For global rugby fans, she is the sport’s most exciting player, but for the rest of the world, she is that and more. Twenty-six-year-old American rugby union player Ilona Maher is a formidable Olympian and a member of the USA Rugby team. She is also an influential TikTok star with over 1 million followers and nearly 80 million likes, whose relatable and humorous content has rugby pundits saying that she is changing how the public perceives rugby. It is no longer only about burly men roughing it out in the pitch; rugby is also about women like Ilona who, as her popular hashtag states, embody Beast. Beauty. Brains.

Beyond the pitch, Ilona has been known for using her platform to advocate for mental health and body positivity, empowering young people across the globe who look up to her as a role model. Recently, Ilona took her role modelling a step further by joining ChildFund Rugby as their newest Ambassador.

Ilona joins other rugby greats that have supported ChildFund Rugby, including Charlotte Caslick, Stephen Larkham, Honey Hireme-Smiler, Lewis Holland, Emily Chancellor, Aimee Sutorius and Mere Baker. Together with the other Ambassadors, Ilona will be highlighting how rugby can be used as a tool for positive social change.

“Rugby has provided me with opportunities both on the pitch and off the pitch. I first learned about ChildFund Rugby during Rugby World Cup 2021 in New Zealand, where I had the opportunity to meet some young female leaders in rugby from around the world taking part in leadership learning.  Since that experience, I wanted to learn more about how rugby is being used to create change in communities around the world,” said Ilona.

“It’s been so fulfilling for me to be an Ambassador and align myself with an organisation like ChildFund Rugby that is dedicated to helping grow the game for everyone around the world. After seeing Pass It Back Coaches in action, I can definitely say that these young coaches and players can and are changing the world through rugby.”

Recently, Ilona visited Laos as a guest of the Lao Rugby Federation, one of a number of rugby partners around the world using Pass It Back, an impactful rugby and life skills curriculum. Pass It Back provides opportunities for players to learn and practice key social and emotional skills to build gender equity, be healthy and to be safe. 

Ilona went on to add, “Seeing the way the coaches interact with their players at practice and game day showed me that, not only are the players learning, but also the coaches through this curriculum.  Pass It Back players look up to their Coaches and many go on to become Pass It Back Coaches after finishing the curriculum. Many Pass It Back Coaches also go on to apply for staff positions with the rugby federation or to get advanced coaching or match officiating accreditations for example. These role models built up through and across Pass It Back are supporting and developing the game across all of these points in the federation pathway. It’s great to see.”

This announcement is just the beginning for Ilona and ChildFund Rugby, with more exciting announcements to come soon that will show the importance of having positive role models that can champion change for children and young people across the globe.

“We are very excited to have the formidable Ilona Maher as part of the ChildFund Rugby family, and we are looking forward to working together to use the power of rugby to positively impact the lives of children and young people across the globe,” said Chris Mastaglio, Director of ChildFund Rugby.

Notes to Editors:

ChildFund Rugbys partnerships provide children and young people with opportunities to play, learn, and lead. Through integrated rugby and life skills learning, young people from vulnerable communities are equipped to overcome challenges, inspire positive social change, and take active leadership roles within their communities.

ChildFund Rugby is led by ChildFund Australia, an independent international development organisation that works to reduce poverty for children in developing communities and a member of the ChildFund Alliance – a global network of 11 organisations which assists almost 23 million children and their families in 70 countries.

Pass It Back is a curriculum that provides opportunities for players to learn and practice key social and emotional skills to build gender equity, be healthy and to be safe.  Pass It Back also builds a new generation of rugby and life skills Coaches, providing young people with opportunities to build their leadership skills and be community role models.

Ilona Maher is an American rugby union player. She debuted for the United States against Japan in 2018 in Paris, France. In 2021 Maher played rugby sevens at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. She was selected again to represent the United States at the 2022 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Cape Town.

Media contact: Rhea Catada