World Cup winning Black Ferns stars Toka Natua and Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate are set to launch a programme using rugby to improve the lives of teenagers in the Cook Islands.
The four-year Sports for Health Rugby programme, funded by the New Zealand Government, will be delivered across the islands of Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Atiu.
In the first year, the programme is set to reach over 320 teenagers and 40 coaches.
The initiative, which kicked off in Samoa in 2017 and begins in Tonga in two weeks’ time, uses a non-contact form of rugby called Quick Rip to promote healthy lifestyles to teenagers.
Programme Ambassador Ngata-Aerengamate enjoyed a standout year with the Black Ferns in 2017 and said she was excited about reconnecting with her community through rugby.
“It’s a great honour to be involved and to represent my father’s family in his homeland. To be able to visit and bring a rugby message is fantastic."
"I believe rugby can have a positive impact on the lives of kids and their families. Sport helps build character and when you’re in a rugby team you learn from each other and build up each other’s confidence and skills. The social aspect is also loads of fun and it’s a great way to make friends. I’m looking forward to sharing my rugby experiences with everyone."
Natua and Ngata-Aerengamate will spend four days in the Cook Islands putting their rugby skills into practice at local community events and meeting with community leaders, coaches and teenagers.
The launch of the Cook Islands rugby programme forms part of the Pacific Sporting Partnerships – Sports for Health initiative announced by the New Zealand government in 2016.
The programme is a partnership between New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and is designed as one way to address chronic non-communicable diseases in the Pacific. Lack of regular physical activity and poor diet among young people is a key risk factor for the development of chronic diseases.
Teenagers will take part in a seven-week Quick Rip tournament, which will run alongside an educational programme designed to promote healthy lifestyles.
New Zealand Rugby Head of Participation Steve Lancaster said the major aim of the programme is to leave a lasting legacy to both community sport and health.
“For most of us we play and love rugby because it gives us the chance to spend time with friends and stay active and that’s exactly the aim of the programme, he said.
“The other important aspect is ensuring local providers, coaches and referees are skilled and equipped to influence generations to come.”
NZR, in partnership with the Cook Islands Rugby Union, will provide Quick Rip equipment, coaching training, and deliver modules on healthy eating and lifestyles throughout the Cook Islands.
The Sports for Health (Rugby) programme kicks off on Wednesday 9 May at a celebration hosted by the Cook Islands Rugby Union, with representation from the New Zealand High Commissioner, members of the Cook Island government and Cook Islands Rugby Union at the MOCD Dome and Tupapa Field, Rarotonga.