The Blues have joined with new partner Yakult to launch a community programme that recycles boots for youngsters who might otherwise be precluded from playing rugby.
Blues and All Black legend Keven Mealamu is spearheading the ‘Best Foot Forward’ initiative – also known as ‘BFF’ for short – to collect pre-loved boots for re-distribution to worthy recipients at clubs and schools in the Blues’ region.
The veteran of more than 300 first-class rugby games says almost one in three New Zealand children live in poverty and cost is the biggest barrier to children playing sport.
“We don’t want youngsters to miss out on the joys of team sport because of financial reasons,” Mealamu said, “especially when each season rugby players of all ages replace boots that are still in good condition.
“Many of us have played in boots gifted by big brothers or friends and our boot drive is a means to build on that established practice and ensure boots that are sitting unused in the cupboard or garage are actually put to good use.”
With the support of Yakult, manufacturer of the Yakult fermented milk drink, the Blues are seeking donations of used boots in good condition. Collection bins will be operating at Blues’ home games, accessible 24/7 at Eden Park and QBE Stadium and available during office hours at the Blues High Performance Centre.
February and March will be the core collection time. The Blues players themselves will be actively involved in cleaning and distributing the boots in late March and April.
Yakult Director, Sales and Corporate Affairs David Whatley says the company is keen to assist Best Foot Forward as a corporate social responsibility initiative.
“As a company we believe it’s important to contribute back to the community you’re engaged with,” Mr Whatley said. “Given our focus is on health and wellbeing, we are delighted to support a project that will help more youngsters get active and enjoy the passion for rugby shared by all New Zealanders.”
Blues General Manager Brand & Community, Robyn Rowley, says 2017 will be a pilot programme, but the Blues are setting up systems to make a long-term commitment to the boot drive.
“When we initially talked to clubs, schools and the Blues squad about the initiative we were surprised at the potential level of demand,” Rowley said. “This isn’t an issue that can be fixed in one season. It needs to be ongoing.”
Rowley says many players within the current Blues squad played in hand-me-down boots when they were young or have a talented friend who gave up playing because their family couldn’t afford boots.
“This is a project that has captured our players’ hearts,” Rowley said. “They know that being able to play sport helps youngsters develop social skills, experience the benefits of being part of a team, maintain a healthy lifestyle and strengthen ties to their school or club.
“Every day the Blues strive to put their best foot forward in training and in life… and that’s what they’ll be urging and inspiring the boots’ new owners to do as well.”