Brought to you by: Monaco Life
I decided to drop by Stade Louis II on Saturday afternoon to catch a glimpse of the action at the Sainte Devote Rugby Tournament, as organised for the last seven years by the Monegasque Rugby Federation in collaboration with the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation. I coordinated my arrival with the start of Tots Rugby, a free workshop for children ages 3 to 5, thinking I could take some playful snaps.
I left four hours later.
What I learned in those hours is that the Sainte Devote Rugby Tournament is about so much more than rugby. Alongside the fourteen teams in the U12-category – from Europe, Africa, Russia and the UAE – playing across the day in hope of reaching the playoffs, part of the stadium track was used for a rugby workshop for Special Olympics Monaco.
There was also the Tots Rugby, with volunteers teaching various exercises to a scattering of little players that involved some hand and ball coordination, at least for the kids who didn’t run away.
The values of rugby and the Sainte Devote tournament go beyond physical aspects. The Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation tries to instil team spirit and the notions of solidarity, respect and fair play. It was apparent.
When I walked out on the field, Cape Town had just secured a spot in the finals. The twelve underprivileged boys, age 12, that make up the team from South Africa had been invited to the Principality from March 14 to 20, as part of the “South Africa-Monaco Rugby Exchange”, one of the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation’s flagship projects in its Sport & Education programme, in partnership with the South African Rugby Legends Association (SARLA).
In turn, a Monegasque team will travel to Durban in South Africa in July 2017.
Gavin Varejes started Rugby Legends sixteen years ago, and is also part of the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation South Africa. He told Monaco Life, “Bringing the kids once a year to Monaco, and participating in the Sainte Devote tournament is wonderful. Some of the kids have never been in a motorcar before, and to put them on an airplane, and bring them to Monaco where they get such an amazing reception from Princess Charlene and Prince Albert, and their families, is absolutely life changing for them.
“These are memories that stay with the boys forever. This has been the most uplifting programme for the kids we’ve brought over the last two years.”
Outside of the Sainte Devote tournament, the young athletes from South Africa and their counterparts from the Principality participate in school and activities providing mutual enrichment through their cultural differences.
They practiced with the Toulon rugby team earlier in the week, which was a real thrill for the boys, many of who dream of playing professionally one day for the South African national team, the Springboks, and becoming the next Bryan Habana, one of country’s greatest ever rugby players, currently playing for Toulon..
And on Friday morning, they had the special privilege of a first aid and water safety session from Princess Charlene at Charles III pool.
I hang out in the bleachers with the team before the big match at 5 pm. They tell me how cool it was to meet the Princess, and try to teach me Afrikaans. It’s as foreign as Quebecois French to me.
They talk about taking a plane (some were nervous, but others said it was really nice) and, as they munched away on baguette sandwiches and Mars bars, they tell me about their siblings back home who wanted to come with them to Monaco.
Polite, friendly, happy … it was hard to imagine these kids coming from villages without electricity or the impoverished surroundings as described to me by some of the SARLA team.
I am reminded about Princess Charlene’s Foundation and its initiative to promote water safety. I presumed incorrectly that the Princess chose this cause because she was living in Monaco and close to the Mediterranean. It was only recently that I learned it’s to educate children in South Africa, and worldwide, who don’t know how to swim. And the story to illustrate this was that of women washing their clothes at the river, kids in tow, when there’s suddenly a flood and the children drown because they’ve never been in water and cannot swim.
This is a world away from where we live.
At 5 o’clock, the boys are back on the field against Lausanne. Ten minutes later they are victorious with a score of 5-0. They are jubilant; they are gracious, immediately shaking hands with the opposing team.
SARLA and the coaches are clearly emotional, too. A fine example of tears of joy. The trophy – “la Coupe de HSH Prince Sovereign” – is presented by Princess Charlene’s brother, Gareth Wittstock, who has indefatigably entertained the Cape Town team and crew since their arrival.
“These kids take home hope and dreams, know things are achievable,” Mr Varejes explained. “And they learn ‘Don’t ever give up on yourself or your friends’.
“This is what rugby does. Rugby is the most incredible sport for uniting people and playing as a team on and off the field. This experience teaches them to believe in themselves.”
Article first published March 20, 2017.
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SIGN IN TO YOUR PREMIUM ACCOUNT TO READ MORE[ihc-hide-content ihc_mb_type="show" ihc_mb_who="reg" ihc_mb_template="" ] In 2007, I celebrated my daughter’s christening here with a glamorous crowd of friends revelling in champagne, barbajuans (Swiss-chard fritters) and a towering profiterole christening cake. A photo of me against the backdrop of the palace with Baby Dior christening present bags slung over each shoulder caused endless jokes amongst old Cambridge University friends that I had found my inner jetsetter at last. A decade later, I’m taken aback by the state of the place. The first thing that strikes me is that the front entrance of the restaurant has been engulfed by the neighbouring gift shop selling tourist knick-knacks so that you have to enter via a side entrance. The next thing I see is the transformation of the smart bar area into a bar-cum-depot for unloved furniture with one table as a makeshift desk scattered with paperwork. Finally I notice the worn beige undercloths and scarce clientele. I reflect that this Monegasque icon is looking a little moribund itself. Once my partner has arrived, we study the tidy two-page menu that celebrates Monegasque and Mediterranean dishes. A brusque waiter takes our order and then bats away my proffered camera saying he’s far too busy to take a photo. Afterwards a kind-hearted tourist who has witnessed the scene from a neighbouring table offers to take our photo instead. My tomato-and-burrata starter arrives in an impressive Technicolor of orange, red and yellow tomatoes. However, the burrata is rather hard (for a cheese that should be a melting combination of mozzarella and cream) and I’m not sure why the dish has been sprinkled with Parmesan. Luckily my clam pasta main course so hits the spot that I am tempted to polish the plate with my bread in enjoyment. As our waiter clears the pasta dishes, he remarks that he is ready to take our photo now that we have “les yeux rouges” (red eyes), after our lunch in the sun. My partner looks a little red-eyed with crossness as he asks for the bill. Yet as we finish off our glasses in the spring sunshine looking down over the leafy rooftops of Fontvieille, I reflect that there are few places to parallel a lazy lunch here even on an off day like this. Le Castelroc is a slice of our national identity. It is as important to Monegasque cuisine as the beloved Chez Roger stall in La Condamine market, which was revived successfully last month following a sustained public campaign: SOS Socca. With more and more competition within the principality from deep-pocketed international brands and celebrity chefs, we must seek inventive ways to sustain hard-working Monegasque dining dynasties. How about a Monegasque Culinary Heritage Foundation? Le Castelroc, 1 place du Palais. Tel: (+377) 93 30 36 68 Article first published March 21, 2017. [/ihc-hide-content]