A unique initiative in Austria that saw rugby clubs engage with refugee detention centres to bring about social change has become the fourth finalist in the 2020 Rhino Grassroots Rugby Award.

Rugby Opens Borders is a remarkable project spearheaded by the Rugby Union Donau Wien club, which has received assistance from Stade Rugby Club Vienna and RC Innsbruck and been endorsed by the Austrian Rugby Union. 

Ana Ruiz of Rugby Open Borders explained: "We launched in 2015 at the height of the European refugee crisis and managed to persuade the authorities to allow us access to detention centres and give, in particular, young people the chance to take some exercise by playing rugby. 
"We wanted to convey that not only were they welcome, but that they also had our support."

Within a short period of time, the project was given permission to collect the players from detention centres and take them to the regular training sessions held by rugby clubs at weekend, often followed by a post-training meal. 

As the refugee crisis has abated,  Rugby Opens Borders continued to support the new players – many of whom are now in mainstream schooling – and they became regular players at the participating rugby clubs. Such has been the success of the project, four of the players have already made it to the Donau mens 1st XV, and one of their graduates is now playing for the Austrian national under-18s.  

Rugby Opens Borders also extended into women’s rugby with ten female refugees now training regularly with Austrian clubs. 

Ruiz said: “As rugby people we were keen to send a strong message concerning the need to reach out and welcome these children who had suffered so much. This is part of the game’s inclusivity values and we are proud of what we have achieved so far – and it’s an ongoing process.”

Reg Clark, CEO of Rhino, said “Rugby Opens Borders is a truly inspirational project – these three clubs, and the Austrian Rugby Union, can be extremely proud of this remarkable humanitarian initiative.  They are a great credit to the game”.

Rugby Opens Borders are the fourth and final nomination for the 2020 Rhino Grassroots Rugby Award.  The judges have a tough task – the winner will be announced at 5pm on Tuesday 8th December, 2020. 

The full line-up of nominations is:

  • Czech Strong Girls                                            
    A pioneering project promoting the women's game in the Czech Republic.
  • Richmond FC                                                            
    English Championship club which made huge efforts to reach out and help their community during the Covid crisis.
  • Witney Wolves                                                          
    Ground-breaking Special Educational Needs/mixed rugby programme within Witney Rugby Club in Oxfordshire.
  • Rugby Opens Borders                                               
    Inspirational initiative by Austrian clubs to welcome and integrate refugees in their community via rugby.
Alex Mead
Tagged: Awards