By Jaylan Boyle, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – It is hard to miss the fact that football (soccer) in Brazil is far more than just a sport. In recent years however, other sports have gained traction in the land of Pele and Adriano. One such is rugby union, and those involved with the Rio Rugby Club can attest to a growing enthusiasm among locals and expatriates alike.
One of those heavily involved with spreading the rugby gospel in Rio is New Zealander Dale Smith. By all accounts a talented first five eighth and linchpin of the club’s premier team, his input goes well past the final whistle on Saturday.
Smith also manages the clubs website, serves as a member of the controlling committee, and is about to step into the role of vice secretary. This latest role comes about for Dale as the club goes through big changes.
Though Rio Rugby has been around in one form or another for 50 years, formalizing what was basically a social gathering has been hampered by the fact that many members were in Rio for only a short time. Two attempts to create a legal entity have fallen over in the past, but that’s about to change. Rio Rugby is weeks away from becoming a registered club, and this will open all kinds of doors.
“Longevity is the goal this time” says Smith. “We want to put a solid structure in place that will outlive any one of those of us who are involved in the club.”
The next step is to hunt down sponsorship dollars, and Smith says that the club’s work in fostering relationships with the underprivileged communities in Rio should help draw support.
There are now plenty of kids representing various favelas, running circles around the older members of the club at Posto 8 (Ipanema beach) on Wednesday nights, where the non-contact “touch” version of the game happens. Some of these youngsters have become stars of the team, and may yet go on to higher honors, says Dale.
“The best example of a success story we have is probably “Caraca”, aka Marcos Paixao. He was twelve when I met him, he’s now seventeen and the same size as me. Last year he just missed out on the Brazilian Under-Nineteen team, but I think that’s because he really wasn’t prepared for the intensity at that level. That’s something he wont be caught out by again, and I think this year we will send down a busload of support for him.”
Young people from challenging backgrounds, like Caraca, are not just getting fit playing for Rio Rugby. Several years back a member realized that the ex-pats of the club are in a great position to help out in a broader sense, and the pregame English lesson was born, now a Wednesday night staple.
Head coach Alex Vartan knows there are challenges and rewards in teaching a sport that is not ingrained in the national psyche. “The most rewarding part in coaching is seeing a few of the young guys make it through to the Brazilian squad selections. Others have taken their sport abroad when they go to study, and like myself, found it to be a fantastic way of meeting a bunch of like-minded guys in any city in the world.”
Vartan goes on to echo a sentiment shared by Rugby clubs globally; “For me personally, it will always be more than just a sport.”
To find out more about Rio Rugby, visit www.riorugby.com.br.