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Five mothers breaking the bias through sport

“It is not common for mothers like us to do activities like this. People in our society believe that women should just stay home instead of play sport.”

Society generally expects mothers to stay home, take care of the kids, cook, and clean. In some rural areas in Vietnam, mothers who go out of their homes and do what is traditionally deemed as men’s work are often frowned upon. In this story, we learn about five mothers who are breaking the barriers and challenging society’s expectations of mothers by being rugby coaches.

The mothers

One winter morning in Vietnam, Huyen woke up early but not to prepare breakfast for the family or to tend to the rice paddy. She put on her shoes to join other ChildFund Pass it Back coaches who were all heading for their first international contact rugby tournament, the 2019 Hanoi 10s. The team were going to compete under the flag of the Kim Boi Wild Cats, an amateur rugby club founded in the Hoa Binh Province, Vietnam by a number of Pass It Back coaches. Four other mothers, Lan, Ha, Thin, and Diep, joined her.

As coaches, mothers, wives, and daughters-in-law, these five women share similar challenges in their multiple roles. 

“Being a mother and a family member is a full-time job. When I go outside to coach or work in the farm, there is always housework waiting for me when I return. My husband and my parents-in-law help a bit but ultimately, I am responsible for the household chores. So, most of the time my thoughts are consumed by housework and taking care of other family members,” said Lan, mother of two.

Huyen, one of the first Pass It Back coaches in Vietnam, added, “I believe that there aren’t many mothers in rural areas who have the time and opportunity to play sports. To step out of our homes to become coaches, and out of our villages to play contact rugby, we had to overcome a lot of fears and challenges. People in our society believe that women should take care of the home instead of playing sport.” 

Their first contact rugby game

As the mothers arrived at the pitch, they were overwhelmed. The players from other teams ran fast and tackled hard. After seeing some big tackles, the group grew nervous.

“I was really worried before the competition because contact rugby is very different from the tag rugby that we play within the Pass It Back curriculum. In contact rugby, players need to have good physical strength and technical skills to be able to play well. Players from other teams had large physiques and loads of experience,” said Lan.

They were determined and soon ran onto the field.

Ha, mother of a young girl, shared how she gained her motivation to play in the end: “Some of us didn’t even want to participate in the competition initially. But the encouragement of other players inspired us to play. While we are not familiar with contact rugby, we put in an energetic performance, which was totally different to the nerves we showed before the game. I think we did a great job as first-time players. At first, I was afraid of being tackled to the ground, so I deliberately backed away sometimes, and I also passed the ball before the defenders could tackle me. We only succeeded in turning the ball over a few times, however, those small successes gave us strong motivation to keep trying.”

Unfortunately, the team was overpowered, and they lost their game.

When losing is winning 

After the game ended, the mothers ran to each other for a tight group hug.

“We are so proud of what we have accomplished,” said Ha. “Playing with my fellow coaches as a team was an important motivator, it drove me to learn from and enjoy the new experience. As a married woman with a daughter, I am proud that I was able to get to play a physical sport like rugby.”

Diep admitted that there was some disappointment about the results of each game, but she didn’t dwell on it. “We held onto the excitement and enthusiasm we experienced throughout the day, until the very last game. Our team was fantastic. We gave it everything we had. I could see the enthusiasm and willingness to learn from our failures in my teammates. Everyone was so brave.”

Lan continued, “When I got home, I told my sisters about the tournament and now they all want to have the same experience. I believe that if you put in your best effort, time after time, you will eventually succeed.”

Huyen is proud being part of the Kim Boi Wild Cats, the first all-Vietnamese women’s team in the history of rugby. “Now, I have registered for a training course in contact rugby, because I want to have more opportunities to play the game and be better at it. Everyone can play contact rugby. If we are given opportunities to learn the sport and develop confidence and passion for it, there’s no reason why we can’t play it.”

A year after that, some of the first-ever community rugby clubs were born in Hoa Binh, because of the increased interest of playing rugby in the area. Today, two community rugby networks, the Tan Lac Rugby Network and Kim Boi Rugby Association have been successfully registered, managing up to seven clubs across Hoa Binh Province. All from something people once never believed in. 

This project is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

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