Maria Thomas: T&T Rugby's First Woman President
  Shalisha Samuel
HEALTH-FITNESS
September 2021

Photography by Clynton Mann

 

Shalisha Samuel speaks with Maria Thomas, the first woman President of the Trinidad and Tobago Rugby Football Union in its 99-year history.

                        Maria Thomas

 

  1. Who is Maria Thomas and what is her philosophy? 

 

It’s safe to say that I am an eclecticist. I love trying new things and taking on challenges. I’ll try almost anything once. Fireblowing, stilt walking, parasailing, a marathon…  I love nature; travelling to new places or exploring familiar ones. I like meeting new people and immediately feeling like I’ve known them for a long time. Life is too full of potential to be limited by singularity. In rugby, I’ve always had opportunities to try new things, and the people I’ve met have shared the zest for getting the most out of life. While none of us can do everything, all of us can do anything. Which brings me to the Ubuntu Philosophy: I am because we are. There is a camaraderie that is unique to rugby, and I believe it comes from the understanding that together, we are greater than the sum of our parts. Rugby combines multifarious singular skills to create a comprehensive team. When we come together we are complete. We apply this both on and off the pitch. 

 

 

  1. You have what I call a fruit punch accent. Tell us more about that. 

 

I was born in Canada to Welsh and Trinidadian parents. We moved quite often so keeping in touch with family (blood and chosen relatives) has always been a priority. We always had multinational influences growing up, and to this day my mother sends us messages in multiple languages. I've lived in Trinidad for ten years; I also lived in Russia for a year. Studying in an international program, where I was the sole native English speaker, definitely added a few more fruits to the punch. 

 

 

  1. Rugby - Was it love at first sight? 

 

Pretty much. I was identified as someone who "should play rugby". I grew up playing every sport that was available to me. Runners-up go to volleyball and basketball. Then I became a rugby player. Rugby caught me with its calmness. Like when classical music is playing in an action film. I had a coach who always gave me clear direction and made me feel as though whatever job I had, it was the most important job. My teammates had their most important jobs too - and together we were unstoppable. Pack work is like meditation for me. I am able to focus, and despite what looks like chaos, my mind is clear.

 

                                Maria Thomas on the field

 

  1. You’re the first woman elected President after 100 years of the TTFU’s creation – tell us about that.

 

Well, it has happened in the 99th year, and has been achieved through the investments and experiences afforded to, and created within our community. World Rugby has set goals for gender parity and our past leadership took the steps required for Trinidad and Tobago to be a forerunner in this area. The TTRFU Executive and National Technical Teams have achieved 40% representation this year. Personal and organisational dedication to developing proficiency has resulted in the alignment of our commitment to equal opportunity with efforts to realise the full potential in our community, inclusive of everyone.


 

  1. You met Russian President Putin! How did this happen?  

 

During the time I was studying for my Masters in Sports Administration, President Putin addressed us at the Tenth Anniversary Celebration of the Russian International Olympic University (RIOU). Sochi is known for hosting very high profile people, and our campus is very central to those activities. It was exciting to have President Putin come to us, where we lived and studied - it added to the impact of the occasion. It felt good to be part of a program that earned such attention. We were graced by the presence of many great leaders and contributors to sport, who have close partnerships with the RIOU and the global sport community.

Ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of the Russian International Olympic University • President of Russia (kremlin.ru)

 

 

  1. How do you plan to lead in the year of COVID-19?

 

Covid-19 has changed how we connect with each other. We have less physical connection, and more virtual connection. Our key objectives include ensuring that opportunities are made available to the people they are meant to reach, and creating new opportunities that are equally accessible to everyone. Through virtual platforms we have the opportunity to connect in new ways that overcome distance and expand our networks. Thus far I’ve already held meetings to deliver a series of collaborative webinars that will enhance our training and professional development. There are many opportunities available, despite Covid-19, and engaging with them will set us up for success post-pandemic.  

 

  

  1. What do you hope to see happen for rugby regionally? 

 

I would like to see Trinidad and Tobago, and all of our sibling Caribbean Country Unions, use this time to strengthen relationships amongst ourselves and within Rugby Americas North (RAN). RAN highlights rugby in all of its nations and I believe that we can do more to promote ourselves, our unique culture, and our talent. This includes implementing programmes that work for us by improving and increasing  the training and competition we are exposed to prior to the established RAN tournaments. One of the ways we can achieve this is through more collaboration in the Caribbean region.

 

    

  1. How does the governance structure of rugby affect leadership? 

 

Understanding the connection between governance and participation becomes more clear with experience of both elements. They are not mutually exclusive. We have a democratic governance structure, so our success depends on collective participation. The focus of the previous leadership on education put our rugby community in a strong position to engage in our governance structure. Our membership has, and continues to contribute by holding leadership accountable and advocating for themselves and their wishes for the future of rugby in Trinidad and Tobago. Moving forward, this is one of our greatest strengths.  


                        Maria Thomas in action

 

  1. Tell us about your newly elected team.
     

The new Executive Committee, or as I like to call ourselves, the “ExecuTeam”, reflects the inclusivity that rugby prizes. Collectively we have a wide range of skills, experiences, perspectives, and passions that have prepared us to take on the challenges that this term presents. Vice President, Don Sucre, and Assistant Secretary Treasurer, Kenwyn Davis, are both known for coming up with innovative ideas; they put in the work to create the change they want to see. Secretary, Rochelle Tracey-Pantin, and Treasurer, Curtis Nero, bring years of experience and knowledge to the table, which facilitate the implementation of our plans. Our Secretariat adds yet another level of professional guidance.   We have insights as players, coaches, managers, and club administrators that help us to relate to the community we serve. The synergy of our team allows us to learn from each other in an environment that is contagiously fun and we want to increase the involvement of the Management Committee in processes they can get excited about. The energy one expects at the pitch on game day, we are bringing to our roles in governance. 


 

  1. What’s next on the TTRFU’s agenda? 

 

We are about to launch a virtual platform to ensure that everyone has equal access to programs without leaving their homes.  No matter what obstacles arise due to Covid-19, or anything else, we must focus on safe and accessible implementation. Fortunately, the ExecuTeam is full of ideas and so is the community. We are taking the opportunity to combine past experience and innovative new ideas to bridge the gap, both physically and figuratively. We are on Facebook, Trinidad and Tobago Rugby Football Union, and Instagram, @ttrfu_868, which gives access to more people and regular updates on what’s been done and what’s coming up next. 


                        Maria Thomas in charge

 

  1. What is Maria’s message to young people in sports? 

 

If you want to try something (even if it’s not rugby), try it. Without going too deep into a history lesson, a rugby try didn’t always count for points. Grounding the ball in the opponent's end zone afforded the attacking team a ‘try at goal’ - that is, a kick to score a goal to earn the points. Now, every time you try in rugby it’s five points - with a chance for two more points from the conversion kick ‘at goal’. The name “try” remained. So, if the goal is two points, even if you don’t make the goal, you score five points for trying. Is this the best sports metaphor ever? Probably. 

 

All photographs are by Clynton Mann

 

By: Shalisha Samuel | HEALTH-FITNESS | September 2021


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