Football, basketball and track and field are sports that are well known in Belize among athletes and aficionados. Now there is rugby, a discipline that is physically and mentally challenging and is developing a steady following across the country.  Expat Tony Gillings began renewing interest in the game setting up teams in different municipalities.  A national rugby team has been launched and is getting ready to compete in the region. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.

Duane Moody, Reporting

It was introduced here in Belize back in the late twentieth century by British soldiers, but faded years later. Since 2014, however, Tony Gillings has been working effortlessly to revive the team sport of rugby in Belize, teaching the football-type sport to youths as young as three.

Tony Gillings, Founder/President, Rugby Belize

“Rugby was never really formally organized in this country. Yes the troops played it years ago, but never formally organized. We registered the sport back in 2014 as Rugby Belize and it basically started with me walking around with a rugby board trying to talk to people about rugby. And they get if they get the ball and say hut-hut; no, it is not American football, it is rugby. And I started coaching kids and started forming teams and it has just ballooned.”

The high-energy full-on contact sport came about in the nineteenth century by William Webb Ellis, who in the middle of a football match picked up a ball and ran to the end of the pitch. It started in a town called Rugby in England and after two centuries, finally made its debut in Rio 2016 for the Olympic Games.  With this motivation and having expanded the programme to several districts, the top players from five teams have been brought together to create the Belize National Rugby Team.

Tony Gillings

“Belize is the last country in the region to get rugby. All of our neighbours have been playing rugby for a long, long time. Our opponents on the twenty-fifth, Guatemala has been playing rugby since 2006. So there is a long history and tradition of rugby in the region; it’s a pity it didn’t catch on here initially, but it is now. And so we have clubs in Orange Walk, in Belmopan, San Ignacio, Belize City, San Pedro, there is another group starting up in Hopkins and a second team starting in Lake I in Belize City.”

Similar to American football, but without the helmets and padding, there are rules in the sport that define how a player is tackled. There are also different versions including touch rugby where you don’t tackle and full-on tackling rugby; not to mention beach rugby.  Rugby sevens is played for a total of fourteen minutes with a minute break for halftime. It takes a lot of discipline and has significant social and health benefits. Captain Adrian Tillett says the sport is physically demanding so players should be physically and mentally prepared, and understand how to play safely.

Adrian Tillett, Captain, Belize National Rugby Team

“Rugby is a hooligans game played by gentlemen; there is a lot of contact, physicality, roughness when it comes to actual defending the ball in the actual play. But once you play it properly it can be very safe, enjoyable and entertaining. It’s very active; it’s very fast and keeps you extremely fit. A lot of people think it gets you injured a lot, but that’s not actually the truth. It is very easy to mix up full contact with what rugby actually involves. It is actually about support from your teammates, getting rid of the ball before you get hit and scoring tries.”

At any point in the game, there are seven players on the team, except for when there is a penalty. There are two props, a hooker, a scrumhalf, a fly-half, the centre and the winger. Tillett plays prop-one position, while nineteen-year-old Chris Ramclam is the hooker. He tackles the bigger players from the opposing team in the high-energy sport.

Chris Ramclam, Hooker, Belize National Rugby Team

“My job is being a part of the important plays. For example you have the scrums, which is a combination of all the forwards which is the two props and the hooker and we go down in a position and we fight for the ball. Also you have the line outs where I am lifted in the air, the ball is thrown in the middle of the lines and I’m suppose to catch the ball. I am supposed to be one of the fast guys of the forward. So when my props, the bigger guys, get the ball and pass it down to me, it’s either my job to run forward or get the ball down to the end of the line.”

So aside from the traditional football (soccer), basketball, softball and even track and field, young athletes can now venture into rugby, another sporting discipline now available in country. The goal, says Rugby Belize President Tony Gillings is for the country to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics Games.

Tony Gillings

“Long term goal is to the take the team to the Paris 2024 Olympics and to bring back the very first Olympic medal for Belize. Now Fiji did it and they never had any medals in any Olympics, same as Belize—we’ve been since 1929—no medal. We will bring back the first medal to this country from the Olympic Rugby Sevens tournament.”

In the meantime, the team prepares for the Central American, the Pan American and the Commonwealth Games in rugby sevens.

Belize Versus Guatemala in Rugby International Friendly

The Belize national rugby team is currently preparing to face off against the national team from Guatemala on November twenty-fifth at the Marion Jones Sporting Complex in Belize City. After several local competitions, the international match takes place and Rugby Belize is asking the public to come out and witness the revitalization of the sport. As we found out, the team is confident that they’ll secure a win against the Guatemalan team. 

Tony Gillings, President, Rugby Belize

“They had a practice game with BATSUB last weekend; did really well. And so now we are facing Guatemala on the twenty-fifth of November at the Marion Jones [Sporting Complex].  Huge step for rugby in this country, but also a huge step for sport in this country too.”

Adrian Tillett, Captain, Belize National Rugby Team

“I think that Belize is definitely going to win. The main reason is I have confidence in my team; my teammates got confidence in each other. We didn’t get a chance to practice as much as I’d want them to, but the twenty-fifth is a long way from here. I am sure we can get more practices in and build more practices in and build more confidence within each other and we will definitely bring home the goal.”

Chris Ramclam, Hooker, Belize National Rugby Team

“Of course we are ready. Just a little more practice and we got this game in the bag. I haven’t seen the Guatemalan team, per say, but what I’ve heard they are really trained; they have that chemistry with them so they are going to give us a run, but we are going to give them back the same run.”

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