Northwest Asian Weekly
The sport of rugby is gaining local interest in the Seattle area thanks to an international rugby superstar. Waisale Serevi is rugby royalty as he has single-handedly put the tiny nation of Fiji on the map in the sport.
As a player, Serevi helped Fiji win two championships in the World Cup of Rugby, one of the biggest international tournaments in the sport. He has also helped coach Fiji to win in other international tournaments. Serevi is most famous for playing a form of rugby with seven players on each side. In traditional rugby, the game is played with 15 players on each side. However, “Sevens” as the game is called, is a much quicker game, which plays to Serevi’s strength. Although slight, at 5’10” and 150 pounds, Serevi utilized his quickness on the rugby pitch.
“I always played a ‘catch me if you can’ game,” stated Serevi. While the game involves tackling without pads, Serevi does not recall a major injury in his 21 years of professional play.
After winning the “Sevens” World Cup in 1997, he was asked to play in Europe. Serevi recalls being “thrilled” to play, representing Fiji and the Pacific Islands.
Serevi, 43, has been playing the sport of rugby professionally since he was 19 years old. “It’s the biggest sport in Fiji,” Serevi said. “[All] the little boys played it.”
Serevi began playing when he was 8 years old. For a team sport, little equipment is needed to play.
Serevi recalls using plastic bottles and coconuts for a rugby ball when an official ball was not available.
It’s this passion for the sport that Serevi hopes to bring to Seattle. This past January, local rugby club, the Old Puget Sound Beach Rugby Club, and local business people enthusiastic about the sport established “Serevi Rugby Nation,” a company dedicated to promoting the sport of rugby in the Seattle area. Serevi serves as the face of the company.
According to the Sports Goods Manufacturing Association, more people are playing than ever before — 1.13 million in 2010, up from 750,000 the year before and nearly double the number in 2007, 617,000.
Alexander Lee, a rugby player at Central Washington University (CWU), attributes the popularity to the fact that rugby is being shown on television, which helps with the sport’s exposure.
Recently, a match from the World Cup of Rugby was shown on Sunday.
“Not only is the World Cup being shown on TV, but collegiate rugby is also being shown on national television,” said Lee, a senior from Kent. “The number of high school kids that are playing (rugby) now has doubled over what it was a couple years ago,” according to Lee.
The CWU rugby program is one of the elite programs in the nation. It promotes the sport through summer training camps for local high school players, as well as assisting in coaching a high school team in Yakima. Recently, several CWU rugby players had a chance to meet Seahawks football coach Pete Carroll.
Although rugby and American football are not competing for athletes, the Serevi Rugby Nation wants gridiron players to use rugby as a complement to their offseason training for football.
Serevi Rugby Nation conducts youth camps for kids 7 to 14, which help indoctrinate young people to the sport.
While the game may seem physical and daunting, Serevi downplays the perception. “It doesn’t matter if you are a big guy or small guy. You can still play and enjoy the game,” Serevi explained. He indicated that his training camps show the basics of the sport. For youths, they start out playing flag or two-hand touch, instead of tackling.
“The hard part is to come out and try in the first place,” said Eric Rasmussen, the chief operating officer of Serevi Rugby Nation. Rasmussen’s two young daughters began to play this year. “After the first session, it spiraled,” Rasmussen said, explaining how his daughters were hooked on the sport.
The other component of Serevi Rugby Nation is the Serevi Academy. It is organized to train 18- to 24-year-old rugby players for the potential to play for the United States national team. A recent training session included a world champion coach from the New Zealand rugby club.
The Academy hopes to train young players for the potential of playing in the Olympics, as it has been accepted as a sport for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil.
“I think rugby needs the Olympics and the Olympics need rugby,” Serevi added. “It’s an honor for rugby and it’s going to be a plus for the Olympics.”
Iva Sooto, a local female rugby player, explains that the sport of rugby originated in England and its popularity exported to the Pacific Islands. When explorers from Europe discovered the islands, one of the influences on the people of Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa were sports like rugby and cricket.
Sooto learned the game from her father, who is from America Samoa.
Sooto’s father and brothers played, and Sooto currently plays for the Seattle Rugby Football Club, a club team in the Seattle area.
While the sport is male dominated, there are many women involved in rugby. Sooto indicated that the women’s club team has 35 active members. The rugby roster includes a professor at the University of Washington, lawyers, nurses, and physical therapists.
For women, Sooto notes the game is growing in popularity among women despite the apprehension about the sport. “The stigma is that it’s not the same classification of rugby (as men) and it is a rough sport,” Sooto explains. “[B]ut we are changing a lot of minds because of [the fast-paced] playing style.”
Serevi also gives back to his roots as he has developed an apparel line, “Island Kings,” which display the names of Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa. A portion of the sales of the t-shirts will assist national team rugby members in competing in international rugby tournaments.
“Whether it’s on pitch rugby development or apparel, we take great care to reach out to Islanders wherever they are located,” Serevi said. “We see ourselves as uniquely positioned to approach under-served populations, whether it be the North American rugby market in general or pockets of Islanders scattered across North America and Asia.” (end)
For more information on Serevi Rugby Nation, visit www.serevirugby.com. For more information on the Seattle Rugby Football Club, visit www.seattlerfc.org. For more information on Central Washington’s rugby team, visit www.cwurugby.com.
Jason Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.