugby Team and Head Coach of the GB INVICTUS Wheelchair Rugby team sums up this initiative with his words : ““ When Steve came to me with this idea I had no hesitation in offering to get the boys and girls in our team to donate their old rugby chairs. Once people start playing this sport it helps them develop other skills, it helps with fitness and wellbeing it's also a great stress relieving sport. I look forward to seeing a team from Kenya taking the game to new heights in the future ”.

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