Talking Rugby Futures: as part of our series to bring out the stories of the young people impacted by the Jungle Crows Foundation today we talk to Jim about his journey and experiences.
Tell us a little about your background…
I am from Fiji and came to live in India to complete my higher education.
In Fiji, people are crazy about rugby, similar to the way Indians feel for cricket, so we start playing rugby from a very young age. Interestingly, if we don’t have a rugby ball to play with – we use bottles, coconuts, or random objects to enjoy the game…we just love the sport and can’t stop playing.
I got involved with competitive rugby at the age of 9. At first, I started playing in my village, and then went on to play at higher levels – high-school and state. In the first year of my secondary school I got selected to represent the school in various rugby tournaments. I would normally play with the older boys, and was also the captain of the under-16 and under-17 team. And, I played club rugby till I left for India.
I came to India through a scholarship program, where students from less-developed nations are selected to travel to different countries for higher education. I went to Pune to study. Over there I joined a local rugby team, and started training with them. Later a friend told me about rugby being played in Kolkata; that’s when I started travelling to Kolkata.
One aspect of the game you enjoy the most…
I really love this game! It’s a physical one and I’ve been playing it since I was a kid.
What I really appreciate about rugby is its awesome and unique ethos – we have enemies on the field who can be smashed or attacked, but off-field we are the best of mates.
What have you learnt in India?
Living in India has been quite an experience, and very different from the way I lived in Fiji. I’ve become more independent and I get to enjoy life over here.
In Fiji, rugby is played throughout the year. So, I would have to train daily. We had a really interesting schedule with various tournaments simultaneously on. Moreover, I was always busy with training, studies, work…
But when I was in Pune, my main focus was on studies; so all I would do was sleep-eat-study-exercise, and never had much activity initially. It’s when I got introduced to Jungle Crows that I learnt about giving back to the society – this is important; and there’s much more rugby training now!
Comparing India to Fiji, India has very few ruggers and is not doing well in this sport (as compared to Fiji). What is your view on this matter?
Fijians are passionate about rugby. Everyone out there will play and know about it. In fact, you don’t have to teach rugby to a child; it comes naturally to us. It’s not the same in India.
Out here, cricket and football are far more popular, and we don’t see the same love and obsession for rugby…it’s there in Crows though and getting all the players into the community side works really well. Means we are not just rugby players but mini social workers also, gives a good feeling.
In Fiji we have prize money and a good player can make a living from the sport, there is nothing like this in India. Maybe, if there are more sponsors and funds to support the India players, then the situation will change.
How can this condition be improved?
Firstly and most importantly, the passion for rugby should be present. Once people are passionate, they will naturally go out and play the game.
We should also start at the grass-root level. In Fiji, we have so many tournaments, right from under-9s to under-19s, village and state tournaments, and then there is regular coaching.
What Jungle Crows and Khelo Rugby are doing, more such projects should be implemented to encourage children. So, first the easier versions of rugby, like tag, should be taught and then gradually the physical game should be introduced.
Plus, India Rugby should also concentrate on better opportunities for players like playing abroad or bringing in Coaches. This way they can promote the sport and also ensure better opportunities to the young players.
Further, rugby should be promoted more and in a better fashion in India to attract more attention. I went to one tournament and the posters and signs showed American Gridiron Football players but this was for rugby, the sports have only an egg shaped ball in common. Was sad to see.
Coming back to rugby, who has been your role model?
My father has always been my inspiration. He too played rugby and had represented the state.
What is your most cherished rugby moment?
There are several such moments. But, I will share the most recent one – winning the Centenary Cup in October (2015). The boys had been training and working very hard for it, also we had near misses in the last few tournaments. So, this victory means a lot to us.
What about the embarrassing one?
It’s an incident from back home; there was a big rugby tournament between the high-schools. I went to a renowned rugby all-boys school, but for two straight years we lost in the Quarter finals, which was very disappointing.
After you return to Fiji will you stay connected with Jungle Crows and Khelo Rugby?
I definitely want to stay connected!
I have seen the work and have also been to the Khelo communities for coaching. I want to come back and help the club and children associated with it. The best way to do so is by raising funds, brining in new and more children and help in building the program, and finally, by coaching. The work with the kids is great, just building up for their brighter future is amazing and with our rugby what could be better.
What advice would you give to a new child who comes to you for coaching?
I would tell them a little about rugby, and how to pass, the rules, and the basic idea. But, there’s one thing I will tell them is what my coach would tell me, “Take the ball, run, and forget about your life.’’ This is why every kid should play to be able to have those times when all the pressure can be lifted. Growing up can be tough.
Who do you think is the player-to-watch-out-for in Jungle Crows?
The present younger lot has many good players. Sukumar , Amit and Akash are great with the game. If you look at them, they are small or haven’t got the big build some think is required for rugby, but they have worked extremely hard to become sure and confident players.
Finally, if you could give a nasty tackle to anybody, who would it be?
It will be Ajay Singh, he is a great friend and won’t mind if I tackle him. Another person will be Shuvomoy. He is the laziest person in Crows, so this tackle is just to wake him up and make him focus on the task ahead.