They stood shoulder-to-shoulder and vowed to thrill spectators as the 2020 mixed ability rugby world cup was officially launched in the host city, Cork, today.
A massive fundraising effort is now ramping up to hit targets that will trigger the release of around €500,000 in special EU sports funding for the huge event on Leeside this summer.
Organisers say the international event, which sees players with and without disabilities playing on the same team and to the same rules as mainstream rugby, will attract up to 1,000 players from 28 teams, as well as their coaches, backroom staff and supporters from 14 countries including Argentina, New Zealand, Ecuador, Italy, Spain and the UK, to Ireland from June 6 to 12.
Four women’s teams will also take part in the world cup tournament for the first time – including the first ever women’s team, the Ballincollig Trail Blazers, established in 2019.
The International Mixed Ability Rugby Tournament (IMART) project team is now finalising a massive logistics operation which will require about 250 volunteers to ensure the event runs smoothly.
The bid to host the tournament was secured by the Sundays Well Rebels in Cork – the first ever mixed ability rugby team.
Team co-founder, Alan Craughwell, a day service manager with the Cope Foundation, said it will be the culmination of “years of effort and unstinting determination” by a special group who’ve witnessed first-hand how sport can change lives.
“The fact that participants are challenged by varying levels of disabilities comes secondary to the strength of their competitive spirit,” he said.
“A shared desire to push themselves, the instinct to participate and to strive to win and to be a part of a team, has, since the sport’s formation, been wholly compelling.
Liam Maher, another co-founder of Sunday’s Well Rebels, said they have worked closely with the IRFU, Munster Rugby and Cork City Council and others to bring this event to Cork.
“Cork won the bid in part due to Ireland’s international reputation as a rugby powerhouse, but also because we have a reputation in mixed ability sport,” he said.
“Mixed Ability is about valuing everyone’s potential and celebrating what’s at the heart of true sport – participation, passion and fun.”
Events, including a conference and photographic exhibition, will take place off the pitch to show how the mixed ability model has and can be transferred to other sports and business to promote diversity and inclusion.
IMART says sponsorship totalling some €200,000 has already been secured from groups including Permanent TSB, KPMG, Musgrave Group, Heineken, Irish Distillers, Dell EMC, O’Flynn Exhams Solicitors and Cork Airport but it is looking for more.