Cork is set to help break down the barriers on the rugby field

In June, 2020, 750 rugby players with and without disabilities will come to Cork for IMART. Manager of Sunday’s Well Rugby Club Liam Maher tells us about the upcoming event
Cork is set to help break down the barriers on the rugby field
Liam Maher and Joe Schmidt.

RECENTLY our 12-month alarm went off — we now have less than 365 days until Cork plays host to 750 talented rugby players with and without disabilities, from 24 teams and 15 different countries such as England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Canada, Argentina and New Zealand!

On June 7 2020, these teams will come together to play rugby under the same World Rugby laws as the XV a side game, with only minor adaptations such as uncontested scrums, in a tournament that breaks down barriers and shows the benefits of social inclusion for all.

The Mixed Ability Model removes barriers to participation for people who feel unable to join mainstream grassroots clubs or groups due to physical or learning disabilities, mental health issues, size, shape, age, prolonged inactivity, or a perception of ‘not being good enough.

The chance for Cork to hold the 3rd International Mixed Ability Rugby Tournament (IMART) 2020 has been hard fought and hard won. So much has gone on behind the scenes to bring us to this point.

It was a fortuitous happenstance that first alerted me to the mere existence of this sport and a lucky turn of fate that lead me to meeting Alan Craughwell, the Founder of the Sunday’s Well Rebels and who has been by my side driving our efforts throughout the last five years which have culminated in:

— the formation of Ireland’s first mixed ability rugby team — the Sundays Well Rebels

- the successful pitch for the 2020 World Cup

— official recognition from Ireland’s rugby body and governing authority the IRFU

— the ultimate proliferation of mixed ability rugby

The Sunday’s Well Rebels became part of the rugby family at ‘The Well’ in 2014. Since then, the team has flourished. From the early days of 13 players, we now have more than 40 active players. It is a great example of real inclusion to see players with and without disabilities training, playing and, of course, socialising alongside each other every Friday night and feeling like valued members of Sunday’s Well rugby club.

Social inclusion is integral to anyone with a disability of any kind. And exclusion of any kind can be detrimental to someone’s wellbeing. But the IMART ethos is not just beneficial to those with disabilities — arguably, it’s the other team members who get most out of this beautiful coming together of people who have, in so many ways, faced and risen above so many challenges.

It is inspiring to see the lads learn so much about each other when the playing field is level. There is no distinction when they are on the pitch — each and every player just see themselves as one team.

Mixed ability rugby that has so much to offer people all over Ireland, and indeed all over the world. The fact that Cork is leading the charge in its global growth is fantastic, and something to be very proud of.

The Cork Host Over the last five years, we have worked tirelessly with the IRFU, Munster Rugby, Cork City Council, IMAS, and others in an effort 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 reputation in Mixed Ability sport.

The staging of the event in Cork marks a significant achievement for Sunday’s Well RFC, who coordinated the bid, and acknowledges the leading role which the Club now plays in championing the sport.

IMART 2020 Cork will have three main strands:

1. The Sport Programme, in which players from 15 different countries (and counting!) will take part in the 3rd International Mixed Ability Rugby Tournament, competing for the two main trophies, the ‘Winners’ Cup’ and the ‘Spirit of Mixed Ability Rugby Trophy’ awarded to the team who best embodies rugby core values. For the first time, the tournament seeks applications from Mixed Ability women’s team to run a parallel competition or exhibition games.

2. The Academic Programme, in which internationally known speakers and researchers from the sport, education, health and advocacy fields will present their studies and research about paths to inclusion in sport for people of all abilities in a participatory and interactive environment.

3. The Social Strand, in which concerts and post-match events will provide spaces to enjoy and share the best moments with teammates, players from the other teams and spectators.

Ultimately, IMART intends to promote a long-lasting shift in perceptions and behaviours around diversity, removing the barriers which prevent people of all abilities from enjoying mainstream sporting activities, using the power of rugby and education to, make this world a better place.

We hope and believe that because the IMART Tournament is coming to Cork next year, this will enhance interest, participation and interaction between people of all abilities in the sport across Ireland and beyond, and help to build new connections between grassroots clubs, educational institutions, communities and local authorities.

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