The Bath Rugby Community Foundation, the charitable arm of Bath Rugby Club, works to empower vulnerable children and young people in Bath and the surrounding area to succeed through sport, and Jiuma is its latest success story. Brought to the game by Project Rugby, Jiuma has grown from a quiet young man not able to touch anyone, to one of the most popular members of the squad.
Premiership Rugby’s Project Rugby programme is delivered in conjunction with partners Gallagher, title partner of Premiership Rugby, and the RFU and is designed to introduce as many people as possible to the benefits of rugby. Having engaged over 75,000 young people since the programme started, Project Rugby aims to encourage more players from ethnically diverse or low socio economic backgrounds, and those with disabilities to trial rugby, via sessions delivered at more than 200 locations across England which are welcoming and easily accessible to participants.
Jiuma arrived from Libya aged 12, and with neither Jiuma nor his parents speaking much English when they arrived, he went undiagnosed with ASD – a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain.
It was the way Jiuma gained confidence from initial training sessions at Walcot Warriors which inspired Bath Rugby Foundation Delivery Lead, Dan Hine, to commit to helping him. Hine went above and beyond to encourage the youngster, driving him to and from weekly sessions when his parents did not have access to a car.
Hine said: “In his first session, Jiuma wouldn’t be able to touch anybody but he had amazing hand eye co-ordination. His lineout throwing was ten out of ten, same with his kicking ability.
“For Jiuma, it meant he had something he was good at for maybe the first time in terms of sport. Everyone gave him a round of applause when taking a kick and he’d never had that before.”
Mixed ability rugby is a fully inclusive form of the game, where players of all abilities work side by side, increasing the understanding and compassion of those without a disability whilst showing disabled people they can enjoy and indeed excel in sport.
Walcot Warriors coach, Sam Trevor, recalled: “Initially, Jiuma was very reluctant to get involved. He would shadow Dan or just stand away from the action. He was very wary of the mud, the wet, the elements side of it. He was also very reluctant to take his very thick coat off come rain or shine. That was an initial hurdle and we soon realised the parka had to go back on to get him to take part in sessions.”
But time went on, Jiuma became one of the most popular members of the squad and the watershed moment occurred in October 2021, when Jiuma decided to ditch his beloved parka.
Trevor said: “He grew in confidence within the group. He realised no-one was going to take his coat and that he became more involved if he was dressed the same as the guys on the team.
“His social skills have come on phenomenally. He’s still one of the quieter chaps but he has a very good, dry sense of humour. He feels confident enough now within the team that he leads the Warriors chant at the end of training, which is huge progress for a guy that wouldn’t say hello to anyone three years ago.”
Jiuma was awarded the club’s ‘Personality of the Season’ award at the end of the most recent campaign and was selected to play at Twickenham during half time in the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final last June.
Trevor said: “The spectacle of being there and the scale of it, he was mesmerised. He initially struggled a little because of the noise of the crowd but then when it came to the pitch he got straight into it.”
Hine added: “He came to the Bristol Bears game last season at the Rec and wanted to go home within the first five or ten minutes because it was just a bit overwhelming. Fast forward three months to June and he was jumping up and celebrating with the fireworks at Twickenham.”
Jiuma’s parents have recognised the value of rugby to their son’s development despite the sport never being part of their culture, and none of it would have been possible without Project Rugby.
Trevor said: “Jiuma’s not from a rugby family so this opportunity wouldn’t have been on their radar at all had it not been for the outreach programme that engaged him in the first place. Then it was about how we could support his transition into rugby in whatever way we could.
“If it wasn’t for Dan driving him, he wouldn’t have physically got there. It would have been a shame that the barrier to rugby would have been just a lack of car in the family.”
Charles Scott, Chief Financial Officer at partner Gallagher, and a Project Rugby volunteer said: “We are passionate about the great work Project Rugby does and Jiuma’s story highlights the real difference this initiative makes. The teams efforts have helped transform his outlook on life and will instil confidence in him for many years. This story demonstrates the power of rugby and our belief that regardless of where someone comes from or what obstacles they may have to overcome this should never stand in the way of them getting involved in and reaping the rewards of playing this great sport.”
To find out more about Project Rugby and to find a session near you, visit www.projectrugby.co.uk