By Jack Whibley, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In an effort to boost the host’s chances in rugby at the Olympics, the Brazilian rugby federation has launched a worldwide campaign called “Brazilian Rugby Players Wanted” by which it hopes to attract new players who may be entitled to Brazilian citizenship.
The Confederação Brasileira de Rugby (CBRu) has sent letters to clubs around the world, aiming to entice players to Brazil and gain eligibility to play at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. They hope that the worldwide campaign may yield around six new players for both the men’s and women’s teams.
“We want to make sure that everybody knows that we are seeking these players,” said Sami Arap, the president of the Brazilian rugby federation. “And I have no doubt that soon we will start receiving emails of players and of agents offering players wanting to come to Brazil. I’m sure that the allure of playing in the Olympics will help us attract a lot of players.”
Rugby is returning to the Olympics at Rio 2016 for the first time since 1924, in the form of Rugby Sevens, the shorter and faster version of the game. Brazil is one of the newest members of the International Rugby Board (IRB) and Os Tupis (as the national side is known) have yet to qualify for a Rugby World Cup.
Since 2009 though, the men’s team has competed in Division A of the South American Rugby Championship and its results against its local rivals have improved every year. Their win over Uruguay for the first time ever and a third place medal in the South American Rugby Sevens Tournament in Rio being among recent highlights.
Despite modest success, rugby is Brazil’s second fastest growing sport. It is played by over 10,000 people spread across 21 of Brazil’s 26 states and is increasingly popular at universities and clubs, particularly in the south and south-east of the country.
One such club is Rio’s principal rugby club – Rio Rugby FC. Originally formed in the 1940s by English dock workers in Rio, throughout the 1970s and 1980s Brazilians, French, Argentinians and Chileans began to join the club.
Now with a majority of Brazilian members, but still a thriving international community, the club fields male and female senior teams, a youth team, and runs a junior ‘tag’ rugby school in Rocinha favela.
Justin Thornycroft of Rio Rugby told The Rio Times, “The ‘Rugby é Nossa Paixão’ tag rugby project has been running in Rocinha for five months and has seen impressive improvements in attendance and skill level among the children (from 8 to 18 years old).”
Thornycroft also sees this as just the beginning for rugby in Rocinha. He continues, “With the opening of the new unit this week within the Rocinha Complexo Esportivo (Estadual) at the bottom of the community we have an excellent presence from which to expand the practice and visibility of rugby in Latin America’s largest favela and bring rugby’s values to the children’s everyday lives.”
Growing the sport after the Olympics is the major goal for rugby in Brazil. Thornycroft says, “This is something that is being taken very seriously by the local FFRU (Federation Fluminense de Rugby Union) and the CBRU (Confederação Brasileira de Rugby Union) in partnership with local government and rugby clubs around the country such as Rio Rugby.”
Local success will no doubt help achieve that goal. Having beaten Volta Redonda 29-26 last weekend, Rio Rugby will be appearing in the final of the Copa Rio this coming Saturday, September 7th. The match takes place at 3PM at the Campo da Prefeitura on the Ilha do Fundão against Guanabara Rugby.