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Rugby Serves as a Tool for Social Change

Monday Aug 3, 2009 in Grassroots Rugby Youth

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Beyond Sport is one of several socially conscious initiatives launched by Nick Keller of Benchmark Sport in London (www.benchmarksport.com). A rugby program in Venezuela, Project Alcatraz, was the recipient this July of a lucrative Beyond Sport award and was the spark for a the startup of a similar program in New Orleans.

Beyond Sport’s mission is to utilize the power of sport to help the lives of others. It seeks to celebrate and support individuals or groups, from grassroots to global, who achieve positive change through sport. Beyond Sport’s Award winners received substantial funding, long-term support and opportunities to network at the annual July Summit.

There are 11 Award categories covering the sporting spectrum of corporate and social responsibility, change and philanthropy. These categories are split into three sections – Beyond Sport Community Awards; Corporate and Federation Awards; and the Judges' Awards.

As can be seen from Venezuela ’s Project Alcatraz, rugby can be a tool to change lives.

Rugby featured prominently at Beyond Sport’s July 2009 Awards Event, with a key award - Best Project for Social Inclusion - going to the Santa Teresa Foundation’s Project Alcatraz. Project Alcatraz received £10,000 funding and a substantial package of technical support to enable them to move forward and become fully sustainable in the future.

Under its zero crime motto, members of Project Alcatraz participate in programs that combine rugby training, community service, civil values training, vocational training, and psychological assistance.

Project Alcatraz began in 2003 as a response to an armed attack. Three young members of the La Placita gang mugged a Santa Teresa's security guard, stripping him of his firearm and radio. The muggers were arrested and Santa Teresa offered the muggers two options either: 1) Go to jail or 2) Work for three months without remuneration.

The second option was chosen and days later, the young men asked that the rest of the gang be included in the project. This first Alcatraz group consisted of 22 youths and the second was made up of 34 members of rival gang, El Cementerio. To date, five groups have joined the project.

Since its inception in 2003, the mission of Project Alcatraz has been to peacefully eradicate crime and transform the leadership of youth offenders from violent to virtuous. Project Alcatraz is unique in that it recruits entire gangs, not gang members, utilizing team camaraderie for productive uses. Project Alcatraz then rehabilitates them and after a two-year program, reinserts them into society.

As gang members come to understand the philosophy of Violence breeds Violence and Trust stimulates Trust, gangs make peace and work together, drastically reducing the crime rate.

Inspired by Beyond Sport, the New Orleans Rugby Football Club (NORFC) recently launched the Juvenile Justice Rugby League in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana . The Juvenile Justice League takes kids who are on probation and brings them out to play 7s rugby.

On June 17th of this year, five members of the NORFC met with Nancy Arceneaux from the Jefferson Parish Department of Juvenile Services, and Nancy gave the soon to be Justice League coaches an introduction to mentoring. She came into the meeting without much rugby knowledge but left excited about rugby's potential to teach area youth good values and life lessons.

“The Juvenile Justice League is just getting off the ground but all involved - the New Orleans RFC volunteers and the kids - are having a good time and it is  impacting the kids in a very relaxed way,” said the New Orleans RFC’s Tim Falcon” (tim@falconlaw.com).

“The League brings together at-risk teenagers with volunteer mentors and coaches from the New Orleans RFC. These at-risk youth get a healthy outlet for aggression while the discipline and teamwork required by rugby builds self esteem and helps with their positive development."

The league is looking for sponsorship. Each donor will sponsor a specific team and provide for the necessary uniforms and rugby balls. For more information contact league supervisor David Buckingham: David@TheRugbyPub.com.

Four Basic Principles
A not-for-profit, charitable or social entrepreneurial organization, such as the New Orleans RFC, would qualify for Beyond Sport’s Best Project For Social Inclusion award, by living up to four basic principles.


The project or initiative must use sport to drive significant social transformation. This can encompass either the encouragement of participation in sport or the use of professional sport as a platform to tackle wide-ranging social issues.


The project or initiative must demonstrate the impact it has in changing the lives of the community or individuals with which it is engaged.

It must have a sound plan to be sustainable in the long-term.

It must have a structural element or fundamental insight that can be shared or replicated by social entrepreneurs across the world.         

For more information contact

- Ed Hagerty

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