By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Rugby is a sport on the rise in Brazil, especially in Rio as in 2016 Rugby Sevens – the faster version of the sport – will compete in Olympic Games for the first time. The Rio Rugby Club has been doing its part in increasing the sport’s popularity, both on the field and off, including the launch of the new “Rugby é Nossa Paixão” (Rugby is Our Passion) program in Rio’s largest favela community, Rocinha.
With the new program, the forty-year-old Rio Rugby Club, a mash-up of expatriates and Cariocas, is following the success of the club’s Cantagalo favela project in Zona Sul (South Zone). That project was established in 2011 to spread the sport across pastures new and aid underprivileged children in favela communities, where roughly 25 percent of Rio resides.
Now launching the Rugby é Nossa Paixão effort in Rocinha, the inaugural training session took place yesterday (March 26th). Children, who before had only considered kicking a (soccer) football, had their chance to handle the oval rugby ball and learn about the new sport.
The participants took part in “tag rugby” exercises, wearing velcro patches to avoid full contact, but learning the rules, positions and plays. The event, although primarily aimed at children, was not exclusively for the youngsters as parents were also welcome to come along and learn the sport.
Rio Rugby Club’s Michael Connell tells The Rio Times, “In Rocinha we will be teaching tag rugby to kids aged from 8 to 15. Once the kids turn fifteen they can start training the full contact version of the game.”
For many rugby fans it is no surprise the game is reaching this corner of the world, as Connell explains, “Rugby now is the third most watched sport in the world and is growing significantly in Brazil.”
The event should just be a launching pad, and Brazilian sports television station SporTV has promoted the concept, ensuring rugby is given a bigger coverage across Rio and potentially Brazil. According to Mr. Connell “Today Brazil has over 200 club teams in the country, both adult and juvenile. In the state of Rio de Janeiro there are 21 rugby clubs, with the Rio Rugby FC one of the oldest, commencing in 1974.”
Mr. Connell went on to note that that Rio Rugby FC always welcomes new members of whatever level. Rio Rugby Club regularly holds tag rugby matches on Ipanema beach. The meeting point is in front of the first kiosk after Rua Teixeira Melo, towards Leblon with game time every Wednesday at 9PM.
The beach matches are a good practice for the annual Rio Beach Rugby Tournament, whose eigth edition was recently held on January 12th – 13th. Seventeen adult Mens teams visiting from Rio, São Paulo and Minas Gerais states were in pursuit of either the silver or coveted gold cup.
As elimination games ended championship dreams, social festivities intensified with cold beer and hot sun soothing the sorrows of defeat. Rio Rugby prevailed against São Jose de Campos in the finals, winning the championship for the second consecutive year.