Leanne Fridd has been an avid fan of touch ever since her tomboy days growing up in New Zealand, and the Dubai-based schoolteacher was named player of the tournament in the mixed section on her debut at last year’s Zurich Corporate Touch 6s Tournament.
The head of primary at Safa Community School only entered at the last minute too.
She is once again part of the Atkins team entered into this year’s event, which takes place Friday at the Dubai Polo and Equestrian Club. Off the field, Fridd is buoyed by the growth of the sport worldwide and in the UAE thanks to Middle East Touch. Having been in the UAE for three years, she is also pleased to see more women and young girls taking up the sport and is happy to play her small part in developing that further.
When did you start playing touch?
I started playing touch when I was about five. However, I think I was dragged down to the touch grounds from the age of three as my dad played.
What got you into the sport?
I’m a Kiwi, so it was actually very normal to play netball and touch rugby as a girl. Although it was actually my dad who really got me into it – I watched him play from a very young age and so I must have developed the touch bug through him. I was also jealous that he used to teach my brother, and being a bit of tomboy, I wanted to prove that I could play as well. I also wasn’t allowed to play proper rugby as dad felt it wasn’t a girl’s sport.
As a teacher now, what would you say about girls playing touch, rugby or any sport?
I think it’s so important that girls have a go at any sports they like – it’s great for their interpersonal skills and understanding of collaboration, two very important skills which they’ll need in the future.
What would you say to other women out there who have never played the game?
The best way to learn is to play. The other players are really good at teaching you the basic workings of the game and all the girls that I have played with here – where it has been their first time – have picked it up very quickly. It’s also so much more fun than pounding the treadmill at the gym.
What are the benefits?
The great thing is that the games are very quick and you get to combine attacking and defending.Playing against the boys is also a lot of fun because they make the competition so much more challenging, which means you learn a lot and get very fit in the process.
What has touch got going for it that other sports are maybe lacking?
It’s a very social game and always a has a nice atmosphere. Last weekend we played in a junior nations tournament – it was beautiful weather, music was playing and there was a great standard of touch being played. It kind of made me feel like I was playing sport back home in New Zealand. Sometimes I think Dubai lacks ‘normality’ and I feel playing sport over here brings that back.
Why did you decide to take part in the Zurich Corporate Touch 6s Tournament last year?
Well it’s actually a funny story as my very good friend Fraser, who I used to play against on Wednesday nights, began dating my best friend Jemma. So, I think he asked me to play in the hope that she would come along to watch. They actually got engaged recently and I like to claim that I was the reason for this, because I introduced them.
So the game has had a positive impact not just on your life, but others too?
Yes, definitely. It’s a great way to meet people and create different circles of friends.
How did you feel when you were named player of the tournament at last year’s Zurich tournament?
Embarrassed because I was the ringer for the team. I actually didn’t work for Atkins and was in a little bit of pain as I dislocated my finger in the final.
What are the aims for this year?
I have no idea, it’s the end of our school inspection week, so I will need to get through that first. However, I am sure my team-mate Fraser has big aspirations for the team.
It’s a relatively young tournament but can you see it growing?
Definitely, even this year I can see that more school teams are beginning to enter.
John Larkins and ME Touch have had a huge impact on the game in the UAE. What do you think about the work they do?
I think what John has done over here is great – he has raised the profile of a great sport, in a context which you wouldn’t expect to see touch being played.
Do you play touch at your school too?
No, unfortunately. However, we do have in-house weekly sport competitions with our staff on Thursday afternoons and next year I will be strategic with my recruitment so we can enter a strong team into the Zurich Touch 6s.
With Sonny Bill Williams’ sister Niall playing sevens and the NZ sevens team being at the top of the women’s game, how good is that for young girls back home to see?
I think it’s great to see any team be successful in a global capacity and it’s brilliant for our girls to have positive role models who are successful in both sport and academics.
Your dad played rugby which is why you became interested. Who was your favourite team growing up and what players inspired you?
I think when I was younger the Otago Highlanders, but I didn’t have any key players who really inspired me. However, as a true Kiwi, obviously Richie McCaw because of his leadership skills on and off the field.