ChildFund Pass It Back: Reconnect
We caught up with Chris Mastaglio, the Director of ChildFund Pass It Back (PIB), who has been locked down in Vientiane, Laos but still very active in planning the program and rolling out a new Reconnect curriculum. Since we last spoke to Chris in 2019, the PIB program has entered more countries, was the official partner of the RWC 2019 and seen a surge in its profile through various international media.
We wanted to hear how PIB is progressing, what the plans are and what actions were taken during the COVID-19 interruptions as well as the giant strides being made in Vietnam rugby.
Rugby World Cup 2019 and Pass It Back
What impact did the RWC 2019 have on PIB?
The big impact was the profile of Pass It Back being raised at the Rugby World Cup. For the partnership, the idea of an international federation partnering with an NGO and finding some strategic alignment, that was really interesting.
I was fortunate enough to be on the ground for the RWC in Japan and everybody, like the rugby fans, were enthusiastic which was great to see.
The fundraising element was critical, particularly now. Like everyone else, we are being impacted by COVID-19, the opportunities for fundraising, government grants, all of that has been impacted. I think the revenue that was generated at the RWC has allowed us a little bit of cushioning for this year which has been really good. We have been able to commit to activities we maybe would not have been able to with the financial impact.
By the end of our financial year, which is June 2020, we will have around 28 000 players and 40 000 sessions.
ChildFund Pass It Back: Reconnect
Where does the program operate now?
We are operating in Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia, Japan and Timor Leste. Since COVID we have had significant changes that have occurred. The situation in Timor Leste is that we are not able to continue our work there at the moment and we are leaving it as it is and looking to re-engage in the next 6-12 month if all goes well.
Programs were suspended in all of the regions. The impacts started in February and by March 2020 we had stopped everywhere. With the lockdown restrictions, kids couldn’t get together and coaches couldn’t move.
The first country back on board was Vietnam and they have been back about ten days and have already done 450 sessions which is pretty good.
Laos just started now as we just received the permissions from the government. Cambodia is still on hold and we are waiting to see what is possible there. The Philippines is on lockdown still but we are doing online coach training with the development officers at the Philippines Rugby Union and some of our PIB officers to get ready to deliver the new content.
What is the new Pass It Back Reconnect curriculum?
We have developed this new Reconnect curriculum which is respondent to the research we did around some of the challenges the kids are facing with two things:
- Being locked in at home for 7-8 weeks.
- Losing access to school and the routine that has provided.
We are really trying to focus on activities that are more flexible than usual. In our regular PIB program, you register as a player and come back week after week. This is a more open model where kids can basically come and go as they are able.
It is also being provided for ages 5-18, whereas our main model is from the age of 11-16, so we have opened the age groups. It helps kids process and reflect on a lot of the stresses they have had in the recent situation, and getting kids to reconnect with their peers.
The big thing we have had is increases in anxiety and loneliness, a reliance on sport for communication where its possible, so having access to friends and starting to provide some routines, having some regular access to learning with a coach which is something the children have been missing.
Its been a bit of a process. Laos and Vietnam have been ok as many of our coaches have been in the program for a number of years and familiar with the methodology and they know whats going on.
The Philippines has been more of a challenge as we are not as established there and also providing coach training by Zoom is not as easy as face to face. So that’s been a challenge.
In Laos and Vietnam, we have trainers on the ground and accredited trainers who can deliver at a level of trainers. In the Philippines, we are only on cycle one, and everyone is at the coach level. Everyone is chomping at the bit, but we are waiting for the government to say it’s safe and for when we are able to open things up.
PIB has just under 30,000 players registered for a season, which is 6 months and 16 blocks of content and some competitions. So it’s going really well but we have to look at how we can scale it up.
ChildFund Pass It Back 2020 – by the numbers
Registered Pass It Back players: 24,131 (54% female).
This does not include those who have been involved from January 2020 during the COVID-interrupted season. The numbers will not be confirmed until Q3 2020.
Total PIB sessions delivered till the end of December 2019: 37,720
The next update to this will be in July to include the January – June 2020 affected period.
Where does Pass It Back want to go next?
Are you already looking to expand to new territories?
We thought we had what was a great plan and then COVID-19 arrived so we had to rejig and re-adjust everything. Obviously we really want to consolidate in the countries we are in SEA and those are, what we think, are really good practised examples of how sports and development organisations can work together – to both grow a sport and deliver social impact.
We are keen to see how we can expand the program into West Asia, its an area of Asia we have not really engaged with so far.
But looking further ahead, you have a Rugby World Cup Sevens happening in South Africa in 2022, followed by an RWC in France in 2023. So how would we demonstrate that this is a global model and not just an Asian model?
We have work going in the Pacific already, particularly around our Safeguarding in Sport work which is working closely with Oceania Rugby and a number of their national governing bodies there.
So its good engagement in Asia and Oceania, but next we have to look at what does good engagement in Africa look like and potentially in the Americas as well.
That’s really where our thinking is. Once we know where we stand with COVID-19, which has just caused so much disruption, to us of course, but you can see the impact it has had on the sports industry from top to bottom, from grassroots to the professional leagues – it has been a really really challenging time for everybody.
So you think there are opportunities to link with the Rugby World Cup in NZ in 2021, the Tag Rugby World Cup, and other big events and see if you can have a partnership with them?
Yeah, I think from the ChildFund side, we think we can add value to those global events. Our programs are rugby-based. The partnership we had with World Rugby was specifically for Rugby World Cup 2019, so only for that event. Obviously we are keen to look at how that partnership can be expanded, like you say, 2021 in the Pacific and the work we have with Oceania Rugby.
At the moment I would say there have been other priorities for our friends at World Rugby as they are dealing with the challenges, like the Unions and the impact on the competition and the qualifications. We still don’t know which teams will be at the Rugby World Cup in 2021, with the challenges in Africa and Asia with cross-border competitions.
So we are keen to have that conversation but we need to have it when the time is right for everyone.
World Rugby 2020
Have the recent elections at World Rugby affected you in any way?
I would hope not. Our engagement with the previous representatives, I would say was positive. We managed to get that partnership for RWC 2019, so the key thing for us is to keep on engaging with the new leadership, making sure they are aware of what we are doing, and a key part of that is how do we demonstrate our relevance beyond Asia?
RWC 2019 was about what is going on in Asia, that focus is going to move, it has to move as we are heading to the Pacific and then to Africa and France with those big events. So we need to demonstrate relevance in each of those markets.
I think particularly at this time, partnering with a development organisation is a huge opportunity, not only for sports and rugby but for others. We have been able to pivot with our COVID response and really show communities why rugby is a powerful tool to help kids reconnect after these disruptions to their lives.
I think that’s a compelling story for a sport to talk about, particularly rugby which talks about the values of sport and growing the game at all levels and in all markets. So we feel there is a natural partner opportunity there.
Impacts of COVID-19 on ChilFund Pass It Back
What has been the feedback of the coaches in the program and their anxiety with job security? How are you able to support them?
That’s a big part of it, as our coaches are on a stipend and managed as professional coaches, even though its a grassroots program. It’s not their main livelihood but its part of it. So the suspension of programs means a suspension of an opportunity to earn income and we have seen everywhere that’s an issue.
For my family at home that’s an issue (in the UK), its everywhere across the world, so it is no different for the coaches. So obviously dealing with those concerns – we were in a fortunate position in that we were able to cover a 3-month period in which we could guarantee a minimum level of income for some ongoing activities that could be done at home. So that really has been about the coaches reflecting on their involvement in the program, and preparing session plans for when things do open up again.
We were able to manage that but it was not for an indefinite period of time, so if that lockdown had been for another 3 or 6 months, it would have been really really challenging, so we were lucky we could get through that situation.
Now in Vietnam, as I said, coaches are starting to deliver again and with 450 sessions in ten days, it indicates they were waiting and ready to go!
Rugby in Vietnam: Impact of ChildFund Pass It Back
On Vietnam, there was talk earlier in 2020 of there being a Vietnam Rugby Federation setup before the SEA Games in 2021. Have you heard any more developments and how has PIB grown the game there?
What we have seen from the program, which is really interesting across the whole region, the general model has been: get a men’s national team and establish a federation and work down. That’s a model, I don’t know if its the optimal model but it’s a quick model which is why I think it has a lot of appeal.
In Vietnam what is interesting, is that we have gone in at a grassroots level and created an entirely Vietnamese base of coaches and players.
We have 2,000 registered players and 80-85 active coaches and more than 50% of them are female and a really strong national base to build this sport.
Because of our investment in that program there, we now have 9 clubs that have registered with the provincial authorities, and that’s not even within our program, and we are really happy that has happened. That’s from coaches who are really enjoying the sport, they are engaged, and they realise the next level is they need to have their own entities to do that.
You would hope at some point you would have a critical mass where it pushed up to a national federation. Now, we are not there yet of course, because we are talking about one province in a country of 90 million people, that’s not a national sport and I think its really important to acknowledge that, and these things take time.
Our engagement with the National Olympic Committee in Vietnam has been really really positive so far and I think they are making really valid points. They think it’s great what we are doing but they want to see it more geographically widespread and see more engagement in more provinces and I think that’s a good approach but that approach takes time. You cant do it in a hurry.
I do think it provides Asia Rugby with a good platform to start those engagements at a national level about setting up a national federation but that’s not ChildFunds remit, although I would love to see that happen. That’s really the role of the region’s governing body to take that platform and move it forward to those discussions.
I think there is a huge opportunity in Vietnam, there are a lot of really talented athletes, there is a large population and its a big market, and I think there are some significant opportunities there.
So I hope Asia Rugby are able to take that forward and I know they have already had meetings there with the NOCC and they have been positive about it, so its really a case of keeping those discussions going and making sure there is enough justification for the Olympic Committee and for the Vietnam government to say “ok we need to move on this.”
How can you support ChildFund Pass It Back?
We do get a lot of interest from visiting coaches and educators, and most recently a referee educator from the United States who has been involved at a Rugby World Cup and with the World Rugby 7s Series. This person came to Vietnam to see what we are doing and we had the first set of teams there participating in a competition in January 2020 in Hanoi.
Things are really moving on and having access to the high level of rugby technical input is important as we focus heavily on the life skills element. So getting access to those trainers and educators, particularly from our friends at Hong Kong Rugby, Asia Rugby and Japan Rugby, and through a number of other unions has been really critical to our success.
We are excited to share the story of one of the ChildFund Pass It Back coaches from Laos! Fon is a role model for her teams and young people in her community! Great to see how Sport for Development can plays a role in building female leaders in Asia! Thanks to the Lao Rugby Federation for the great video! #PassItBack
Posted by ChildFund Pass It Back on Thursday, June 4, 2020
Rugby development in Asia
- Steven Rodaway: Singapore Sevens General Manager.
- Karina Soerjanatamihardja: Growth of Women’s Rugby in Indonesia.
- Women and Girls Rugby Conference 2020 in HK.
- Rhys Jones: Rugby Development in Singapore.