Visually Impaired rugby tackles the global stage

A group of men play VI rugby
There is a momentous sporting event taking place in Japan this October.

No, we’re not talking about the Rugby World Cup – although, admittedly, that is also quite exciting. Instead, we’re excited about the British Visually Impaired (VI) Rugby team flying over to Tokyo to compete in a three-test series against rivals from Japan and New Zealand.

If you haven’t heard of VI rugby, you aren’t on your own. But that’s set to change. The sport has grown in popularity after Alex Bassan, from The Change Foundation UK, together with Si Ledwith, started the sport three years ago.

As the duo created an adapted version of rugby, they wanted to maintain the feeling of the sport, while making it safe and inclusive. The main differences between mainstream rugby and VI rugby are that the ball contains small ball bearings, or bells, to make it audible, you do two-hand touch tackles (essentially like touch rugby) and scrums are uncontested.

But, you still score in the same way, you pass to one another in the same way, and you work as a team in the same way. Si said: “It’s certainly as competitive [as mainstream rugby], you’re playing top level sport, you’re playing for your country, it means a hell of a lot.” He explained how teamwork is especially important: “We all have to communicate very well and be aware of each other’s visual impairment.”

Si’s love of rugby inspired him to develop the VI game: “I always wanted to play rugby, my dad was a massive rugby fan - always wanted me to play. It wasn’t accessible to me at school.” He added: “I feel really proud and really fortunate [to be representing the UK].”

The UK team flies out on 10 October. Their first game is three days later. Over the week they’ll take on the teams from Japan and New Zealand, and while national pride is obviously at stake, the main aim for the team is to raise awareness of this inclusive sport.

Get involved

If you’d like to get involved with VI rugby, contact The Change Foundation for further information.