Princess Charlene once said, “Rugby is a sport that has always been close to my heart and the values of discipline, teamwork and respect for others are ones that set an example to the sporting community.”
Nowhere was this more exemplary than Saturday, April 22, at the Sainte Devote Rugby Tournament. Organised by the Monegasque Rugby Federation with the support of the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation, the annual international under-12 tournament has been held at Stade Louis II since it began in 2011.
The opening ceremony at 10:30 am was exceptional this year. Prince Albert, Princess Charlene, Hereditary Prince Jacques and Princess Gabriella watched on as Scottish pipers (VIDEO above) entered the stadium leading team Impis, meaning Zulu Warriors, the rugby sevens team created at the request of the Princess six years ago.
On April 8, the Impis pulled of an unexpected win in Scotland at the Melrose Sevens, the oldest rugby sevens competition in the world, dating back to 1883. This was the Impis’ first victory and the champions were in Monaco to present the trophy to Princess Charlene at the Sainte Devote tournament. (See VIDEO end of article.)
Impis captain Tyler Bush was Ambassador of the 2023 Sainte Devote Tournament. Tyler, who started playing rugby at age 12 in Jamaica, explains the significance of the Melrose Sevens win for the young team and talks about their impressive visit in Scotland to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNIL). (WATCH VIDEO).
The Princess Charlene Foundation has provided financial support for RNIL’s global drowning prevention projects over the past decade. But support goes beyond RNIL. Since its launch in 2012, the Fondation de Princesse Charlène Monaco has backed over 510 projects, reaching more than a million people in 40 countries, teaching them to swim, to learn essential water safety skills and “to appreciate the values of sport that are so dear to me.” Two of their worldwide programs – “Learn to Swim” and “Water Safety” – are aimed at children who are at risk of drowning. The “Sport & Education” initiative offers sports activities to contribute to children’s wellbeing and development.
Tyler and Impis teammate Conan Osborne, also Jamaican, attended one of the Foundation’s drowning prevention programs yesterday at the Stade Louis II pool. They encouraged the 85 children from seven teams in the Sainte Devote tournament who were taking part in various activities and workshops, from CPR to water polo. The program was supervised by Pierre Frolla and the Académie Monégasque de la Mer, with the support of the Monegasque Red Cross.
There is a super-powered synchronicity between the pool and the pitch, thanks to Princess Charlene, and rugby is fast on its way to becoming Monaco’s national sport. This is also due to the outstanding efforts by the Monegasque Rugby Federation, which was founded in 1996 and has been heavily invested in bringing rugby to all walks of life.
“Having had a national rugby sevens team that won the European Championship tier 3 in 2013, the federation also strives to give opportunities to the upcoming generations,” Nicolas Bonnet, national technical director of the Monegasque Rugby Federation told me previously.
The other outstanding rugby initiative in the Principality is an exchange as part of the Foundation’s Sport and Education program. “One major aspect is the Monaco U16 rugby team going to South Africa as an extension of the South Africa-Monaco Rugby Exchange. The trip is an incredible opportunity for the Monegasque team and allows them to discover South Africa while playing rugby,” Bonnet said.
Credit for the development of rugby in Monaco is due in part to the Federation’s indefatigable president, Gareth Wittstock, who is also Secretary General of the Princess Charlene Fondation and has been actively involved in the success of the binational Impis, made up of four players from Monaco and eight from all nations. The Impis competed in the 2017 Dubai sevens. The team ranked 4th in 2018 before climbing up to 3rd in 2019, when 100,000 spectators devoured rugby over the tournament’s 50th anniversary weekend. In addition to the Impis men’s team, a women’s team was formed in 2021. Princess Charlene herself who chose the name “Umusa,” which means grace in Zulu.
Rugby fever could certainly be felt at the 2023 Sainte Devote Tournament. This year saw a record number of players from 20 teams representing 17 countries: South Africa, England, Andorra, Belgium, United Arab Emirates, Ecuador, Spain, France, Georgia, Mauritius, Italy, Luxembourg, Morocco, Monaco, Norway, Senegal and Switzerland.
Also on the agenda Saturday, as with every year, “Tots Rugby” for 2- to 7-year-olds taking their first steps with a rugby ball, and “Rugby for Everyone” educational workshops and competitions adapted to children with disabilities.
This first time I popped by to check out this tournament, which is free to the public, was in 2017. Six years on, I am astonished by the number of supporters in the stands and how this tournament has grown. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, the Princess’ Foundation has a unique ability to shine a light on Monaco’s sense of community and sportsmanship through events, all of which—whether swimming, golf, rugby, the Riviera Water Bike Challenge or Sunday’s Champagne & Oyster Cycling Club 140 km St-Tropez-Monaco charity bike – are 100% eco-friendly requiring only physical energy as fuel.
No matter what the score, everyone at Stade Louis II was a winner today.
WATCH VIDEO: Impis presenting Prince Albert and Princess Charlene with Melrose Sevens trophy.
WATCH VIDEO: Could you sing Monaco’s national anthem?
Article first published April 22, 2023.
Have you checked out Jean-Pierre Yves art exhibit at the Prince’s Car Collection? One of his works will be auctioned with proceeds going to the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation.