Photo: Matthijs Keim.

Kosovo’s first men’s rugby championship kicks off

A victory for Kosovo rugby team, the Peja Eagles, over the Skopje Wild Boars in the inaugural match of Kosovo’s first men’s rugby championship was celebrated on Sunday by players and rugby aficionados hoping to expand the sport.

A drop of sweat falls from Diamant Sheremeti’s chin onto the dry grass, as he lies exhausted on the playing field. The hands of the captain of the Peja Eagles are folded together to keep the sun out of his eyes.

The first ever rugby match of the Kosovo Rugby Men’s Championship just ended in a decisive victory for the Peja Eagles over the Skopje Wild Boars, winning by 38 points to the Boars’ 24. Lying on the grass after the final whistle blew, Sheremeti knew he and his team made history.

Sheremeti said that he was happy with the win. “But it does not matter who will win this championship,” he said. “What matters the most is that we advertise this game and get kids to play this sport. That is how you create something.”

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Ruari O’Connell, president and chairman of the Kosovo Rugby Federation, agrees with Sheremeti. “We are trying to develop the sport in Kosovo. Having a championship gives people something to aim and play for,” O’Connell said. “It is important having matches shown on television so people, and kids, can see what the sport is about.”

The tournament will continue on Sunday when Prishtina’s Bears play the Skopje Wild Boars, running until May 26, bringing together teams from both Kosovo and North Macedonia in a battle for the first trophy of the Kosovo Rugby men’s championship.

Rugby makes a name for itself in Kosovo

The Kosovo Rugby Federation might be in its infancy, but that does nothing to stop O’Connell’s ambitions. “It is interesting for us to see if next year if we can turn up more teams for the championship,” O’Connell said.

Six clubs are currently registered at the Kosovo Rugby Federation, three from Prishtina, and one each in Gjakova, Peja and Mitrovica.

“We have a format that can expand,” he continued. “If we could build on it in the cities like we are doing know, the championship will grow next year.”

One key factor of rugby is that there is no archetype of player, said O’Connell, and there is a role in each team for people of all shapes and sizes. “The qualities that rugby requires are in abundance in Kosovo,” he said. “Dedication, commitment, teamwork and passion is what Kosovo gives in spades.”  

All of the Rugby federation’s funding goes into expanding the sport throughout the country, particularly for Kosovo’s youth. “All services for kids who want to try rugby are free,” O’Connell explained. “We provide free equipment, clothing and coaching.”

But is rugby a sport that is able to flourish in Kosovo? O’Connell thinks so. “There are people from outside playing but a lot of the people administering the sport are Kosovar,” he said.

The chairman sees a roll to be played by the diaspora. “There are children from the diaspora who grew up in rugby countries. We hope that they get involved by playing, coaching, help to develop coaches or in any way possible.”

North Macedonia joins Kosovo’s tournament

Stefan Borozan is the captain of the Skopje Wild Boars. The North Macedonian learned to play rugby in London, played an international match for Austria and is now back in Skopje to play and coach his own team.

“It is stressful,” Borozan said, “But amazing. When I joined in September 2018 I was surprised at the level, evenmore when we were able to play our first game in December [losing to the Bears from Prishtina by 12-22].”

Like Kosovo, North Macedonia lacks a rich rugby culture. In the past, there were a few attempts to start a rugby club but they all failed. Besides the Wild Boars which was established in August 2018, there is only one other team, called Rudar Probishtip, founded in June 2018, developing in the country.

Borozan hopes that this growth in interest in rugby will continue. “In the next couple of years we develop more teams and start a league. For now we have to look for games abroad.”

The championship continues

The Peja Eagles, the Skopje Wild Boars and Bears Rugby Football Club from Prishtina will play each other both home and away during the Kosovo Rugby men’s championship.

“We make sure that we have a tournament that gives four exciting matches that people can come and watch,” O’Connell said.

Instead of having 15 players on each side like a regular rugby match, O’Connell explained why this championship will only feature 10 players per team.

“We have enough players to play 15s, but like every contact sport, injuries may occur,” explained O’Connell. “We want to be sure we will make it to the end of the season.”

At the end of the tournament, the winning team will receive a trophy, a medal and congratulations.

“For now, they play for the love of the game,” O’Connell said. “Professional rugby in Kosovo is a long way in the future. At some point we want to have an international team, but for now that is too expensive.”

Sheremeti shares O’Connell’s dream to have a national team that can play against other countries. “But it is a difficult and long road. Maybe in 10 years we will get there.”

With the sun still burning on their heads and the adrenaline from the victory still coursing through them, the players of the Peja Eagles rushed into two lines to applaud the Skopje Wild Boars as they left the field. The tackles during the game might have been fierce, but the respect for each other remained.

The matches will be played as follows:

14th April: Bears RFC – Skopje Wild Boars. 14.00.

28th April: Peja Eagles – Bears RFC. 14.00

12th May: Peja Eagles – Skopje Wild Boars. 14.00

19th May: Skopje Wild Boars – Bears RFC. 14.00

26th May: Bears RFC – Peja Eagles. 14.00

For the locations of each of the matches, visit the Facebook page of the Kosovo Rugby Federation. Highlights of the matches will be aired on TV Klan and Art Motion in Kosovo

13/04/2019 - 20:08

13 April 2019 - 20:08

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.