Touching The
here is a hard edge to Jax
Roper. One borne of necessity
on account of her being New
Zealand’s only female coach
working in the male game.
She’s heard about every bad joke
imaginable; seen every possible
reaction as the dinosaurs try to equate
her ambition with her gender and she
has overcome just about every obstacle
to not only survive, but win the respect
of a code that is not quite as liberal and
welcoming as it would like to think.
No question, Roper is tough and she
is robust. So when she wells up, actually
sheds a tear at the memory of her recent
coaching experience in Africa, its
because it was a genuinely life-
changing experience.
It’s because her two months in Africa
touched her soul and reminded her and
all the other volunteer coaches who were
part of the Bhubesi Pride Foundation
venture, that rugby has the most
incredible power to inuence and unite.
The cynicism and occasional
pedantry of the professional game can
sometimes make it hard to remember
that rugby was built on values of
fraternity and equality. It’s easy to
forget it is a sport without barriers: it is
not riven with spite or prejudice and in
times of need, the global rugby family
protects those who need help.
There are times when everyone close
to the code needs to be reminded of that
which is why Bhubesi Pride Foundation
is such a welcome initiative.
In a nutshell, it is a charitable trust
set up by the South African-born,
English-based Richard Bennett three
years ago with the aim of helping
deliver meaningful social change, unite
communities and empower young men
and women to lead those around them.
It aims to achieve these goals by
taking volunteer coaches into remote
parts of Africa to provide kids, parents
and teachers with a limited rugby
education and the ongoing means to
play the sport.
It could be said the coaches are rugby
evangelists, spreading the gospel to
areas that have no knowledge of the
games existence. Each mission
typically takes about six months and
can see coaches visit as many as 10
countries and coach around 3,000 kids.
The early ventures saw everyone
leave from London and drive across
spectacular but inhospitable terrain.
But there is flexibility in the system
now and it is possible for coaches
around the world to join the
programme at a convenient point.
We [coaches] pay for our flights and
you fly to where you want to meet them
and you stay for as long as you want,”
says Roper. “It is about one week of
coaching and then one week of travel.
“I flew into Malawi. They had done
Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana and
JAX ROPER has returned from a charitable coaching mission
in Africa that changed her life and also the hundreds of
children she met along the way. She spoke to GREGOR PAUL.
[ touching the void ]