How visually impaired rugby started
The Change Foundation set up the England Blind Cricket Team and coached the team for ten years under the charity’s previous name – Cricket for Change. The charity was also instrumental in setting up the governing body of the sport – the World Blind Cricket Council – and went on to create blind cricket programmes across Africa and the Caribbean. The development of blind cricket in the UK and across the world in the 1990s helped pioneer disability sport in countries with very little sporting provision for people with a disability and empowered visually impaired children and adults to think differently about their disability and what they could achieve on the sports field and in life more generally.
In 2016, The Change Foundation’s visually impaired coaches turned their development expertise towards visually impaired rugby and over the last two years, with help from founding Visually Impaired Rugby Ambassador and former England Rugby Coach, Andy Robinson OBE, have developed the rules of the game – a seven-a-side touch version with uncontested scrums and line outs – written the coaching and officiating guidelines and created an adapted ball which makes a noise to help players locate it when it’s moving.
With the support of current Italian International, Ian McKinley, who lost an eye playing professional rugby for Irish club Leinster, the Change Foundation coaches and players then decided to embark on a series of showcase events which would bring the game to the attention of the rugby world and to visually impaired people across the globe.
The first of these showcase events was a three match series between the ‘Blind Lions’ and ‘Blind Blacks’ in New Zealand during the British and Irish Lions tour in 2017 which led to New Zealand spreading the game to Australia where they have since created ten new visually impaired rugby teams.
In the UK, the charity has set up the first visually impaired rugby team in partnership with the Wasps Legends Charitable Foundation and the Harlequins Foundation and a Harlequins visually impaired team versus a Wasps Legends team at Twickenham before the Harlequins v Wasps ‘Big Game’ event on December 29th became our 2018 showcase event.
Following intensive development work in Japan over an 11-month period, our 2019 showcase event was a three-match series between Japan and England which was held during the Rugby World Cup at the Kumagaya Stadium.
Further showcase events are planned in September 2020 with the first national competition in England followed by a first Six Nations event in early 2021 before a ‘Blind Lions’ team is selected for a three-match series against the ‘Blind Boks’ in South Africa. The first Visually Impaired Rugby World Cup is planned for 2023.