Curaçao Rugby Federation (CRF) has reaffirmed their dedication to the future of rugby in the region by hosting the 2023 Beach Spigt Rugby School Championships last winter with much success.

CRF President Tamara van Leeuwen said the event serves to strengthen ties between local schools and the Union, building a more solid foundation for the development of rugby on the island.

“Events such as these really assist us with recruiting young people into the sport and are key to the development of rugby in Curaçao, generating awareness of the sport more widely in our community. Our aim is to continue to make these Championships part of our annual calendar of events so that we can sustainably develop rugby on the island from the ground up, especially within the schools.”

Tamara stated 180 children from nine schools participated this year, with 15 teams competing and ages ranging from 9-18 years old.

“This was a very encouraging turn out because currently the schools here still do not incorporate rugby into the PE curriculum. By any stretch of the imagination, this year was a well-attended, successful, and worthwhile event that will benefit rugby in both Curaçao and the region at large for years to come.”

Who is Tamara van Leeuwen?

Tamara van Leeuwen first became involved with rugby in 2017.

The following year, she was appointed as a Board Member for the Union and in 2019 was elected as President.

The 48-year-old Dutch national (raised in Curaçao from two years old) said although she has never played a match before, she has stepped up to the plate and now undertakes all of the administrative and financial operations of the Union, as well as the tasks of liaising with Rugby Americas North (RAN), organizing local and international tournaments, marketing, and player database management.

“The rugby community is small here, so as President I wear many caps,” she said. “However, despite our size, we are a committed group who share the vision of growing the sport in Curaçao to its full potential.”

van Leeuwen adds a pivotal member of this group is Head Coach Rob Perry, a professional English rugby player, who is also a RAN Coach Educator, referee, and a key driver of progressing rugby on the island.

“There is no rugby in Curaçao without Rob Perry,” she said. “Even though I am CRF President, Rob is the one who has really taken rugby off the ground here.”

Kicking Off the 2023 Beach Spigt Rugby School Championships

van Leeuwen said the Championships have been hosted in a smaller capacity since 2012, however the 2023 edition was the first year that a big-name sponsor ‘Spigt’, a law firm, came on board to support the event.

“The schools are our prime target,” she said. “And, as this event gains momentum and brings in the bigger sponsors like Spigt, it gives us an excellent platform to attract the schools and to connect with local PE teachers to get them on board with our vision.”

The one-day event comprised of nine schools with 15 teams participating across the age categories of Mixed (ages 9-13), U18 Girls, and U18 Boys.

“Once the schools signed up, we provided them with a free four-hour crash course in rugby which could be spread out from the time they signed up until tournament day,” said van Leeuwen. “Each school was assigned a free kit with a special color to distinguish them from each other. Each school PE Teacher was guiding their team, and they were also given coaching assistance from the Federation for the duration of competition.”

van Leeuwen mentioned that to round out the on-field action, CRF members were designated as official referees and acted in accordance with the rules and guidelines of World Rugby.

“Aside from keeping our matches at an international standard, we also really tried to make the event as full as possible to attract as much participation as we could,” she said. “We had some fun merchandise on sale, and a raffle with prizes like a dolphin swim at the Curaçao Sea Aquarium, clothing and supermarket vouchers, CRF shirts, and pizzas from Domino’s.”

She said in each category, three prizes were given for first, second, and third places, as well as two MVP awards for each category. All children also received an individual medal, and each school was given a trophy cup that they could keep as a souvenir of the event.

A Resounding Success

van Leeuwen said her and her team were overwhelmed by the number of schools that participated this year and are encouraged by the amount of raw talent they saw from the children.

“Some of the players even looked as if they had played before when they had actually never even picked up a rugby ball,” she said. “It was also amazing to see the perception of the sport change, simply through the exposure that this event affords. Many people assume rugby is extremely hard-hitting but once we educated them on the rules and the tactical nature of it, it was wonderful to see them realize just how safe the game really is.”

van Leeuwen was also encouraged to see how many spectators came out to show their support for the event, and how the local rugby community rallied around any newcomers to involve them in every aspect of the Championships.

“For me, it was so exciting to see the parents also come out to watch their children excel in a sport they’ve never played before. The event not only exposed the children to playing, but the parents were also introduced to rugby as a serious sport with so many benefits, both on and off the field. This is the true essence of rugby; it is a life-changing sport. We just want to share this with as many people as possible, and I think we did a pretty good job at doing that through this Championships.”

The Future is Bright

While the Championships are a huge platform for the long-term development of rugby in Curaçao, van Leeuwen said the CRF is also working on opening new doors to overseas pathways for players to broaden their horizons through the sport.

“We are working hard to deepen our international ties so that we can offer our players various opportunities, especially to study and play rugby abroad. We have pathways and connections to get them into rugby clubs in the USA, Europe, and England and we want to encourage our community to stay in rugby, expand your experience, and bring it back to Curaçao to continue to help us push forward our mission.”

She said CRF is also building out the awareness of other additional opportunities that rugby provides, again assisting to solidify the sustainability of the sport on the island.

“We have had RAN come into Curaçao a couple of times to facilitate coaching and referee courses which we are really grateful for. We want to show people that there is more to rugby than simply being a player. There is a whole range of options and career choices to suit anyone who is interested, and this is what we want to showcase; the diversity rugby offers is just unprecedented.”

When asked what her vision is for rugby in Curaçao, van Leeuwen said:

“To be able to bring back and host a big international rugby event and beach tournament in Curaçao would be the dream. We also want to continue to generate more numbers within the local rugby community, as well as do some more overseas touring to give our players that deeper level of experience. Moving forward, we remain committed to doing everything we can to realize these goals and more, so stay tuned!”