Griffith Business School researchers have teamed up with a Brisbane rugby club to investigate the impact of an innovative cultural participation program.

Sunnybank Rugby Union Club has launched the Sunnybank Dragons Cultural Project, a ‘Learn to Play Rugby’ initiative involving children from the local Asian community. The social and sporting outcomes of the 6-week program are being monitored and evaluated by Griffith researchers.

“Rugby Australia is keen to see how a program like this can impact on communities coming together a little bit more, increasing our cultural understanding and exchanges, and making people feel welcome in really traditional European sports,” Dr Alana Thomson, Department of Tourism, Sport and Hotel Management, said.

Dr Thomson, an academic expert in sport development, is leading a team that also includes Dr Xin Jin, a senior lecturer at the Department of Tourism, Sport and Hotel Management, and Dr Bo Pang, a research fellow at Social Marketing @ Griffith.

Through a series of surveys, interviews and focus groups with players, their parents and club staff and coaches, the research will look at the program’s effect on social cohesion. “This is not just about getting the Asian community along to participate in rugby, it’s about building community, it’s about the club being more inclusive of the local population,” Dr Thomson said.

Sunnybank Rugby Union Club has designed the program to target a community of potential participants living within 5km of its high-quality facilities but who are largely unaware of what the club has to offer. The club worked with Rugby Australia to promote the program through Chinese social media platform WeChat, and more than 80 children attended the Come-and-Try day, with up to 70 boys and girls registering to participate.

For the past five weekends, children as young as three and up to 17-years-old have thrown themselves into a mixture of fun drills under the tutelage of professional rugby coaches. “The club committee and staff are very enthusiastic about this and the program design and marketing around it have been really effective,” Dr Thomson said.

Dr Alana Thomson

Cam Foley, participation manager of Sunnybank Rugby, believes the program has created new opportunities for the club in terms of new members. “We have the possibility of a new group of participants getting involved in the club and we’ve got to be able to transition so they’ve got some idea of what’s required and they don’t feel excluded in any way when they come into what is unknown territory for them,” he said.

“When the club was first set up, our mission statement was ‘a place for everyone’. That’s what we’re all about, a place for everyone where everyone can be involved. In the past this motto was normally focused on the Pacific Islanders who have become very much part of our club, but now it’s something that can be extended to other people from other backgrounds. It is going to be really important for us to grow as a club.”

The research is also focused on how marketing techniques can be used to create changes in behaviour that improve consumer wellbeing. Physical activity, language learning and improving cultural awareness are some of the potential benefits of participation identified by Dr Bo Pang.

“The Asian community don’t know about the sport. Before they came to Sunnybank Dragons, parents would have thought it was a violent sport, not safe for the children. All they heard about it through media was players getting hurt all the time. So, they were a little bit reluctant to get into it but they were also curious about this type of sport. Now they are here, and it’s something new, it’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s something they want to learn.”

The program’s research findings will be used by Rugby Australia to inform the development of similar programs around Australia. They will also guide Sunnybank Rugby Union Club in how the program is updated for delivery in the future.

“The feedback we’re getting is awesome,” Cam Foley said. “The kids are having lots of fun and their parents are enjoying it because they’re seeing their kids are having fun as well. If we can run this program again and tailor it a little more towards specific training, then we can build on this momentum.”