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Hands across the world for Matt Ratana

The response to the death on duty of New Zealand-born Metropolitan police officer and respected rugby coach Matt Ratana, pictured, has been huge and wide ranging.

Last month, a charitable organisation, the Matt Ratana Rugby Foundation, was launched in Britain on November 20 to invest in training, exchange experiences and equipment and facilities at rugby clubs throughout the country.

In New Zealand, an inaugural rugby tournament was held on November 14 between Police teams from Auckland and Counties Manukau, competing for the Sergeant Matiu Ratana Memorial Trophy, which is set to become an annual event.

The trophy has a huia feather attached to it and ribbons of blue and white, the colours of Auckland and the East Grinstead Rugby Football Club where Matt was head coach and a mentor to local youth. There are plans for a memorial to Matt to be erected at the club grounds.

He was shot and killed on September 25 while dealing with a suspect at the Croydon Custody Unit in London. He had been with the Met for nearly 30 years and had also spent five years with New Zealand Police from 2003 to 2008. He was 54 years old.

Matt loved policing and rugby and had wanted to build a “rugby bridge” youth exchange between the two countries that he called home.

In further recognition for his contributions, the BBC announced last month that he had been named as BBC South East’s Unsung Hero nomination for 2020. On November 23, BBC South East screened a film about Matt that includes a musical tribute – a new arrangement of Rugby World Cup anthem World in Union (previously performed by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa at the 1991 World Cup) – and members of the East Grinstead RFC sharing their stories about him.

One friend, and member of the club, is fellow Kiwi Joanne Gillam, who has been appointed as the Zealand “ambassador” for the foundation. The daughter of a retired police officer, Joanne has lived in Britain for 24 years. She met Matt two years ago when she was the junior chair managing youth sides at the club.

“I enjoyed having Matt as a familiar face at the club and there was something comforting about having whānau around me. I was deeply saddened to hear of his passing in such a brutal way. Being part of this foundation is my way of saying thank you to him for his love and kindness and keeping his memory connected with his birthplace.”

Joanne, who works as an executive assistant/PA for high net worth individuals, still has connections with New Zealand Police, with a cousin, Kirsten O’Hara, who is an intelligence support officer in Auckland, and a niece, Constable Grace Richardson, who works at Papapkura.

The tragedy of Matt’s death brought friends, colleagues and club members together to create the foundation as a meaningful legacy for a man who was obviously deeply admired and loved.

A player exchange programme will be one of several initiatives planned by the foundation, set up under the umbrella of the Atlas Foundation, a British charity that helps deprived children through rugby and community programmes.

It has received support from sports stars and celebrities, including former Met officer and England player Martin Bayfield, tennis legend Tim Henman, sports personalities Kenny and Gabby Logan, journalist and broadcaster Piers Morgan and Met Police chief Dame Cressida Dick.

Supporters who make donations to the foundation are being given shirts that feature Matt’s name, his police number and with “whānau” written on the back.

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