Written by Keith Whitelock
Photo by Vilnius, Lithuania
Matthew Wright, an English based young director of rugby league darlings Red Star Belgrade is hoping to establish the sport of rugby league in the small Baltic country of Lithuania. For those who don’t know, Lithuania gained independence from Russia in 1990 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The country has a population of just over 2.8 million people.
Matthew recently spoke with Everything Rugby League about what his goals are with Lithuania and how he plans on approaching this mission. As with many non-traditional rugby league playing countries, it is the connection to his spouse that is fueling the fire for Matthew. “My connection to Lithuania itself is that my partner is Lithuanian, and our son is half Lithuanian”.
Setting up a sport with little to no funding in a country where almost no one knows the sport exists is an ambitious task to say the least. Lithuania does however have a small rugby union presence which Matty hopes to use to gain interest. “Lithuania has currently got Rugby Union so they are no stranger to the game and some of its fundamentals”.
The all important first stage mainly revolves around assembling a team of players with Lithuanian heritage, which is where Matthew needs help getting the word out to eligible players in Britain and Australia.
“I have targeted to have played an international friendly in either the UK or Australia by the end of 2019. My idea is based around finding heritage players to represent Lithuania with this generating the initial interest and then taking a game to Lithuania for people to see and take an interest in Rugby League” says Matthew.
At just 24 years old, Matthew has a passion for expanding the sport of rugby league. In a recent Steve Mascord column with English magazine League Weekly, Matthew outlined how he first grew to love the sport of rugby league “I went down to my local junior club, the Milford Marlins… fell in love with the game from there. Being a late starter, I was never the most gifted of players. But I knew I wanted to be involved in rugby league somehow”.
Matthew has reached out to both the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) and the Rugby League European Federation (RLEF) about establishing the sport in Lithuania. He understands the criteria for each stage of membership and what it takes to gain recognition from both a back end and front-end point of view.
“It’s going to be a long process and I’m prepared as hard as needed and do as much as I can to see the game develop in a new country”.
Long term, the goal is to have born and bred Lithuanians playing rugby league in Vilnius and surrounding areas.
“My long-term goal is to have a fully established domestic competition in Lithuania covering all age groups for both men and women”.
Rugby league needs young and ambitious people with the drive and ideas to take us out of our traditional heartlands and into new frontiers. If Matty can achieve his ambition of establishing rugby league in Lithuania, it will be a great thing for our game.
If you, or anyone you know has a Lithuanian heritage and is keen to help form part of a Lithuanian heritage team, send Matthew a message at https://www.facebook.com/Lietuva-Rugby-League-546595702417167/