If you think of rugby, you might picture it as a hard sport with nasty tackles, but in fact rugby is a fair and controlled sport par excellence. Tactics and technique play an important role, and solidarity and respect for the opponent are very important values.
Rugby has a positive contribution to make to the prison world. Especially when not only the prisoners, but also the guards participate, tensions can be reduced.
A former Argentine rugby player started the Espartanos Foundation in Argentina in 2009. This foundation offers rugby training to prisoners, under the guidance of professionals who do this entirely voluntarily. Their vision is that peace can be promoted by means of a sport such as rugby. At the time, this initiative was blessed by Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, our current Pope Francis. It was a great success, and the local authorities also saw the positive impact of this sport on the rehabilitation of prisoners.
At the beginning of 2019 a couple from Argentina came to Kenya on behalf of the Espartanos Foundation to introduce this sport in Kenyan prisons. They contacted the then Apostolic Nuncio in Kenya, Archbishop Balvo, who forwarded them to Brother Linus Schoutsen CMM, coordinator of the Fr. Grol’s Welfare Trust. This organization focuses on the development and rehabilitation of the prisoners in Kenya, and the activities and objectives of the Espartanos Foundation fit in well with this. Brother Linus brought the couple into contact with the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in Nairobi, which he thought would be a good place to start this sport.
Together with the coach of the Kenyan national rugby team and some rugby players, a first training was organized. These professionals were also willing to do this completely free of charge. Twenty-six prisoners enthusiastically participated in the first training. Meanwhile regular training and competitions were organized, and the Foundation Espartanos Africa is now a fact. On 26 April 2019, seventeen players from the Kamiti prison formed the first Espartanos Africa team. They call themselves the ‘Mighty Zebras‘, a playful reference to the classic prison outfit.
Brother Linus Schoutsen CMM (Kenya)