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Assaigo-Kami is using World Rugby Scholarship to strengthen the off-field areas of the game

Thu, 07/10/2021, 04:29 am
Oceania Rugby
by Oceania Rugby

Rugby has been both a source of devastation and a place of solace and security for Papua New Guinea’s Lanna Assaigo-Kami.

Assaigo-Kami resented the game for a long time after her brother Arthur Connel Newtonwas badly injured in a game in Fiji and died of spinal injuries while she was in high school.

"He loved the game. He was playing with his buddies and got injured when a scrum collapsed and all these players fell on top of him," Lanna explained.

"For a while I could never go anywhere near a game or even onto a field.

"It affected us all very badly."

It was several years later, after moving back to Papua New Guinea, Lanna was reintroduced to the game she thought she'd left behind forever through her Tongan-born husband Steven Kami.

There was no known cure for Steven's infectious love of rugby – rugby fever, as Lanna describes it – and she was swept up in it.

"He was a player who had represented PNG as both a PukPuk and a coach and his favorite website was rugbyheaven.com, which he would religiously check after his morning coffee walk amongst his orchid garden," Lanna recalled.

"Being with a man who was this passionate about the game, it's hard not to get lured back into the fever rugby can give you."

Sadly, Steven passed away in 2017, leaving a devastated Lanna and three young sons behind.

Rugby played a massive part in the healing process, which is ongoing.

"I saw and experienced how strong the bonds of friendship the sport can bring when my late husband passed,' Lanna said.

"When he was hospitalised, we were surrounded by his team-mates and those he coached.

"To this day, my boys and I enjoy the love and friendship from all his rugby team-mates and colleagues."

Lanna adds with a laugh: "My love for rugby has always been up and down but I am in deep now."

She's not joking.

Leaning on her background in law, Lanna has acted as legal consultant and volunteer to the Papua New Guinea Rugby Union for several years.

She's done everything in the game but play.

"I can't kick, throw or catch a ball to save my life. My involvement has always been in the area of administration and in positions that have allowed me to do what I do best – paperwork, organisation and attempt at being the 'boss', " she said.

Yet, despite her extensive knowledge of the inner workings of the game, Lanna didn't take much notice when an email landed in her inbox calling for applicants for World Rugby's Executive Leadership Scholarship in late 2020.

"I haven’t been a player or a coach and I thought it was limited to that scope," she said.

"But I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring without expecting anything to come from it.

"I was really cheeky in the application. I said in three years I want to be on the Oceania board and in eight years on the World Rugby board!"

No-one was more surprised than Lanna when she was informed she'd been accepted, despite her initial pessimism.

She said: "I was surprised, overwhelmed, grateful and humbled. I never expected it."

The scholarship has allowed Lanna to enroll in the Australia Institute of Company Directors course and Harvard's Governance and Directorship courses.

She estimates it has brought forward her personal development goals by three years, thanks to the finance the scholarship provides.

"I'm meeting a lot more people around the world and sharing ideas," Lanna said.

Over the past two years she has been working with PNG Rugby Union, Oceania Rugby and Childfund Rugby on developing a PNGRU safeguarding policy and establishing clear safeguarding practices to be used around the whole sport both on and off the field. It combines personal focal points in her life Child Protection and building a stronger platform for sport for Children. Her work in this space saw her named to chair a Safeguarding Focus Group for World Rugby last month.

"I want to strengthen the off-field areas of the game - policy development, governance, organisation, strategic management and direction.” Lanna said.

But while the scholarship is taking Lanna all over the rugby world – online at least – her head and heart remains firmly entrenched in the affairs of the PNG Rugby Union and desperately wants the game to reach its potential throughout PNG.

Lanna can feel the support and guiding hand from both her late brother and husband, almost like she is carrying out the mission they began.

"We (Steve and Lanna) had collective dreams for rugby in PNG and I feel my late brother would be laughing and loving seeing me so involved in the game he loved," she said.

"The rugby family has been there for us, in PNG, and this is a way of giving back."