August 2015 was a month of celebration for the WEA. It marked the first ever mixed ability rugby world tournament which brought together more than 400 players from 10 different countries including France, Serbia and Argentina. Under the inclusive mixed ability model, players with learning difficulties and physical disabilities, ranging from Down’s syndrome to cerebral palsy, play full contact rugby alongside their able-bodied peers.
The mixed ability rugby movement in England started with a Bradford-based rugby club – the Bumble Bees. Rugby fan Anthony Brooke, who was born with cerebral palsy, founded the team six years ago after he was repeatedly told that he was better off on the sidelines.
With the support of the Workers’ Educational Association, Anthony established the Bumble Bees, who now have over 40 registered players who train regularly at a local rugby club based in Bingley, West Yorkshire.
They also have the backing of the Rugby Football Union after scooping the RFU President’s award last year, in recognition of their efforts to bring the game to those from different backgrounds. Thanks to the Bumbles, there are now three new mixed ability rugby clubs in England, with others in the pipeline across Europe.
Members of the Bumbles team have now gone on to set up International Mixed Ability Sports, whose members conceived and organised the international mixed ability games.
Mark Goodwin, Bumbles Manager and one of the driving forces behind the world tournament, summed up the jubilant mood recently: “If you told me a few years ago that we’d be hosting an international mixed ability rugby tournament, I wouldn’t have believed it. The origins of this world tournament stem from a real need to provide inclusive sports and this is genuinely rugby for all.”