Former Irish international and Leinster and Munster player Trevor Hogan’s Trip to Gaza

Former Irish international and Leinster and Munster player Trevor Hogan from Nenagh has decided to help the besieged people of Gaza by volunteering to go on the next Flotilla which is leaving soon. He has an interesting story to tell about how and why a person so privilaged has decided to put the fate of a besieged people before his own interests. Read his letter below to discover the motivation behind his trip.

Dear Sir,

The scenes in Cardiff and Thomond Park over the past two weeks are a reminder of the uplifting nature of sport.  Sport can raise the mood of a people, bring communities together, and provide a diversion from harsh realities of life.  And in Thomond last weekend the sights at the final whistle were moving.  There was genuine warmth and total respect between two teams who had who clattered each other for the previous 80 minutes, demonstrating the real power of sport.

I have been lucky enough to experience this first hand during my time playing for both Munster and Leinster. I think of the friendships made that last long beyond the training and playing pitch. The strength of character you develop from tough experiences and the strong team spirit that evolves. You learn about discipline and honesty, respect for your opponent – values essential to the game.

I believe these are traits of a sport that could translate well in a place in search of hope and positivity. This place is the Gaza strip, currently under a land and sea blockade. It is a  tiny coastal enclave roughly the size of Limerick and home to 1.5millon people. The blockade has resulted in a growing humanitarian crisis.

I have been given the chance to go there on board the Irish ship to Gaza.  The ship is part of an international flotilla of boats hoping to to lift the siege and reach out to ordinary Gazans. The flotilla aims to break the sense of isolation the people there feel and forge lasting links between them and the outside world.  I feel that rugby can play a part in this in some small way.

I am currently in contact with a number of groups in Gaza to help co-ordinate the introduction of  the sport there. I have linked up with a Gazan rugby player, Rabie Al Masri, who is being prevented from returning home, but whose dream is to establish a Palestinian rugby team. We aim to begin initially with tag rugby, an enjoyable game that will provide a simple introduction. Nenagh tag rugby and Irish Tag rugby have been kind enough to donate some equipment and balls. My Leinster teammates have also been very generous and donated footwear and jerseys.

I have also been in contact with the UK based Rugby for Change group whose aim is to bring people together from diverse backgrounds and enjoy sport together. They have helped set up the first Palestinian rugby team in the nearby West Bank.  With no pitches, minimal balls and equipment the Beit Jala Lions RFC managed to get up and running in 2008. Within 2 years they played an historic match against a team from Israel. Palestinians could now be treated as equals with Israelis on the sporting field.

Beit Jala Lions manager , Martin Bisstrai  described the positive effects of the game, “Our conditions are incredible, but because we have incredible players we could survive. Hard work and the love of rugby overcome any kind of difficulty. I know it sounds very ideological, but this is the reality”.

My aim is for rugby to achieve this too in Gaza. I’m further buoyed on by Michael Cheika, my former coach at Leinster, who’s Lebanese background has given him a deep insight and interest in Palestine. I discovered this when I signed up for a night course in UCD on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and found him sitting in the front of the class. He’s keen to lend his support to develop rugby in the region.

Gaza is already home to a GAA club, whose president is Tyrone legend, Peter Canavan.  The sight of a Gazan youth, soloing a football, can only give hope that they will take to the oval ball in the same vein.  Rugby, a game that makes room for all shapes and sizes  discriminates against no one, and I believe could help build on the existing sporting links between Ireland and Gaza.

The Irish ship, which will set off in mid June, represents a wide cross section of civic society from artists to trade unionists to sports people. The ship has been generously funded by ordinary people.  However, it is still in bad need of funds in order to reach Gaza.  Anyone interested in helping out  can contact me at rugby4gaza@gmail.com or the organisers of the ship at www.irishshiptogaza.org

Yours sincerely,

Trevor Hogan

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