When we set up the Team Colostomy UK Rugby League team in 2018, it raised a few eyebrows. More than a few people wondered how you could possibly play a full-on contact sport when you had a stoma. Others, I’m sure, questioned the wisdom of a charity running with such a seemingly mad idea. Our reasons for doing it were simple. Firstly, we wanted to challenge perceptions of what it is like to live with a stoma. Secondly, we wanted to raise more general awareness about stomas, why people have stoma surgery and their needs. Thirdly, it was about empowerment. We wanted to demonstrate to ostomates through actions rather than words that anything is possible. The team had the potential to deliver on all these fronts.
That was 5 years ago. Since then, we have never looked back. Being bold has paid off in ways that we could never have foreseen or imagined. Our early matches were small affairs but even then, they started to attract attention. As 2019 drew to a close a full head of steam was building. With the team’s efforts on the pitch beginning to receive mainstream media coverage, we knew we had something special. Awareness was further built by the endorsement and support we received from several high-profile people in the rugby league world. And then the pandemic hit…
It was with some trepidation that the team finally returned to the field in August 2021. Thankfully, fears that that magical ‘something’ might have been lost in the COVID-19 hiatus soon proved unfounded. The team’s three games that year were reported on in The Mirror, The Express and The Star. BBC5 Live mentioned the team as well. Our social media engagement grew rapidly. Our best guess is that we reached around 2.5 million people. Support from the rugby league world continued. The ex-England, St Helens and Bradford Bulls star Paul Anderson even came out of retirement to don a Colostomy UK shirt and play for us in one of the games!
Fast forward to now and the team is still going strong and still spreading awareness about stomas and helping those with stomas to realise that they can be physically active, that they can get out and about, despite their stoma. This year the team has travelled from Leeds to Bradford, and Batley to Aberavon via Chorley and London, with our distinct purple shirt popping up on TV screens all over the country. Plenty of the team have also been interviewed for radio, with listeners in the northwest and Yorkshire, down through the Midlands to the south coast being treated to the multitude of accents that make up our team, whose members hail from across the UK. There were many highlights this year, from playing in front of a crowd of 3000 to a trip to Westminster in July to present to the All-Party Parliamentary Rugby League group, all thanks to our friend and advocate, Kim Leadbeater MP.
The Team Colostomy rugby team
2024 promises to be just as busy and exciting, as we plan to launch wheelchair and women’s teams to run alongside our current team. Wheelchair rugby league is genuinely the most inclusive sport of all – not solely a disability sport, as non-disabled people are welcome to compete as well. Men and women of all ages can play in the same team. The Women’s Rugby League has grown massively over the last few years thanks to high-profile coverage on the BBC and Sky Sports.
We are planning taster sessions for both teams early in the year, plus the opportunity to play in some festival-style tournaments too. If you would like to be involved or want more details please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, why not head over to our website where you can read more about Team Colostomy UK and how, as well as spreading awareness, we are helping to transform the lives of people with a stoma.