By Lisa Flueckiger, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A day after Olympic Day, the celebrations of sport continue as a new beach rugby field has been inaugurated at Rio’s world famous Copacabana beach on June 24th. The pitch is Brazil’s first permanent beach rugby field and is open to the public and free to use. It is set to stay at the beach until at least the Olympic Games in August 2016.
Rugby in its ‘Sevens’ form is making a comeback at this year’s Olympic Games, with the last Olympic rugby competition dating back to 1924. It is also one of the fastest growing sports in Brazil, with the women’s rugby sevens team in the top ten of the world, as well as current South American champions and the men in the top 25 and rising.
The pitch, inaugurated by World Rugby and the Brazilian Rugby Confederation, is 30m on 25m large with two H-shaped goals on each side. It is located in front of the Canadian Consulate and Avenida Princesa Isabel.
World Rugby President Bernard Lapasset emphasized the importance of the field’s prime location at Copacabana and the growing popularity of the sport. “Rugby in Brazil is taking off – with more than 60,000 registered rugby players and 300 clubs in the country the sport is capturing the imagination of players and fans alike,” he said in his inaguration speech.
He continued to stress the “crucial point for Rugby” at the moment and the importance of a legacy of the sport after the Olympics by encouraging top level rugby in Brazil.
Beatriz Futuro, known as Baby, player of Brazil’s women’s team also gushed about the new beach rugby field in Copacabana. “We are in the face of the people here. They will see people playing, get curious about the sport, wanting to know more about it. And when they know the sport, they will cheer for us at the Olympics.”
Baby came to play the sport through her sister, who founded a team in Niterói. “At the beginning it was hard to find other teams to play against. Once we traveled 36 hours just for a couple of sevens games. Now, we even have a team in Amazonas,” she told The Rio Times.
Mark Egan, World Rugby Head of Competitions and Performance, agreed on the necessity of having a venue at the beach in order to get the attention of the Cariocas. “It’s fantastic to have this venue at the beach in Rio,” Egan told The Rio Times and explains how rugby has grown in Brazil recently. “Six years ago there were maybe 5,000-6,000 people playing rugby in Brazil, now we reach 60,000 players, in all states of the country.”
With the recent history of the sport in Brazil, it is sometimes hard to find the right structures and coaches for the sport. “The biggest challenge are facilities,” Egan admits. Mostly, the players use football (soccer) fields for their competitions. However, the training center for hockey and rugby at the Olympics at Rio’s university will afterwards become a permanent pitch.
At the Olympic Games, the Rugby Sevens competition will take place in Deodoro, together with sports like BMX and the equestrian competitions. Construction of the temporary pitch should start in mid-July. “We are very happy with the planning and progress that has been made,” Egan explained.
Together with the new pitch, several initiatives to bring rugby to the people have also started around the city. The Brazil Impact Beyond is part of the Get Into Rugby initiative by World Rugby and aims at training and developing physical education teachers and members of sports clubs in order to include rugby in schools and sports around the city.
TRY Rugby is a social initiative by the British Council and Premiership Rugby with support from SESI and Landrover. It is active in five states, already bringing 70,000 people in touch with Rugby.
In Rio de Janeiro the initiative is active since March 2015 with programs in communities like Chapeu-Mangueira and Babilonia, Vidigal, Complexo do Lins and Borel. The program brings rugby to public schools and aims at “social inclusion using the core values of Rugby,” according to coach Dom Caton, adding “also so kids get to try something else than football.”
Caton visits schools on a weekly basis in schools working with SESI teachers in teaching the fundamentals of Rugby including its five core values of discipline, respect, solidarity, passion and integrity. He stressed the importance of “bringing these values to the children. It’s important not just for Rugby, but for life.” The response so far from the children has been “fantastic”, Caton told The Rio Times.