The Tag Rugby Trust started life as the Tag Rugby Development Trust, in a small village called Busiita in the east of Uganda. In 2002, armed with a bag of kit donated by TRT Patron Gary Townsend, co-founders Martin Hansford and Chris Tapper ran a tag rugby coaching programme with grade 5 boys and girls on a sloping pitch on the foothills of Mount Elgon. At the time, resources, guidance and support for launching overseas sports development programmes was very thin on the ground. Gobsmacked by the natural talent, enthusiasm and athleticism of the children after just one weeks coaching, Martin and Chris agreed that the project couldn’t be a one-off.
During the early period of TRT activity, between 2002 and 2007, ten tours saw groups of UK volunteer coaches travelling to Uganda, Zambia and India. Focus was very much on engagement and participation in tag rugby with the end of week tournament, as they still do today, providing a fantastic stage for children, coaches and officials to showcase their learning from the Tour. During this period, several thousand children were introduced to playing tag rugby – our first strapline was “introducing children to rugby around the world”… and that’s exactly what we did.
As more people got involved the frequency of tours increased, volunteer groups sizes got bigger, UK schools started sending pupils on tours. Between 2008 and 2012 a whole new level of engagement was created that focussed far more on developing the skills of local teachers, young leaders and volunteers. The aim was to enhance the quantity and quality of tag rugby development that took place in between the TRT tour parties visiting. The results were impressive and spawned the TRT Accreditation Pathway – our own series of coach development syllabuses. This went beyond just looking at coaching skills and incorporated many of the supporting skills required by a growing sporting scene anywhere in the world. Refereeing, tournament organising, media and journalism, first aid and young leadership all featured. Experienced coach educators made the courses available to anyone interested in introducing the game to children in their community. Our name was shortened to the Tag Rugby Trust and our strapline became “building futures through rugby”, and that’s what we continue to do every day. In doing so, we reached out to several new countries including Kenya, Romania, Mexico, Zimbabwe and Ghana. As a result, tens of thousands of children were introduced to tag rugby.
Since 2012 the rate of engagement and growth of our programme has been nothing short of amazing. Without ever having had piles of cash lying around to pay people to do stuff for us we worked really hard at making a currency out of our skill programme (and out of our highly prized TRT t-shirts). People started understanding that by investing in themselves, they were improving their prospects for their own future. The result is a growing army of qualified tag coaches, officials and administrators who only multiply the engagement statistics for the TRT programme – well over 100,000 boy and girls have participated in TRT activities. The platform is incredibly flexible and adaptable to young, old, tall, short, large, slim, deaf, special needs – we’ve even had a nun put on a tag belt and get involved.
In recent years TRTs focus has been to provide leadership and guidance to all the communities that we introduce tag rugby to. We have developed a concept of TRT Community Clubs that work hand in hand with schools in their locality to provide weekday and weekend tag programmes. The clubs provide the building blocks of tag rugby participation and competition, but importantly are a focal point for training and development and a very effective conduit to understanding and addressing local humanitarian challenges.
Like many organisations, COVID and its associated lock-downs had a huge impact on our day to day programme work as well as our touring groups. As the world slowly opened up to group gatherings and international travel TRT has made a decision to focus its efforts and resources in Zimbabwe. OUr programmes have recovered to their pre-pandemic levels and TRT has built its own camp just outside Victoria Falls to host visiting groups. Whilst we are sad not to be returning to other countries that have been a core part of our development over the years, we haven’t forgotten them and still send resources and training material to the coaches we have trained in the past, many of them who continue to run Tag Clubs in their community.