Raising awareness and encouraging healthy solutions and discussions around mental health is a cause that the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union and its partners feel very passionately about.
That is why, in collaboration with the I AM HOPE charity and Wasps Rugby Club, the BOPRU has helped organise the I AM HOPE charity match between the I AM HOPE XV and the Wasps XV to be played next weekend.
The game hopes to bring former players, coaches, managers, volunteers back to the game of rugby and to connect them back with the rugby community while advocating for positive discussions around mental health in the game of rugby.
"The theme for the day is around staying connected with friends, family and loved ones," says GM of Strategic Projects, Ati Aaifou-Olive.
"While organising this event, everyone I have spoken to knows somebody who is going through a tough time."
Each team houses former players who have played the game from the club to the professional levels, including Steamers legends like Anthony Tahana, Wayne Ormond, Ngarimu Simpkins, and others.
Well respected names also round out the coaching staff with The I AM HOPE and Wasps XV Coaches for the day being Sir Gordon Tietjens and Vern Cotter and Hika Reid and Lipi Sinnott respectively.
Many of these men have not been involved with the game since their professional heydays, but have decided to lace up and get behind a great cause.
“The hope of bringing these former players back is that many of them are players that have gone through the trials and tribulations of a playing career and have come out the other side,” says Wasps XV manager Mike Miller.
“These men are role models for our younger athletes as examples of people who were able to conquer the mental stress and challenges faced by many throughout their careers.”
Community Rugby Manager Pat Rae says Tauranga has positive covid cases in the region now, but the BOPRU is committed to doing everything it can to ensure that this game is delivered as safely as possible.
“Some of the safeguards we will put in place will be over and above what we currently know will be in existence for the “RED” setting, as a precaution.
“We’ve brought in some crowd control barricades to fully fence off the field and will have security guards on duty at four entry and exit points into the ground.”
Rae says both teams have separate supporter’s bubbles of 100, located in different areas of the venue.
Another general admission bubble of 100 will also be in place for the first 100 people who wish to watch and the players and referees will be contained in their own bubble as well.
“All spectators (12 years and under) and players will be required to show their “Vaccine Certificate” to security on arrival as well as the usual scanning of the Covid Tracer App, hand sanitising, mask wearing and social distancing rules,” says Rae.
“Obviously, if you’re a close contact of a positive case, have tested positive or are awaiting a covid test, please stay home.”
“Rugby is a great way for people to connect,” says BOPRU CEO Mike Rogers.
“For us to use rugby as a way of getting the message into the community about the need to talk about mental health is a really important role we can play.
“We are pleased to be collaborating with other community-focused organisations to enable this activity to happen for our community.”
The I AM HOPE charity game will play out on Saturday, December 4, at 2.30 pm under the new Covid-19 Protection Framework. For those not planning on attending the event, the match will be live-streamed on the Bay of Plenty Rugby Facebook page.
An I AM HOPE Give a Little page has also been set up for those who feel they would like to donate to a great cause, view the page online here.