Serbian rugby league will receive a major boost this weekend with the arrival of Wigan Warriors’ star full back Matt Bowen.
Thanks to the support of Super League and Wigan Warriors, Bowen is visiting Serbia to promote their Schools Rugby League Programme, a pilot project which is part-funded by the Australian Embassy in Belgrade.
The project began on 20 January in primary schools in the capital with the purpose of teaching children the basics of the sport. Bowen, who played for Australia, will assist in a youth tournament to be held tomorrow (Saturday) at the FK Zemun stadium (14.00 GMT).
The tournament will also mark the centenary of ANZAC Day, being exactly 100 years from the landings at Gallipoli, one of the key battles of the First World War.
Coincidentally, the date also celebrates 61 years since the first official rugby league match was played in Serbia.
Bowen is one of the biggest rugby league stars to visit the country as SRLF vice president, Nebojša Sretenović acknowledges. “This is a huge honour for Serbia Rugby League to welcome such a wonderful player and one of the most respected men in the sport, on and off the field.”
“His playing record at club and representative level is among the best and he is very active in the Australian Government’s campaign ‘Close the Gap’, which aims to increase the life of the Australia indigenous people.”
Sretenović added, “Matt will be arriving with his wife and two children and will have a full schedule during this historic visit.
“As one of the initiators of it, the Australian Ambassador in Serbia, Julia Feeney, will be the main host for the Bowen family. It is scheduled for Matt to visit the headquarters of SRLF in Belgrade, he will have a couple of TV appearances, but the main event is the youth tournament.
“The programme currently involves about 200 boys and girls aged 10 to 14 years who were given the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the rugby league and then train for free, thanks to SRLF and with the support of Australian Embassy.”
The Schools Rugby League Programme is designed in accordance with the Strategy for Development of Sports 2014-2018 which was adopted by the Government of the Republic of Serbia and supported by the Serbian Ministry of Sports and Youth, and the Ministry of Education as a Secretariat for Youth and Sports of the City of Belgrade.
It is based on the LTAD (Long Term Athlete Development) plan designed by the Australian Institute of Sport, where the emphasis is on children learning about the sport through play and fun.