The New Zealand Deaf Blacks started a three-test rugby series against Argentina in Auckland today.
The Deaf Blacks were ready for battle and Ryan Cassidy, who plays for them, says that it was more than just the game. "It' about identity, it's about myself. I'm proud of who I am. I don't like to feel insulated here, I feel like a team, I feel equal. I have pride and identity on this."
It was important for the Deaf Blacks that the Argentine team were able to connect and learn a bit about the Māori culture. They were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to stay at Te Piringātahi Marae in Massey for four days.
"When you visit other countries you want to be involved in the culture and their language and I think that was awesome for them to stay at a marae here in New Zealand," says Cassidy.
Throughout Aotearoa, there are three deaf rugby teams which come from different areas, the Northern Marlins, Central Zone and Southern Zone. All are self-funded but can apply for grants.
One thing is for sure for the Deaf Rugby Union, finding funding and getting support from the wider community is one of the many challenges that they have to deal with. Cassidy says, "We need more public awareness, it's important to receive more funding for support because we can achieve, we can play more. We should be able to play more competition but funding is stopping us."
Juan Alberto Faiad, who is the captain for Argentina, says it was a privilege to be given the opportunity to experience Māori culture. "We learnt that we were like a family, that we were the same culture, that they involve us and they accept us and that we are brothers and sisters."
From the referee's point of view, there were a few minor adjustments needed to ensure the players were still able to enjoy the game without any interruptions, says Jeremy Kannemeyer, who was the main referee for the game today.
"The important thing is that they enjoy the game, so I'm there to facilitate that process making sure that we play within the rules of the game, but understanding that there are some challenges."
The Deaf Blacks took the win for the first test of this series, with two more matches to go. One of their main focuses in the future will be the Deaf Rugby World Cup to be held in New Zealand in 2022.