Air Seychelles, the national airline of the Republic of Seychelles, is supporting the Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors rugby team by sponsoring air travel and the shipment of cargo for a goodwill mission to Seychelles and Madagascar.
The team was formed as part of the Mike Ballard Foundation, which was established by members of the Abu Dhabi Harlequins Rugby Club to assist former front-row forward and UAE Player of the Year nominee, Mike Ballard, through rehabilitation after he sustained a severe spinal cord injury during the West Asia Club Championship Rugby Final in 2014.
The rugby squad flew into Seychelles this morning where they were greeted by a delegation of government and airline representatives and took part in a media conference at the Air Seychelles VIP Lounge.
Kicking-off the mission, the team’s manager Mike Ballard presented a donation of 20 wheelchairs to Mitcy Larue, Seychelles Minister for Health, and received a donation of rugby kits from the Seychelles Rugby Association. The team boarded a flight to Antananarivo later the same morning, where Air Seychelles launched an additional fourth weekly service yesterday, 28 June.
During their trip to Madagascar, the team will donate a range of medical equipment to the Aide Manjakasoa Rehabilitation Facility.
The squad will lead rugby coaching clinics for junior players, hand over rugby kits, boots and other gear, as well as take on the Malagasy national rugby team, named the Makis after the ring-tailed lemur, in a match on 3 July. The Makis are currently ranked number 41 in the world.
With more than 20,000 registered players and 410 rugby clubs, rugby is considered the national sport of Madagascar, and the exhibition match involving the Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors rugby team is expected to draw a crowd of over 30,000 fans.
Roy Kinnear, Chief Executive Officer of Air Seychelles, said: “Air Seychelles is extremely proud to support this goodwill mission, which will benefit many people with mobility and physical impairments in both Seychelles and Madagascar. In addition to providing much-needed medical equipment, this initiative will also contribute to the development of rugby in the Indian Ocean region. We’re happy that as the national airline we can play our part in increasing engagement in sports. What this tour also demonstrates is the significant contribution of our four-per-week Antananarivo service to the growth of people-to-people, government and cultural ties, between our island countries as well as other markets such as the UAE.”
Mike Ballard, Manager of the Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors rugby team, said: “The support of the rugby community was a major driving force in getting me through my darkest hour when I was injured in 2014, and we formed the Conquistadors team soon after so we could help out other rugby communities around the world. On top of being a good a chance for us to further the sport of rugby, this trip is also an opportunity to improve the lives of people who may have suffered a spinal injury or have mobility problems for other reasons. I want to thank Air Seychelles for making this goodwill mission possible.”
Mitcy Larue, Minister for Health in Seychelles, said: “We are thrilled to receive this generous donation of wheelchairs, which will go a long way towards improving the quality of life for people with disabilities, the elderly and other patients with mobility problems in Seychelles. The fact that it is coupled with the promotion of sports, which are an essential component of healthy living, makes this initiative doubly positive.”
Winston Cowie, the Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors team’s coach, said: “This year is our first attempt at organising a goodwill mission and the response from the rugby community has been incredible, with clubs from the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar, as well as Seychelles, gathering rugby kits and gear for donation. This goodwill mission to Seychelles and Madagascar would not have been possible without the support of Air Seychelles, whose generosity and ‘Creole Spirit' enabled us to achieve our goal.”
Marcel Rakotomalala, President of the Malagasy Rugby Federation, said: “I would like to extend my warmest thanks to all the members of the Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors for their charitable trip, which will support the development of rugby in Madagascar. The friendly match against our national team, the Makis, will be a key part of our preparations for the 2016 Africa Cup of Nations and as such we are eagerly looking forward to the team arriving in Antananarivo.”
About Air Seychelles
Air Seychelles was established in 1978 and began long-haul service in 1983. The airline currently offers international flights to Abu Dhabi, Johannesburg, Mauritius and Mumbai. Air Seychelles also offers more than 350 domestic scheduled flights a week throughout the archipelago, including domestic charter services. As the national airline of the Republic of Seychelles, Air Seychelles is a pillar of tourism, the island nation’s strongest and growing economic sector. The airline maintains a strategic partnership with Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates and 40 per cent stakeholder.