Masters-aged rugby players showed solidarity with their embattled Ukrainian brothers and sisters on a pitch in Surrey on Sunday, March 13.
Members of Cascadia Masters Rugby Union clubs posed for a photo with a Canadian flag and a special blue-and-yellow banner at Sullivan Heights Park, where a game involved Semiahmoo Old Boys and Nooki Wood, a team based on Vancouver Island.
“Rugby is about brotherhood, integrity and respect – even for your opponent,” reads the banner, which includes logos of the league’s 10 clubs, nine of them located in B.C. and one in Seattle.
The banner creation and photo shoot was in reaction to a photo posted to social media of Giorgi Dzhangirian, the 83-year-old former president of Ukrainian Rugby Union, “defending his country” while wearing battle fatigues and standing behind a wall of concrete and sandbags.
Surrey resident Ian “Terrier” Stagg plays with Semiahmoo Old Boys and serves as the secretary of Cascadia Masters Rugby Union.
“This is what rugby does,” Stagg said after emailing the group photo to this newspaper. “We’re not just about ourselves, we’re out in the community, and it’s also what rugby does worldwide.
“We are currently supporting Ukraine through our contacts in rugby there,” he added, “and if anyone would like to join us please ask them to contact me (by email sent to email@example.com).”
This week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pleaded with Canadians to imagine the terror and horror unfolding in his country, to do more to close Ukraine’s skies to Russian bombs and to starve out every last dollar for Russia to fund its war.
Zelenskyy appeared by video link from Ukraine where the Russian invasion was in its 20th day, as of Tuesday. The death toll confirmed by the United Nations is now close to 700.
A Panorama-area resident, Stagg said he played against a Russian team a couple of years ago, during a World Cup event in Japan.
“We had an old-boys tournament hosted by the Japanese,” he recalled. “We travel all over the world and help out where we can. We toured to Cuba about nine years ago and took $40,000 worth of gear for players there to use.”
Sunday’s photo shoot at Sullivan Heights Park also involved players with Beavers Rugby Club and Ebb Tide, from Victoria. “The Beavers hosted us, as our pitch (at South Surrey Athletic Park) was being used for a soccer tournament,” Stagg explained.
Cascadia Masters Rugby Union was known as Pacific Northwest Over 40s Rugby Union until last year, before a name change.
Of note, Rugby Canada’s new interim chief executive officer, Jamie Levchuk, plays for Twilighter RFC in Cascadia Masters Rugby Union. Effective Feb. 1, Levchuk took over the position from departing CEO Allen Vansen.
with file from The Canadian Press