Black Girls Ruck is a growing community of black female rugby players who collaborate to create a safe space for other black females who have a passion for rugby and want to be their true authentic selves. We caught up with Anne Onwusiri, Ehi Edevbalo-Ehizode, Lamees Idris and Nia Watson-Campbell to understand where it all began, why this community is so needed, and how they intend to pave the way for others to challenge the gender and race imbalance in rugby.
Having played rugby for some time, and for a team where other black females played too, the founder Anne Onwusiri recognised there wasn’t a platform for others to benefit from the kind of support they felt at their home club, Hackney Ladies Rugby Team. During the pandemic, they saw an opportunity to create a safe space for other black female rugby players so took to the air creating a podcast with some of their teammates.
Anne Onwusiri, founder of Black Girls Ruck
Anne detailed "It's important to me that the feeling of black joy and being able to access sports is available to everyone. Many people have poor experiences of sports and exercise growing up and I want to do something to change that, particularly for minoritized groups.”
“Since I started playing rugby, I've been able to explore my gender identity, and my relationship with my race and have had access to amazing career opportunities whilst being nurtured and supported by my teammates who I would not have met in any other environment. Everyone deserves to feel the level of love and support I've felt. Women's rugby is one of the fastest growing sports in the world however seeing the lack of diversity in the England squad can sometimes feel disheartening."
With the podcast seeing early success, it was obvious from the beginning that this was a much-needed platform where stories could be shared, with many black female players at all levels highlighting the common challenges they have faced or still face.
Nia Watson-Campbell of Black Girls Ruck
Nia shared “There are many different barriers to black females accessing rugby – funding the cost of equipment, travelling to training, match fees, memberships, and more. Let’s not understate that rugby is predominantly a male-white dominated sport, so many black females question if it’s for them.” Lamees added, “Also, people don’t want to join somewhere where they can’t see another black person there, it’s hard enough to relate to people on a fitness level, you want to be able to see someone that you have similarities with.”
Lamees Idris of Black Girls Ruck
The podcast shares these experiences with its listeners, with the aim of offering encouragement to those who maybe don’t have that sense of belonging within their team or feel unsure on how to begin playing when their local team perhaps isn’t representative of their race.
Being a black woman raises many questions about what identity means, Nia explains that “Black identity is not monolithic, we are not all the same. There shouldn’t be an expectation that I am fast, I can be a whole host of things – my gender and race are one part of my identity, but not all of my identity. Allowing people to have differences, embracing those, and not thinking that people must act or behave in a certain way as a black woman is important to me.”
Ehi Edevbalo-Ehizode of Black Girls Ruck
Ehi adds “BGR is a community of black women and a resource to be used, listened to, shared, and laughed along with. It has its hilarious side along with a serious message. We have your back.” Lamees shared “Remember it isn’t meant to be comfortable, you are meant to be uncomfortable, we are game changers.”
Team sports do offer a community where people can break loose from the imposed confines of identity and be themselves. “There is freedom - you are thinking less, reacting in the moment, and there are around 14 other people who know exactly who you are – you see them every day” Lamees detailed.
Richard Frost, Marketing Director of Advantage Brands – the holder of the Kappa Brand in the UK - has been a long-time supporter of the Black Girls Ruck platform, an avid follower of their social message and a listener of the fantastic podcast.
“When I found out that the girls were looking to take their online momentum onto the pitch, in a showcase of everything we love about the game and the power of community, it was a no-brainer to help bring their strong sense of identity to life; as a call to action for all to also join the movement.”
“We’re proud to amplify the great ambition the team has on our brand channels, and we’re excited that for the inaugural run out of a BGR rugby team, we could help provide a uniform that supports the girls’ own sense of identity and culture.”
This culture is built in a team through being open and honest, and this is a theme that is a key focus for the group as they move forward. They are creating genuine connections with players, teams, and organisations to make a difference.
Looking to the future, it starts with the ambition to have a complete black female line up, a goal they are about to accomplish at the Matt Elliott Cup on the 29th of July when they will wear a bespoke Kappa rugby kit. The tournament is a charity event in memory of Matt who played for Hackney’s men’s team and sadly died on a climbing holiday. The tens game will see a full squad of black women turn out to play together, a feat that has only been possible through the network that BGR has built. For the group, it will be the pinnacle of their careers, as they welcome 20 of their fellow sportswomen from a variety of clubs.
After this, the focus will continue to be on growing the following on the podcast and broadening their reach with further impactful activations. Lamees shared “We want to help black girls and women to progress in sports, making rugby really accessible to black women and children. We are creating a hardship fund so that affordability isn’t an issue and hope to develop a scholarship fund.” Ehi added “It would also be great to fund black female coaches and referees within the game – so those who no longer play can continue their journey in rugby.”
The girls went on to say “This won't be the last you hear from us. We will have more challenging conversations; we will come together and play in more tournaments, and we will not stop until we have a community that is safe and supportive of all black women in every corner of the world.” Ehi added “We want to look at international rugby and see people who look like us throughout. Players, referees, and medics so that we can feel like we belong there too.”
With their sights set high, the group certainly exudes the passion and energy to bring about change and will undoubtedly go on to attract the attention of many more followers going forward. Lamees said, “We are striving to forge the path for others, in the hope that black females can find their nearest rugby club and be the first black woman there to help gather the hundreds who will follow.”
You can find out more and join the community by following BGR on Instagram and checking out the podcast here. If you want to donate and support them in their mission, you can donate at their JustGiving page found here.
If you are looking to create your own bespoke kit, then check out the Kappa Kit Builder here.