Rugby Aid Appeal launched to help rugby communities hit by fire, drought

by Iain Payten

Classic Wallabies boss Morgan Turinui says a new fund-raising initiative to help rugby clubs and communities struck hard by bushfires, flood and drought is about the game throwing an arm around friends in need.

The Rugby Aid Appeal has been launched by the Australian Rugby Foundation, together with Rugby Australia, the Australian Sports Foundation and the Classic Wallabies, and will raise and distribute money to rugby clubs and members who need a helping hand after “major climatic events” in recent times.

The funds will be provided to clubs who may need help rebuilding, replacing kit or getting back on their feet after the horrific bushfires or floods, or who have been badly impacted over a longer period with the devastating drought.

Some of the money will come from fund-raising drives such as the $50,000 raised by Aussie teams scoring tries at the Sydney Sevens, and funds will also be gathered from private and corporate donors, and via government support.

Rugby Australia said they are currently investigating which clubs and communities need immediate assistance, but are also calling for people to contact them to discuss how they help.

"It is obviously in support of people who have been affected by the fires, by drought, by flooding but it will also be ongoing,” Turinui said.

"So that people within the rugby community, if their clubs and organisations have been affected by some of these happenings over the last few months, they can get in contact with us and we have some funds to try and help them get back on their feet and get back involved in rugby, and hopefully enjoy that involvement with their children in some tough times.

"Over the past few months we have done a stocktake of the clubs in Australia, as many as we can, just to see who has been affected and how they have been affected - whether it be the loss of materials, hit shields, footys, cones, whether it is a storage shed burned down or swept away or whatever.

"We will be reaching out to people we have information on over the next week as RugbyAid launches. But also encourage people to jump on the Australian Rugby Foundation website, and get in touch with us if they have some need as well.

"This is a really symbolic moment where we can show rugby is helping rugby communities, but also have a tangible effect.

"We don’t want to throw money at the problem straight away and forget about it and feel good about ourselves. We wanted to take a step back for a while, consider how we can best influence that and then the Classic Wallabies be a part of delivering that.

"With the Australian Rugby Foundation and Rugby Australia, we will be out and have boots on the ground.

"We can get into the communities that need a bit of a love and an arm around them, but also need tangible help. Can we bring people in with some of our events? Can we show the kids a bit of enjoyment in terms of kids clinics? And we can give them material to help them play rugby?”

Turinui said the rugby community on the NSW south-coast was mourning the death of one of their much-loved players.

"We actually lost a member of the rugby community, Patrick Salway; he and his father died defending their dairy farm down in Cobargo,” Turinui said.

"And he actually played for the Cobargo-Bermagui Sharks and was coached by Classic Wallaby Gary Pearse, and he has left behind a wife and a (son). So there are these couple of examples that are coming through that are heartbreaking and they’re part of our rugby community."

The Classic Wallabies will continue to hold events this year in rural and regional locations but with a particular focus on places affected by drought and the fires. The first event will be on April 18 in Coonamble in NSW, which has been in drought for many years.

"We are not a huge sport, we don’t have millions of dollars to throw at it but we can hopefully have a tangible influence and throw an arm around people and show them that we care. This is really about rugby helping rugby,” he said.

"Whether it just buying some material to help the club get back on its feet, some reconstruction of destroyed property or trying to find a couple of Classic Wallabies to get down there and spread a bit of the rugby love, that’s what we’re looking to do over the next few months.

"And ongoing. We have seen over the last few months that this is needed in rugby, and RugbyAid will hopefully be forever more an arm of rugby in Australia, and of Rugby Australia, that can reach out to people in our  sport in their time of need."

Those wanting to contribute to the appeal can make a tax-deductible donation here.