BARBADOS, BIRTHPLACE OF CARIBBEAN RUGBY?
Barbados is one of the smaller islands of the former British West Indies, but boasts many records, some well-known, others less so. One of the latter is that Barbados was the site of the earliest recorded competitive Rugby match in the Caribbean, which was staged at the Garrison Savannah between British forces stationed there. The Garrison Savannah, recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, remains the centre for Rugby in Barbados.
EARLY RUGBY HISTORY
In 1964 the Barbados Rugby Football Union was formed and this was followed by the erection of the Rugby Club House at the Garrison Savannah, which to this day is still the home to Rugby in Barbados, and is known for its festive after-match celebrations, no matter the out come of the game.
The Barbados Rugby Football Union, led by Architect Andy Voss, was one of the founding members of the Caribbean Rugby Football Union. This organization subsequently became the West Indies Rugby Union, which represented English and French-speaking Caribbean Unions in the North America West Indies Rugby Union (NAWIRA).
In 2010, the IRB directed NAWIRA to restructure with the aim of establishing a more direct line of communication between it and its member Unions. The North America and Caribbean Rugby Association was formed, with an Executive Committee comprising 5 members. Canada, the USA and Mexico each have one representative on the committee, while the former WIRU Unions are represented by two representatives, Dennis Dwyer (Bermuda) – President and George Nicholson (Barbados) – Secretary.
The BRFU is a Full member of World Rugby and is affiliated to the Barbados Olympic Association.
THE GROWTH OF RUGBY IN BARBADOS
The Barbados Rugby Union was the first and only team on the island for some years, participating in a number of Caribbean Championships. The sport was typically dominated in the early years by expatriates longing for the physicality and camaraderie that Rugby naturally generates. Local players were, however, always welcome and the ’70s saw an increase in the number of local players involved in the game.
Rugby was introduced into the secondary schools in the late’70’s and continued until the early ’80s before petering out due to a lack of interest among students. This did not affect activities at the Garrison Savannah clubhouse however, where the Rugby spirit was alive and well, open to anyone who wished (or dared) to become a part of the Rugby Community. Elaborate pantomimes were staged to raise funds for National tours (and recreational ones) to neighbouring islands, and sometimes further afield. Those involved in Rugby in those days have frequently gone on to become well-respected members of the Barbadian society, or wherever they have ended up in life. There are always exceptions to the rule however!
The mid-eighties saw a return of secondary school Rugby, which led to an increase in the membership of the Barbados Rugby Football Union, and to an inevitable divergence of views on the way things should be run. This in turn led to the formation of two teams, the Mariners and the Renegades, which resulted in some classic on field battles, and subsequent epic nights in the clubhouse! The membership continued to change and expand, leading to the formation of several clubs over the years, including Scorpions, Tridents, Emperors and the Barbados Defence Force.
1995 saw the Barbados Rugby Football Union becoming a member of the International Rugby Board, through its membership in the West Indies Rugby Union. (The latter organization has since been assimilated into the North America and Caribbean Rugby Association, while the former has become World Rugby)
BARBADOS RUGBY IN THE MODERN ERA
The sport of Rugby in Barbados is supported by a resilient group of committed enthusiast that, despite many challenges, has managed to maintain keen interest in the sport in this tropical climate. Even with the heat and dry grounds, Rugby has been able to attract many visiting teams and players, some internationally famous (Bath RFC), from Clubs in the UK, Canada and neighboring Caribbean islands.
What Barbados Rugby players may lack in mass they make up for it in speed, resilience and camaraderie. In recent years the Union has been busy promoting the sport in schools and at youth level through its Schools Programme and more recently the World Rugby Get Into Rugby Programme. These efforts naturally attract more youthful teams from abroad and has given the younger players the opportunity to make an impact at the national level.
To date results have been encouraging, as in 2014, Barbados sent a team to the prestigious Hong Kong Sevens Tournament and Las Vegas Sevens. Barbados also competed in Rugby Sevens in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland in 2014. These achievements are significant in a country where rugby is not the culture like cricket and other traditional sports.
Touring teams and clubs are always welcome and are guaranteed the renowned Bajan hospitality, quality Rugby and lively matches complimented with our popular Banks Beer and local Rum as a stimulant after matches. It is a perfect blend of competitive rugby and great partying.
The Barbados Rugby Football Union is the governing body for the sport on the island, and the Barbados National Senior and U-19 Men’s 15s, the Senior Women’s Sevens and Rugby Barbados Sevens teams represent Barbados internationally.