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One of the five outcome areas in the New Zealand Migrant Settlement and Integration Strategy is “Inclusion: Migrants participate in and have a sense of belonging in their community and to New Zealand.”

This includes the success indicator: “Increased proportion of recent migrants who belong to social networks and groups (including sports groups).”

It is the sport people chat about in the lift, the sport that empties the streets during World Rugby Cup matches. It is part of our national identity. However, not every culture loves rugby the way we do.

With projections that by 2038 22 per cent of New Zealand’s population will identify as Asian, rugby must embrace change if it is to remain New Zealand’s number one sport, says Community Rugby Manager Greg Aldous of North Harbour Rugby.  One of the innovations the New Zealand Rugby Union has embraced is Quick Rip Rugby, a safe, non-contact, easy-to-play sport anyone of any ability can play.

On a Saturday in August, about 55 children and parents from the New Zealand School of Korea gathered on the sports grounds at Sunnybrae Normal School  on Auckland’s North Shore to have a go at the game.  Under the supervision of representatives from North Harbour Rugby, Harbour Sport, and the local Northcote Nobra Presidents rugby team, the new players were initiated into the skills of passing, catching and running with the ball and to the rules of the game.

Quick Rip rugby mixes elements of sevens rugby and an already-established game for primary-school-age rugby players called Rippa Rugby.  The most obvious difference between the two is the absence of tackling. Instead, in place of being tackled, each player wears a Rippa Rugby belt equipped with two Velcro tags. The equivalent of a tackle is ripping off the tag from the belt of an opposing player.  Quick Rip rugby games are short, fun, fast and safe, and they introduce elements, such as scrums, that are part of regular rugby.

“At the beginning of the day, everyone was a bit apprehensive, but you could see people’s confidence levels rising as things went along. The organisers made it really fun and engaging,” says Jenny Lim.  At Harbour Sport, Jenny leads a programme called ActivAsian, founded in 2009 in response to the growing number of the North Shore residents who identified as Asian.  A particular focus is the two largest local Asian communities, the Chinese and Koreans.   “Today the proportion of Asian New Zealanders in the Auckland region is 25 per cent, and in this community here on the North Shore it is 28 per cent,” says Jenny.

The evidence is that Asian New Zealanders are significantly less likely to take part in sport and active recreation than most New Zealanders. This has consequences for their health and for their ability to form strong relationships within their local communities. Sport is one the best ways for people to mix and form friendships outside their immediate social circle.  This is reasoning behind ActivAsian and its support of Quick Rip Rugby. Everyone should have the opportunity to benefit from participating in active sport and recreation, says Jenny.

Greg Aldous of North Harbour Rugby would like to see Quick Rip social rugby become an established part of life on the North Shore. A growing number of Korean New Zealanders play various forms of social sport. Why shouldn’t Quick Rip rugby be one of them?  “I’d like to see a mix of cultures out there having fun and discovering our national sport.”  Rippa Rugby tag belts cost only a few dollars and North Harbour Rugby is happy to advise anyone who is interested in playing.

Will the children and parents at the have-a-go rugby day become the players and supporters of tomorrow? That remains to be seen, but whatever the outcome, the day was a success.

“It was a cool day.  Everyone was involved; no one was hanging back,” says Sarah McIlroy of North Harbour Rugby.  “It couldn’t have gone any better,” says Jenny.

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