By Yasamin Asrari
RUGBY SEVENS is known for its pace and excitement and now it is attempting to steal the limelight away from its bigger 15-man rival by being part of Rio Olympics in 2016 after the sport’s absence of a century from the Olympic movement.
Brazil took their first bow in the 2012/2013 HSBC World Sevens Series in Hong Kong. They made it to the Quarter Finals of the pre-qualifier for World Series core team status held there, but were beaten by Zimbabwe – the eventual winners – and were just one win away from qualifying for the showcase finale in London. Quite an achievement for a country famous for its love of the round-ball game.
Here are five things you never knew about rugby in Rio:
Scrum down in the sand
To say sport is popular in Brazil is an understatement – you just have to amble along the Copacabana beach to witness this. Dotted along the 4km stretch of sand are people playing football and beach volleyball and it’s here that rugby has taken off.
In January of this year, amidst thousands of spectators, I sat down to watch a beach rugby tournament. And this was no one-off. In fact, it was the eighth international beach rugby tournament to be played on the famous white sands of Copacabana. Teams of men and women competed over two days, playing five-a-side, full contact rugby.
With so many ex-pats from England, South Africa and New Zealand living in Rio, rugby has, maybe surprisingly, played a part of Rio life since the 1940s. But now, more and more Brazilians are playing and many are from the poorer, densely populated favelas of the city. Clubs like Rio Rugby promote the game in the city and compete in the Fluminese championship. There is also the IRB’s Get into Rugby programme, aimed at attracting youngster from underprivileged backgrounds to the game.
Whatever power is lost from playing on sand is replaced ten fold in the acceleration and agility of the locals, or Cariocas as they prefer to be known. They may not have the size and brute force of the northern and southern hemisphere teams, but raw pace and a natural disposition to avoid capture, are all attributes that come naturally to them.
Getting stuck in
Brazil’s inherent love of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) shows that they love contact sports, are adept at tackling and have the strength and dexterity to compete at a high level – all qualities that are easily transferable to the 15-man game.
Going for Gold
Since Sevens was announced as a sport for the 2016 Olympic games, rugby in Brazil has become much more high profile. There are now over 10,000 registered players and clubs are sprouting up in over 21 of the 26 states throughout the country, proving that it is a sport with huge playing potential.
The National team’s assistant coach Mauricio Coelho has told Rugby World that numbers are only going to grow. Over the next few years the CBRu (Brazilian Rugby Confederation) want to reach a target of 50,000 registered players. which to give you some indication, is more than Wales.
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What will help the Brazilian’s discover their playing style is being involved in more international tournaments, so it is a huge positive that rugby seems to be growing all over South America. In the years leading up to Rio 2016, rugby fans everywhere can watch Brazil’s progress in the oval-ball game.
You can read more about the booming growth of rugby in Brazil in Rugby World’s exclusive feature in the June issue – out now!