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Kenya’s Deaf Rugby Team Dreams Big, Wishes to Match National Team’s Success

“In Kenya, the people who are hearing are the only ones who have a rugby team, so we thought let’s copy South Africa, let’s have a deaf rugby team,” he said

Rugby is one of Kenya’s most popular sports, and the country’s national team has played in the World Cup.

Inspired by the national team’s success, members of Kenya’s deaf community launched a deaf rugby team last year. The team, which is has been training for just more than a year now, has big dreams for the future.

Every Sunday, Martin Kasuivya begins his journey to the rugby pitch with a rush of excitement in his eyes. He had played football (soccer) as a child, but had never played rugby until a year ago, when officials of the newly formed Kenya Deaf Rugby Association came to his church.

Martin was born deaf and has largely remained within the deaf community in Kenya. For this story, he speaks to VOA through a sign language interpreter.

Sunday afternoon practice

“Before, when I was growing up, there was no deaf rugby, but people like to join new things so I decided let me go with a new thing,” he said.

At the pitch about an hour’s commute from his house, Martin joins 16 other players for practice. This has become the team’s weekly Sunday afternoon routine. Maurice Okwatch formed the team and the Kenya Deaf Rugby Association to support it. Speaking through a sign language interpreter, Okwatch explains his motivation.

“In Kenya, the people who are hearing are the only ones who have a rugby team, so we thought let’s copy South Africa, let’s have a deaf rugby team,” he said.

Funding hard to find

Deaf rugby is also played in Australia, Canada and England, and the sport is represented at the Deaf Olympics, which comes up next in 2021.

The players in Nairobi haven’t played a game yet and don’t have a sponsor. They make do with what they have: one ball and mismatched secondhand uniforms. Okwatch says the team is currently self-supporting.

“When I formed this group,” he said, “I tried to look for funding but it was very difficult and the committee ourselves we decided let’s chip in, so we bought a ball as a committee.”

deaf rugby team
“In Kenya, the people who are hearing are the only ones who have a rugby team, so we thought let’s copy South Africa, let’s have a deaf rugby team,” he said. VOA

Progress and big dreams

There’s no whistle here. The team’s coach, Brennan Rashid, communicates with players through sign language. In a professional deaf rugby match, the referee waves a white flag to draw the attention of the players.

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Unlike the players, Rashid is not deaf. He says that despite a lack of playing experience, the team is getting better.

“I have seen the progress, I have seen them step by step going places with it, getting a proper understanding of the game and that is the best thing I can give,” he said. Despite the various hardships, Kasuivya and the other players have big dreams, like competing in the Deaf Olympics. Kasuivya says his goal is to win the gold. (VOA)

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