Connecting Through Rugby
How Sports for Development Activities Can Help Bring Adolescents Together
There is no strict recipe for beginning a friendship. Finding yourself in the same classroom as someone, liking the same music, or even just being in the right place at the right time can be enough to form lifelong bonds. But in the town of Suceava, where a sizeable community of Ukrainian refugees lives alongside the local Romanians, opportunities seemed to be scarce for adolescents to interact with each other.
This summer, two groups of adolescents were brought together by the UNICEF team, for two workshops meant to introduce them to the U-Report platform, that empowers adolescents to raise their voice and have their say in matters concerning them the most. The two groups participated in separate workshops, each in their own language, and as it happens, they gravitated around the people they already knew. Having brought the two groups of adolescents together, however, proved to be an opportunity to foster friendships and bridge the gap between Romanian and Ukrainian teenagers living in the same town, but leading separate lives.
Despite the initial barriers that separated the adolescents, the UNICEF team recognized the potential of sports in bringing young people together. With this in mind, they invited two experienced coaches to facilitate a dynamic rugby tag activity that transcended language boundaries. The game encouraged collaboration and teamwork, as both Romanian and Ukrainian adolescents eagerly joined in.
The event kicked off with a thrilling demonstration game of rugby tag by a talented local boys' teen team. The enthusiastic coaches then invited all the Romanian and Ukrainian adolescents present to join in the fun, turning the afternoon into a celebration of sports and community. This initiative aimed to create an inclusive space for everyone, allowing adolescents to interact with each other, form connections and enjoy an active time together. “I was very happy to have the opportunity to bring this sport closer to the community of young people who came to our country and teach them some essential things in rugby. Being a large group of kids, somehow we managed to get them all together and teach them how to play the game. Seeing them smiling and trying to communicate with the kids in our town, we realized that happiness is not only about material things, but also about experiencing new things with friends,” says Dragos, one of the young Romanian rugby players participating in the event.
The coaches spoke to all teens with enthusiasm, explaining the basic rules of rugby and its inherent values. Rugby, they emphasized, is not just a sport; it is a way of life built on camaraderie, respect, and inclusivity. "In many sports, coaches select players based on certain physical attributes, and this may prevent some children from joining," one coach explained. "In rugby, there is room for all children. We welcome anyone who wants to be a part of our team. We provide equipment, clothing, and even organize free trips so that every child can fully enjoy the experience, regardless of their background or financial possibilities."
One inspiring figure invited to this event is Alin Conache, a 21-year-old rugby prodigy whose connection to the sport began in his childhood. His older brothers played rugby, and he would keenly watch their matches, yearning for a chance to join in and be a part of a team. Today, Alin is a professional rugby player and received an invitation to join the Romanian national team when he turned 18, making him the youngest player to achieve this honor. Despite his extraordinary achievements, Alin remains remarkably humble. He stood before the Romanian and Ukrainian adolescents, sharing how his commitment to the values and rigors of rugby transformed his life and shaped him into the person he is today.
Through rugby, Alin experienced true connection and learned essential lessons about life, teamwork and community. He spoke to his younger peers about the significance of discipline and inclusivity, and how they have guided him through challenges both on and off the field. As a former captain of a junior team, Alin understands the responsibility of being a role model for peers, a lesson he values deeply.
The coaches, together with Alin, talked to adolescents about their belief in the power of rugby to bridge cultural barriers and unite people from diverse backgrounds. They explained how in this community, rugby can serve as a powerful tool for personal growth and mutual understanding.
This sports for development initiative in Suceava is not just about the game - it is about building character, instilling values, and kindling friendships. Roksana, a Ukrainian adolescent participating in the activity, says, “It was an incredible opportunity to play with Romanian and Ukrainian kids, and we had unforgettable moments. I discovered that rugby is not only a fascinating sport, but also a great way to meet new people and learn about other cultures. I had the opportunity to make new friends, both Romanian and Ukrainian children. We helped each other on the field and learned to communicate effectively, even though we speak different languages.” As these adolescents came together, sharing an active and fun afternoon on the rugby field, they unknowingly initiated a connection that could go beyond borders and languages, proving that sports indeed have the power to bring communities together.