By LEMAY PADRON Oliveros*
HAVANA (Prensa Latina) – It sounds strange but the truth is that this sport, in its different categories, has been played in Cuba for several years. Prejudices have been its main enemy, but those who defend it have another view.
The most well known sport was American football which was played in the Island from the early 20th century and, until the 50s, there were even official tournaments in which clubs like Varsity and Caribes were made famous. Those teams, made up mostly of university students, played frequently and kept the interest for the discipline alive, but in the last 40 years the passion died out and its practice was only taken up again at the start of the 90s.
Officially, the first club founded after the triumph of the Revolution was the “Indios Caribe”, created in 1993. Then “Los Giraldillos” (1997) and “José Martí” (1999) sprang up, but they were teams of 15 players.
As this sport has reached its peak it has been promoted, since 2002, to national level for teams of both 15 and 7 players, although it is with 15 players that it is most commonly played. Since 2004, therefore, Havana annually organises a competition by invitation only.
In 2010 an international competition was held on Eduardo Saborit Sports Centre’s pitch in the capital in which players from Canada, the United States, Peru, Mexico, Venezuela and Cuba participated.
These last three nations took part with their national teams.
The home team lost only in the final match which was considered to be a good sign and a boost for this discipline that is, these days, played in over 100 countries.
In May the first international rugby festival for children was held and, every year, the “13th of August” Cup for rugby sevens for adults is organised.
With baseball being dropped from the official programme of competitions in the Olympic Games and rugby being approved, the Cuban Ministry of Sport (INDER) opened its doors to the new category that is very popular in South America, especially in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.
The Cuban Rugby Federation is still not officially set-up. It is a sport that is played thanks to its players’ love of the game and the support of countries like Canada and France, among other nations.
The fact that players carry out this labour of love outside of their working hours is proof of that.
They meet around seven at night almost every day and they ask for special leave or holiday leave when they have to take part in any event.
Rugby was also played in the International School of Physical Education and Sport (EIEFD), home of the team called “Perros de San José”, named in reference to the Cuban town where the school is located. It was also played in the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM).
Nowadays it is played in Havana, in Pinar del Río, Villa Clara, Sancti Spíritus, Ciego de Ávila, Camagüey, Las Tunas and Granma, to mention only the most advanced. The category that is played the most is that of seven-a-side, precisely the Olympic format.
Every province organises local competitions but it is, however, very costly for them to travel to more distant regions because, as they are not recognised as a Federation, they don’t have true official support.
Eric Gutiérrez, INDER’s methodologist inspector, informed the Latin American Press that they frequently offer courses and seminars, especially for children and young people, in order to encourage the playing of rugby in primary schools as part of the physical education they receive.
Gutiérrez explained the structure of the future Federation has already been proposed to INDER in the hope of approval and subsequent acceptance by the North America Caribbean Rugby Association (NACRA).
As the protocol indicates, two years later the International Rugby Board (IRB) would approve the admission of Cuba and its consequent world recognition. That’s why time is precious for those who love this sport.
“The support from INDER consists of human resources and facilities according to mass practice.
However, much more would be done if the Federation, with an appropriate budget, existed,” said Gutiérrez.
The employee adds that every year in Cuba between eight and ten teams clash, primarily clubs.
Some have also clashed outside of Havana, in Pinar, Matanzas and Granma, not counting the last international event, a second edition of which will be held at the start of December.
This year for the first time we will develop regional areas: in October there will be West and Centre areas and in November an East area, he adds.
Among the main objectives of recent Cuban rugby are to develop it from the lower leagues, to create schools throughout the country, to promote the women’s category, to strengthen the provincial teams and to participate in international events in order to enter the regional Confederation.
Prejudices have been the main enemy for the expansion of this sport in Cuba, although those who defend it have another view.
For those who play it, it is a way of life. Due to the sport’s characteristics and conditions they call it the only team combat sport, although that doesn’t imply violence, because, above all, we promote team spirit, sincerity and integrity, concludes Gutiérrez.
*Journalist of Prensa Latina Sports Desk.
Modificado el ( miércoles, 07 de marzo de 2012