Marvin Thompson - Jamaica
Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your current rugby life?
My name is Marvin Thompson, and I am a player for the Jamaica national rugby league team. I am very passionate about rugby league, both playing and helping its development in Jamaica. One day I would like to see it become a major sport on the island.
Living in Kingston, Jamaica, I work as a Finance Officer for Supreme Ventures Services Limited and spend most of my spare time playing the sport. I started my journey in rugby league back in 2009. I have played for the Duhaney Park Red Sharks (from 2009 until today) and Hurricanes Rugby League.
I am currently preparing for the Rugby League World Cup, so all that I do is geared towards that. With the postponement of the tournament in 2021 due to Covid, an additional year had to be factored in. It has been a tough journey to keep mentally focused and physically ready for this tournament, as play was halted in Jamaica until April 2022 due to the pandemic.
The news was devastating for me as I had put in three years’ worth of preparation. I had to mentally readjust to the new date as my personal life had to be structured around the tournament. It has been another year realigning and preparing for the tournament again.
What has been your rugby journey up until now?
I was born in the city of Montego Bay. I travelled back and forth between there and Kingston, where I was introduced to rugby league at Calabar High School by my high school coach, Romeo Monteith. Romeo both played for and coached the Duhaney Park Red Sharks. He encouraged us (the youngsters) to take our playing to the next level and try out rugby league - which was similar to rugby union, so the learning curve would not be so steep.
I was a bit sceptical at first about playing in a senior competition because everyone else was so big and I was still young, but eventually gave it a shot. I fell in love with the sport after playing my first game of rugby league.
While at University of Technology, Jamaica (UTECH) in Kingston studying Land Surveying and Geographic Information Sciences (and also Sport Sciences), I captained the UTECH Knights to their first intercollegiate rugby league title.
It was throughout those years in college I matured even more in the game and flourished at the senior level. A lot of my success is attributed to the people that surround me - my support system. They fuel me day by day and encourage my growth both as a player and a person.
Like any journey, it has not been without ups and downs. Lots of sacrifices had to be made just to keep playing or stay involved with the sport. In Jamaica, rugby league is considered a minor sport, so we do not get much attention and as a result not much funding either. This results in a lot of out-of-pocket expenses just to keep the game going – all our strength training, nutrition, transportation, and kit must be funded by the individual.
To sustain my playing career, I had to find a balance between work, school, and rugby league, which was very challenging at times. Many overseas tours saw players dipping into their own pockets to fund these trips, just to keep Jamaica relevant on the international scene. I have had the privilege to captain the Reggae Warriors to historic wins on home soil - in 2017 when Jamaica won our first international home friendly against Canada and in 2019 when we beat the USA. These were proud moments for both me and the nation.
What does rugby league and playing for your country mean to you?
Playing for your country and representing a nation is one of the greatest honours one could have in the realm of sports. Just to know that you are going out there and wearing the colours, you get that sense of pride, knowing that back home millions are cheering and wanting you to do your very best.
Rugby league has taught me long-term life lessons and has helped me to stay focus on important goals. The sport has taught me discipline. Committing to playing the sport amidst trying to balance a very busy life, working full time, and exceling in school took some effort. I had to decide that I wanted to be the very best I could be within the sport to make it to this point.
It took some effort in staying motivated to play the sport in Jamaica. There is not much support financially so the main things keeping us motivated are our genuine love for this amazing game and the passion we have to see it grow beyond us in Jamaica.
What role does rugby league play in your community and country?
Rugby League is a community sport in Jamaica, meaning the sport aims to target communities in which it serves a greater purpose to bring people together within that area. This notion of unity has brought positivity within certain communities, especially in some ‘inner city’ communities which are usually violent areas.
Rugby has been very effective in communities such as Denham Town, Tivoli Gardens, Olympic Gardens, Duhaney Park, and Spanish Town. It has been very impactful in Duhaney Park where the sport has given youngsters a purpose. The Red Sharks are involved in various community development projects which give back to the community.
The sport has transformed a lot of lives in these communities by giving people something to look forward to and is also used as a teaching tool to develop well-rounded people. This translates to individuals becoming better members of society and contributing more meaningfully to Jamaica.
This is true of someone like Antonio Baker, a former Jamaica rugby league national representative. He is currently a counsellor at a high school and has acquired various academic accolades. Antonio's life was completely impacted by the game. Being involved in the sport afforded him many opportunities academically.
What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with any of the photos?
I showed players who are part of the local contingent of the Jamaica National Rugby League team leading up to the World Cup. I captured training sessions preparing us for the World Cup, particularly on the grounds of the University of Technology and at St. Georges College, a local high school where we play tag/touch rugby on Tuesday afternoons with elders and youngsters of the sport. I also showed our 9s tournament in Naples, Florida, USA, including a match between the Jamaica Hurricanes and Jacksonville Axemen.
The photos from the UTECH gym embody the determination and persistence it requires to get and stay prepared. The chains around our shoulders weigh about 23kg and it takes effort to do a workout with them. Day in day out I must ensure that my body withstands the immense pressure being placed on it as I prepare for the greatest tournament of my life - all in an effort to give my all and be the best I can be for my country.
Jamaica is known for its culture and music. Our name ‘Reggae Warriors’ is a dedication to this and to Bob Marley, the King of Reggae and a reflection of the spirit of our people.
What impact does the music of Jamaica have on you and your teammates?
Music in Jamaica is a way of life for some. For others like me, it is an important factor in altering my mood. This means that music affects the way I feel about certain situations and helps me to stay relaxed. Jamaicans love their music and are very protective and proud of it as it helps to communicate to the would a little piece of our culture.
Bob Marley brought this across through his music. His songs put you in the frame of mind to relax and have a lighter view on situations. This communicates the spirit of our people. We have faced lots of hardships, but we are resilient. No matter the situation we find the better side and surge forward.
Although I do not think reggae music has a direct correlation with how we play in every aspect. Rugby league is a very tough sport and requires aggression. Reggae is more about relaxation and a laid-back vibe!
Are there any good stories connected with the people you photographed?
I wanted to show some of the most influential people in my life, who have supported me throughout my rugby league journey. – Ricardo Bramwell, Milton Thompson, and Roy Calvert. They have directly impacted the player and man I am today.
Ricardo is one of my closest friends is the coach of UTECH, who coached me at the college level.
My father Milton allowed me to pursue rugby at high school level and was my main supporter throughout the earlier stages of my life.
Roy is coach of the Duhaney Park Red Sharks and national team coach. He was an integral part of my skill development as a player, he taught me a lot about the sport of rugby league and has greatly contributed to the player I am today.
What ambitions do you have for the future?
My dream is to see rugby league flourish in Jamaica, moving from a minor sport to a first choice for kids to play. This will further boost the nation’s competitiveness at the international level, as we always have amazing athletes.
On a personal level, I aim to leave back a legacy in the sport through the way I have paved the way for the upcoming generations. I made it from humble beginnings to the greatest stage on earth in rugby league. I want to show that anything is possible through dedication and dreaming big.
What do you think the future looks like for rugby league after the RLWC?
The future of rugby league in Jamaica after the tournament looks bright as the interest generated around qualifying for the Rugby League World Cup was massive. It brought a lot of attention to the sport within the country and as a result it gets more media coverage compared to before.
After the World Cup I suspect that the media coverage will increase and the public interest should increase, which will attract potential investors. This would take the sport to new heights in Jamaica. If the sport becomes more popular in Jamaica, this will ultimately ensure continuity, we can be even more competitive locally, and attain the level of play we require internationally.