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Rugby to foster co-operation

By Cpl. David Thomas
First published in
SFOR Informer#103, December 20, 2000

Vitez - A London fog is hanging over the field. It is damp and it is cold, ideal weather for that very British game - Rugby. Enter 30 actors onto the stage, dressed in brightly coloured shirts, studded boots on their feet. They are going to need them! On the one side, 2nd Battalion The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, the "Tigers", in blue and yellow; on the other side, a civilian team from Vitez and Zenica.
This is not a sports paper and the complexities of the rough and tumble of rugby would take up too much time. Suffice to say, experience gave the "Tigers" the match, but what an international event it was. Besides the local players, there were players from as far away as Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, all great rugby playing nations.
But the most important aspect of this meeting was not so much the game of rugby but the co-operation between SFOR and the population of BiH. Here were people meeting for the first time and becoming friends.
"We had this idea two weeks ago," British Capt. Andrew Betts said. "They were interested in playing a game, we accepted. After our victory against the Canadians (40-0) last week, this allows us to be in contact with civilians."
Lt. Col. Zeljko Ljubanic from the Federation Army is also involved in the project. "It's good for us, to study Rugby and for the co-operation," he said. The officer, who works in the Joint Military Affairs (JMA) in Sarajevo, took an active part in the organisation of "this first but certainly not last match with SFOR."
"They'll probably learn something, they need experience," added Capt. Betts. "This is good for our liaison. Moreover, it's important to make sport especially with local people. We will have refreshments and a meal with them and give them the plate of the Regiment after the game. We will play soon against BiH's national team and the Republica Srpska's Army's team."
There were some surprises during this friendly game. Just as the famous Leicester "Tigers" wear letters instead of numbers on the back of their shirts, the local inhabitants wear shirts coming from Toulouse, so even France was represented.
"There are three civilian' rugby teams between Zenica and Vitez. Five years ago a French regiment gave us this equipment to encourage us to play," said Ljubanic.

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