When one thinks of Brazil the image is of beautiful women, beautiful beaches and the beautiful game. The international football jamboree has made Brazil the centre of the universe as fans flock to the vast South American country to see who will be crowned Kings of world football.
However, it is rugby that can lay claim to the title of Brazil’s fastest growing sport and with the inclusion of Rugby Sevens in the Rio Olympics, the growth of the oval game will only accelerate.
Rugby in Brazil is making great strides. The Union is a professional administration even though the players are amateurs. The game is common in universities and the women’s national squad can claim to be the strongest side in South America. There are over 16,000 players to date. Not bad for a country who only first televised the sport back in 1999. And in the southern city of Foz Do Iguaçu, a small rugby revolution is taking place.
On the tour of Argentina with The IRFU Charitable Trust we crossed the border into Brazil after receiving an invite from Foz Do Iguaçu Rugby Club to mark Festas Juninas but also to celebrate our shared love for rugby.
The birth of the club was thanks to a few dedicated rugby disciples. When co-founder, Rafael Mitrano, first came to Foz Do Iguaçu the locals, in his own words, had no idea about what game he was talking. So in his eagerness to play his beloved game Rafael bought a few rugby balls and invited some friends to try out. A week later he met a rugby loving Argentine and together they founded the club in April 2011.
As with any city in Brazil, Foz Do Iguaçu does not have a strong tradition in rugby with the majority of the population devoted to football. At present there is a core group of players; eleven under-19 players, ten adults and six girls. But the club is hopeful that the national team’s continuing development and the inclusion of Rugby Sevens in the Olympics will help boost its numbers allowing members to partake in more matches and competitions.
Due to the vast size of the country, playing other Brazilian teams is a great challenge for the club. The “local” matches are against Cascavel Rugby and Toledo Rugby; teams that are based in cities over 150 km away from Foz Do Iguaçu. Because of the huge distances between Brazilian clubs, Foz Do Iguaçu’s close proximity to the border means the club plays against Paraguayans of Area 1 Rugby and Cataratas Rugby of Argentina. Games between the sides generally take place in a tournament in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay.
The club might be small at the moment but Rafael believes the sky is the limit. He hopes that they will continue to expand their player base and they will look to strengthen ties with their Paraguayan and Argentine rugby neighbours in order to get more games. The ultimate goal is to compete in the Brazilian Regional Championship one day. And with the passion and enthusiasm Rafael and everyone connected with Foz Do Iguaçu Rugby Club have for the oval game, that dream will no doubt soon become reality.
Matt Cassidy, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By Simon_sees from Australia (School rugby pitch Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.