Ulster Rugby players standing up charity

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My husband and I are among the thousands of people across Northern Ireland who SUFTUM.

If you’re not a rugby fan, I might need to explain that: SUFTUM is an acronym for Stand Up for the Ulster Men, the anthem of Ulster Rugby with its easy to remember lyrics (just keep repeating ‘Stand Up For The Ulstermen’) to the tune of the Village People’s hit 70s song Go West (or if you’re a generation younger, it was also a big success in the 1990s for the Pet Shop Boys). You’re humming it now, aren’t you?

Paddy McAllister talking to Asha

Paddy McAllister talking to Asha

We are season ticket holders to the Kingspan Stadium, the home of Ulster Rugby and try to get to every home match during the season to support our team – at least it’s the one night in the week when I can be sure of a night out with my husband! And the atmosphere’s brilliant. We have terrace tickets (none of your prawn sandwiches for us) and anyway, I have never found it easy putting my heart and soul into singing Stand Up For The Ulster Men while sitting down!

And how many rugby clubs can boast they have their own Mariachi band to lead the singing? Not to mention Sparky, the club mascot, encouraging us all to be the 16th man.

There’s great news for rugby this week too with the announcement that Belfast has been chosen to host the semi-finals and the final of the Women’s Rugby World Cup in August 2017.

Just a year ago the new facilities at the Kingspan opened, the then Captain Johann Muller cut the ribbon before that season’s final game against Leinster, leading his team on to the pitch in front of a capacity 18,000 strong crowd. I was impressed by the detail in the new buildings when I had a quick tour round with some of my student journalists, facilitated by my former broadcast colleague Neil Brittain, once UTV sports reporter, now director of Communications at Ulster Rugby.

The changing room for the Ulster side is, unusually, circular in shape. It’s all about accountability – there are no corners to hide in, every member of that team has to step up and be counted, ready to play their part. They do say that sport is all about the mental game, don’t they?

So I was thinking about that call to step forward on Monday evening when I met some of those rugby players in person. Ruan Pienarr, Robbie Diack, Franco van der Merwe, Nick Williams and Weihann Herbst turned out to lend their personal support to Tearfund’s campaign called No Child Taken and raise awareness of what is the fastest growing crime in the world – human trafficking. Every day, 3,300 children worldwide are trafficked – that’s one child taken every 30 seconds, which is almost unimaginable.

We heard about some of those children and young women trafficked into the sex trade, including Asha who was sold into prostitution by a family member.

Last year, Ulster’s loose head prop Paddy McAllister travelled out to Mumbai with the charity where he met Asha and saw how women like her are being rescued, restored and given hope through the incredible work of Tearfund and their partners on the ground there.

So when it comes to standing up and playing their part, those men are doing their bit as brilliant role models both on and off the pitch, standing up for some of the most marginalised, vulnerable people in the world. So good luck against Glasgow tomorrow, Ulster, and SUFTUM!