By Sibel Tinar, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The U.S. Consulate of Rio de Janeiro, together with the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) continued their strong charitable program in Rio last weekend with the launch of the annual Toys for Tots campaign. Inaugurated on Saturday, October 16th, during an all-American sporting event – the Second Torneio Touchdown American Football tournament – the campaign’s goal is to collect toys for distribution to underprivileged children during the Christmas and holiday season.
The game between Vasco da Gama Patriotas and Vila Velha Tritões took place at the Ceres Stadium in Bangu and ended with a 10-7 victory for the Carioca Patriotas over the Capixaba (Espírito Santo natives) Tritões. Over 400 spectators turned out for the game, and were offered half price tickets for bringing toys for the campaign, and attending U.S. Marines were handed the mission of collecting the donations.
U.S. Consul General to Rio de Janeiro Dennis Hearne praised the efforts, saying; “For those of us at the U.S. Consulate in Rio de Janeiro, it is a pleasure to support an initiative that promotes a typically American sport, and at the same time encourages solidarity and brings joy to Brazilian children during the holiday season.”
The game was also relayed live to the crowd by tournament director André José Adler, a former NFL commentator for ESPN between 1992 to 2006.
In Brazil, spiritual home of futebol (soccer), American football was until recently a sport completely unfamiliar to the national culture but one gaining increasing popularity, and in this second year of the championships teams from Rio, Espírito Santo, São Paulo, Paraná and Santa Catarina were represented, all making their debuts in a national championship.
“Nine games of the fourteen in the regular season have been played, and it is still hard to guess which four teams are going to reach the semifinals,” says Adler, emphasizing the high quality of those participating. “344 points have been scored, 48 touchdowns, and no team won by a margin larger than thirteen points. Two of the games were decided in overtime. That shows a lot.”
Talking about the challenges of introducing an essential element of American culture to the Brazilian public, Adler touched on the hardships of finding a stadium in which to play, especially in big cities. “Stadium management fears that we might damage the grass,” he says. “It is tough in a soccer culture to make them understand that there is never a kick on the grass in (American) Football.”
As for securing the future of the sport in Brazil, Adler also emphasized the need for help in the matters of refereeing, sponsorship and audience, while encouraging everyone, including the readers of The Rio Times to get involved in the sport at any level.
By launching a campaign like Toys for Tots, in a gesture of goodwill that promotes solidarity and intercultural dialogue within a setting that is as American as it gets, the U.S. Consulate and Amcham have been doing their part in shedding light onto this developing culture surrounding the sport.
“I was incredibly proud for having the Toys for Tots campaign launched at one of our games,” says Adler. “It brought me memories of Bristol, Connecticut, where we always had a big box at ESPN headquarters, and seeing the Marines collecting the gifts in the stadium in Bangu as they did in Bristol made me feel home in many more ways than I would have words to explain.”