Cambodia’s 1st International Tag Rugby Tournament

NGO partner PSE has won Cambodia’s first inclusive and international Tag Rugby Tournament organised by Kampuchea Balopp on Saturday 13th June in Phnom Penh. The 8 teams of mixed boys and girls saw two visiting deaf teams from the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union take on 6 local Cambodian teams’ coached by Kampuchea Balopp. These included two deaf sides from local NGO Krousar Thmey, 2 teams from Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE), and one team each from Enfants d’Asie (Aspeca) and Lycée Français René­ Descartes.

Tag rugby, is a non-contact team game in which each player wears a belt that has two coloured velcro tags attached to it. Attacking players attempt to avoid defending player pulling off their tags while in possession of the rugby ball. It is used in the development and training of young rugby players. It is more visual than touch rugby making it easier for deaf players.

Last October the HKRFU & Kampuchea Ballop made it possible for a team from Krousar Thmey Foundation to attend a beach rugby tag festival in Hong Kong. For many of the players it was their first trip abroad and boosted their confidence and made their families and communities incredibly proud. This in turn saw the Hong Kong delegation of players visit Cambodia for the first time and the two groups of deaf players engaged in cultural exchanges in the days leading up to the tournament with the group from HK visiting the facilities at Krousar Thmey and being treated to Khmer food as well as local music and dance.

For the tournament, 8 sides were split into 2 pools of 4 teams and their round robin games played with great passion, skill and intensity but throughout the spirit and camaraderie was obvious. Additional assistant referees were used to communicate to the deaf players on the referees officiating.

The day really stripped away barriers and prejudice and promoted the total inclusivity of the sport and the spirit of the tournament.

Eventually the Plate Semifinals saw PSE1 beat HK2 and Krousar Thmey 2 beating Krousar Thmey 1 setting up a PSE1 vs KT2 Plate final. The Cup semifinals saw PSE2 defeat HK1 and Aspeca take out LFRD to setup a all Cambodian final between traditional rivals. In the Plate Cup Krousar Thmey managed to comfortably beat a younger PSE1 team and it was a fantastic achievement for the team who had trained hard for this event. In the cup final, underdogs PSE2 started strongly versus favorites Aspeca and although Aspeca staged a comeback in a tense Cup final, PSE held on to win narrowly 4 scores to 3. Again a momentous achievement from a young team. All the sides competed very well and agreed it was a great day of social tag rugby.

The visiting HKRFU coach Stuart Gunn handed out the prizes to the winning teams. Krousar Thmey for winning the Plate final received a set of brand new rugby balls brought over by the Hong Kong group, made possible by HK club team Sai King Stingrays who contributed dozens of brand new rugby balls, kit, pumps and more to Kampuchea Balopp The PSE team was gifted the inaugural Inclusive Tag Rugby Championship Glass trophy to broad smiles and a proud captain!

All of the players were addressed in English, Khmer and sign language for the Hong Kong and Cambodian groups to thank them for their efforts, spirit and playing ability. We hope this will become an annual event which will see the HKRFU return as well as other regional teams to compete with the Cambodian sides! As Stuart said, he hoped Cambodian rugby and grassroots work continues to grow and that the HKRFU teams get an opportunity to come back and play with the Cambodian teams.

Thanks to the staff, volunteers, partner organisations, HKRFU and the spectators but especially ISPP whose contribution from their fundraising efforts of their Value of 250 campaign helped finance the tournament.

For more see the Khmer Times, HKRFU and SCMP and Phnom Penh Post articles.

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