With a professional association and the national team represented at Rio 2016, Rugby is gaining popularity in Brazil.
Rugby is a popular sport in England, no doubt, but interestingly it is becoming a widely played sport in Brazil as well. Of course the numbers are still modest when compared to football, but with the rise of teams, players, tournaments and results, including that of the women’s national team – crowned, on more than one occasion, the unbeaten champions of the South American Championship in the Sevens format – there’s much to be excited about.
According to recent research by Deloitte, a leading international consultancy firm, rugby is one of the fastest growing sports in Brazil. One of the key factors contributing to this growth is the sport’s imminent return to the Olympic stage, at Rio2016 – rugby has not been on the Olympic roster since 1924.
Since December 1972 rugby in Brazil has been governed by the Confederação Brasileira de Rugby (CBRu) (Brazilian Confederation of Rugby, previously the Associação Brasileira de Rugby, ABR), the body responsible for the promotion and organisation of tournaments. According to the CBRu in 2004 there were 5,400 players in Brazil, a number that had risen to 30,000 by 2010 and is projected to exceed 60,000 by the end 2016.
Brazil is currently placed number 34 in the International Rugby rankings, behind countries like Argentina (10), Uruguay (21) and Chile (26). But the efforts of both Brazilian and international rugby bodies, such as the International Rugby Board (IRB) – the FIFA of rugby – shows that Brazil has an important role in promoting the sport in Latin America – and their mission is to help Brazil become, at least, the second placed Latin American country in the ranking, behind only the Argentine hermanos.
Unquestionably, what should help in this quest is the local model of management here in Brazil. The CBRu does not have a President per se, but rather a CEO, an executive with a professional team responsible for the corporate governance of rugby, just like with any other professional entity.
As a result the organisation’s annual budget has risen from R$30,000 to R$20m over the last six years to equal the same level of investment granted to other, more established sports, such as handball. This funding comes from 23 companies in total (such as Bradesco, Topper, Heineken, Dove, Lifebuoy etc.) who already look to rugby as an alternative to other more dominant sports that usually command expensive sponsorship. Brazil’s role as recent host to several international tournaments and fixtures only further confirms this spurt in popularity, and audience figures for paid TV broadcasts rival that of more traditional sports, like basketball and futsal.
There are currently six federations affiliated to the CBRu, in the states of Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Paraná, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and São Paulo, and the clubs participate in several championships, both nationally and in South America. There are 20 teams registered with the CBRu, as well as 15 university teams, which represent more than 2,800 accredited athletes (2,500 men and 300 women). The largest contingent is still found in São Paulo, which has several clubs both in the capital and throughout state, such as in Campinas, Piracicaba and São José dos Campos – and it’s not hard to find a rugby field these days in other Brazilian states.
For Sami Arap Sobrinho, the CBRu’s current CEO, the municipal governments throughout Brazil should be encouraging rugby participation in schools. “It is an educational tool, teaching through the sport’s values of respect, loyalty, camaraderie, teamwork, communication and transparency. It’s the school of life, a highly familiar environment and a mechanism for social inclusion”, says the executive, whose plans revolve around developing the sport in Brazil to help enable the national team to qualify for the Rugby World Cup 2023. The Brazilian team follows in the footsteps of other countries and therefore won the moniker, the “Tupis”. The “Tupis” will compete at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, when rugby returns to the Olympic stage in the seven-a-side format.
An international game featuring Brazil attracts a crowd of approximately five to six thousand spectators. Obviously the numbers are modest when compared to football, but the growth is encouraging!
Rugby in Brazil
Rugby arrived in Brazil during the same era as football, notably thanks to the same person. The first registered team was formed in 1890 in Rio de Janeiro: the Clube Brasileiro de Futebol Rugby, whose existence was short-lived. In 1895, rugby was introduced to the people of Sao Paulo thanks to the initiative of Charles Miller, a Brazilian born Englishman who studied in the UK and, on his return, helped establish British sports like football (for which he is better known) and rugby at São Paulo Athletic Club. However, rugby did not take off initially and was played only on occasion, mostly by the British ex-pats. It was only in the 20s that it gained more popularity in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, with the creation of clubs and the organisation of interclub and interstate tournaments. The leading pioneers of Brazilian rugby at that time were the Scotsman Jimmy Macintyre and Englishman Gordon Fox Rule, who in 1925 formed the São Paulo Rugby Football Club, which soon became the Associação Atléticas das Palmeiras (Athletic Association of Palmeiras). In Rio de Janeiro, rugby gained its own training area at the Rio Cricket and Athletic Association, in Niterói. From 1927, the teams from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro began to play annually, vying for the Beilby Alston Cup, a trophy named after the then British ambassador. In the 30s, Brazil was visited by touring international teams and a Brazilian squad was selected to play against the Junior Springboks (South Africa’s reserve side) in 1932 and then against the British Lions in 1936. Rugby was interrupted during World War II when many players, most of whom were foreign, were drafted into the conflict. In 1963 the União de Rugby do Brasil (URB) was inaugurated, with the Irishman Harry Donovan as its President. The following year, the Campeonato Brasileiro (Brazilian Championship) was established and São Paulo Athletic Club, a major post-WW2 driving force behind the sport, hosted the South American Championship. Brazil finished runner-up that year, inaugurating the first exclusive rugby field in the country. Until the 60s, rugby was mostly restricted to foreigners or first generation Brazilians, mainly the British, Japanese, French and Argentine. It wasn’t until the 70s that rugby gained wider appeal amongst Brazilians.
Website for people who want to play rugby Portal do Rugby
Website of the Confederação Brasileira de Rugby!
Website of the Meninas que Jogam Rúgbi (Girls that Play Rugby) – http://rugbydecalcinha.com.br/
TV Campaigns to encourage and promote rugby in Brazil