Womxn’s rugby forfeits home opener following first half injuries

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Womxn’s Rugby practice at Jack Kemp Stadium at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. Nanuka Jorjadze/The Occidental

Over the weekend of Feb. 1, two Occidental womxn’s rugby players were injured in a particularly violent game against California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), according to the club’s captain, Kitty Lu (junior). Following the injuries, Lu said Occidental decided to end the game because it felt unsafe.

Though rugby prohibits tackling above the waist, Lu said a player from CSULB grabbed Maggie Saucedo (sophomore) by the neck, which caused an injury and led to a stoppage of play. Lu said CSULB players have injured Occidental players in the past, and the Occidental team was hesitant to play the team again. However, the team culture of the Occidental womxn’s club allowed the players to leave an unsafe situation, according to Lu. 

“We try to create an overall understanding of safety. This weekend, there was obviously a stoppage of play,” Lu said. “We asked the team ‘Do you guys feel safe continuing the play?’ Some players did, some players did not, but a majority did not so we did not continue playing. That’s what our club wants to promote: that we value our players’ safety.”

Violations of the game’s strict rules are frowned upon and considered a breach of the camaraderie of rugby, according to assistant coach Malek Moazzam-Doulat, professor of Critical Theory and Social Justice (CTSJ). Moazzam-Doulat said rugby has a long tradition of celebratory feasts with the other team after a game ends. However, Occidental ended the game against Long Beach early, and did not have a social with them due to the violent nature of play.

“The tradition of the game is that the violence is rule-bound. You get bruised up and then afterwards, you go and you have a reception,” Moazzam-Doulat said. “In our experience at Occidental, the [Long Beach] womxn’s team has been undisciplined and they don’t tend to follow those kinds of the etiquette of the game.”

Rugby player Emily Zepeda (sophomore) said players have to be assertive on the field, but it is important to keep aggression controlled. Zepeda said assistant coach Moazzam-Doulat talked about how rugby is a game of elegant violence in a discussion after Feb. 1, and that it is crucial to stick to the rules in order to stay safe. Lu said the contact aspect of the game is what attracted her to the sport initially, and rugby is a sport where women are allowed and encouraged to be aggressive.

“The thing I love about rugby is that I get to be in control of my body, I get to be aggressive and no one can stop me,” Lu said. “Being in control, and being in power of your own body, in our own club, we’ve carried that message of empowering women.”

According to Moazzam-Doulat, the current womxn’s rugby team is extraordinary in terms of their thoughtfulness and care for each other. Moazzam-Doulat said the team assigned buddies to check up on injured players and make sure the players are getting treatment for their injuries. According to Lu, the team’s system of support has been cultivated over time by players continuing to help new teammates.

“Our team culture has always been like that. The seniors are always looking out for the underclassmen, and the underclassmen also support the seniors,” Lu said. “I think everyone on the team has created something special just by being themselves all the time and being accepting of everyone else all the time.”

Encouragement from other players extends beyond the game, according to Zepeda. Zepeda said she originally had a hard time making friends in college before she joined the team, and that the rugby womxn accepted Zepeda for who she was without judgement.

“I think to put it simply is that I have the best support group. [Rugby] is a community of people that I can just feel like I’m unapologetically like myself,” Zepeda said. “When I think of my team, I think of a safe space, I think of an accepting space. Anyone can show up to practice and we will welcome them with open arms.”

According to Lu, the rugby team is like her second family and players are always there for each other if something happens on campus.

“We all do so many different things that aren’t even connected to each other, but rugby brings us together and into each other’s lives. I’m inspired by every single player that I play with in one way or another,” Lu said. “Every one of those players is doing something incredible, everyone is involved in so many things, but they’re still able to show up to practice and play hard and work hard.”

According to Moazzam-Doulat, he has a hard time fitting rugby into his schedule but continues to coach because he admires the team’s diligence, intelligence, compassion and independence.

“To be frank, I don’t really have time to be doing this,” Moazzam-Doulat said. “But I can’t seem to stop doing it, and it’s because they’re amazing.”