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Rugby in Brazil


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“This is what I really love: having a rugby ball in my hand. I am here with friends teaching the game I love to kids, many of whom have never touched a rugby ball… I am happy,” he tells Rugby World as dusk descends and Sugarloaf Mountain slowly goes into shadows. In a quick count, Serevi has visited at least 50 countries through rugby, either playing or coaching, yet this is his first time in Brazil. He tells the story of when, in 1977 aged nine, he recognised that rugby could bring joy to his countrymen. Fiji had just beaten the British & Irish Lions and the island went into party mode. “I realised there and then that I wanted to give joy. The Lord gave me this talent for rugby and through it I’ve managed to bring happiness to my country and many others.” If someone has achieved that, it has to be Serevi, with his carefree rugby style, his

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ith the biggest of smiles on his face, he shouts: “Um, dois, três…” and some 80 kids join him in a very loud “rugby”. As the sun starts to set, his white teeth are beacons of light. Waisale Serevi is on Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Copacabana beach doing what he loves most. With a rugby ball in his hands he is complete. He is introducing the game to young children, most of them from the poor, very poor, parts of the city. He is a happy man. The name Serevi will forever be linked to sevens rugby. Soon to turn 46, he looks as fit as when he shone in the shortened version of the game, taking it to a new level. His hands are fast, his legs run on the white sand with ease and the kids enjoy his presence. Until a few minutes ago, they didn’t know who he was, had probably never heard of Fiji and had scant idea about what this new sport was all about.

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Rugby in Brazil

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Ball games: Ben Gollings lends a hand

On your marks: this group do a warm-up drill

Beach boys: Waisale Serevi poses on Copacabana beach in Rio at the first HSBC Rugby Festival

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skills, he trains on Ipanema beach with Rio Rugby Club. Last year he told Rugby World about how good rugby had been to his family, keeping them out of the trouble awaiting around every corner in the favela. Today, rugby is also a job option. “I coach in three scolas de rugby,” he says. He works with some 100 kids mostly from Cantagalo and Rocinha, once the most dangerous favela in the country. “Depending where you came from it used to be that you wouldn’t speak to one another. Rugby is breaking down those barriers. “We want the kids, boys and girls, to have fun, give joy to their lives and keep them away from trouble. In soccer there is a lot of violence on and off the field and they now understand that rugby is different.”


peace now reigns in most of the one-time dangerous favelas, there is an underlying fear that, as drug lords find their way around new systems, things could deteriorate. Rugby offers an alternative future, however. Marcos Paixao, a 21-year-old Cantagalo resident has played the game for five years with his brothers. He has represented Brazil at age-grade level and in sevens, and while not currently in the squad he’d love to be involved for the Olympics. Speedy and full of

World trip: Brazil hosted the first HSBC Rugby Festivals with more in Hong Kong last month. The next two will be in New York and Australia

Other members of his family are also working through rugby connections. Lucas Alves, who Rugby World also met last year, is now 17 and receives financial assistance through a Bolsa Atleta (sports scholarship) from the local government thanks to his rugby prowess. Life for them is better. Looking around Rio, you wouldn’t know there is a Football World Cup being held here in a handful of months, let alone the Olympics. Yet, there is a lot of work being done under the surface. Mark Egan, the IRB’s Head of Competitions and Performance, visited the Rio 2016 Organising Committee and was at the launch of the HSBC Rugby Festivals. “That both Brazil’s men and women have been confirmed as participants (in the Olympic sevens) has been positive and will help in spreading the rugby word,” he says. “We want local people to come to watch rugby in the Olympics. Events such as this are always positive and it

shows we share the same view with HSBC of developing at grass-roots level. It is about giving back to the game.” Hong Kong hosted HSBC Rugby Festivals last month and they will also move on to New York and Australia in their first season, reaching thousands of children as well as running coach education programmes, which enable hundreds of adults in each location to become IRB Level One qualified. HSBC’s Head of Sponsorship Planning Andrea de Vincentiis is delighted with how it has all started. “HSBC wants to give something back at grass-roots level. It’s about helping to grow the game, at this pivotal time in rugby’s growth leading to 2016. “We are proud to have been involved with Sevens since 2010 as the first sponsor of the World Series, and by joining forces with Serevi Rugby we are looking forward to seeing how these festivals develop and more and more children get exposed to the game. This programme

“We want boys and girls to have fun, give joy to their lives and keep them away from trouble”

focuses on introducing youngsters to the sport rather than improving the elite, and will be particularly active in emerging rugby countries.” A lot is expected of Brazil in the coming years. The growth in playing numbers is palpable and the IRB continue to invest resources – both financial and human – in a nation of some 200 million inhabitants. The Confederaçao Brasileira de Rugby are doing their bit, but at grass-roots level it is always about the love of the game. It is 9.30pm on Wednesday night and the guys from Rio Rugby Club gather under the floodlights of Ipanema beach. You have expats for whom

To watch Waisale Serevi holding a rugby session in Brazil, scan this QR code with your smartphone – find out how on page five – or visit

rugby is like a virus and locals who have fallen in love with the oval ball. Justin Thornycroft is part of the soul of the club. Zimbabwe-born, he has been in Brazil for more than a decade, works tirelessly for the good of the game and he was heavily involved in the Rio leg of the HSBC Rugby Festivals. “These events help us with the problem of raising the visibility of the sport here in this footballmad environment by grabbing the kids’ attention in a different and fun way,” he says. “All kids love to meet superstars, even ones they have never heard of!” This is evident as Serevi, Gómez Cora, Gollings, former Puma Martín Schusterman and USA Sevens assistant coach Richie Walker sign dozens of T-shirts that kids proudly take home. Thornycroft concludes: “Attention obviously helps as we can attract more and more children to the game.” At the end of the day, it is about giving children new to rugby the opportunity to try the sport and hopefully, through the game, to have a better future. n


cheekiness to play a game he HSBC has long been involved mastered as a no one. First with rugby, especially at grass selected for Fiji at 15s in 1988, he roots, and has now joined went to the Hong Kong Sevens forces with Serevi Rugby, a for the first time the following company set up three years ago year and the rest, as YouTube by Seattle businessmen Chris will show you, is history. Prentice and Semi Lotawa as Nothing came easy and behind well as the player himself aimed what seemed natural ability at developing sevens. Sevens came passion and hard work. icons Santiago Gómez Cora (the “I would train at Christmas and series’ all-time top try-scorer New Year and did not drink in and now Argentina Sevens order to always be fit,” he says. coach) and Ben Gollings (the Having landed at Galeao series’ all-time top point-scorer) International Airport only a few have since joined the company, hours earlier, his stamina is which currently has 30 staff incredible. The reason for his visit is the first HSBC Rugby Festival. Aimed at bringing rugby to thousands of children in different locations, it is fitting that Rio has been chosen for this first development event. It is here that, in a little over two years, rugby will return to the Olympic Games in the sevens format. “Who would have imagined this?” asks Serevi, who led his country to two Sevens World Cup wins in 1997 and 2005, was instrumental in generating members and is in continued the birth of the now-titled HSBC growth thanks to the new Sevens World Series, was a popularity of sevens rugby. member of the IRB delegation Ross Young, Head of the that made the final presentation Rugby World Cup in 2003, to the IOC in Amsterdam in 2007 and 2011, is the company’s 2009 and now lives in Seattle. CEO and explains: “We have a “The game has been growing number of camps throughout constantly since and it is great to the USA and Northern America; see its development. Sevens is it is constantly growing and we great for new players, to help have joined forces with USA introduce children to the game. Rugby. This new relationship The Olympic inclusion has with HSBC is very important opened a new horizon for us as we share common and we must all get goals and vision.” Oval office: Marcos and Maicon involved to make The five days Paixao have been things happen.” of HSBC Rugby able to improve their lives in Brazil thanks Festivals took Serevi to the opportunities & Co from Rio to São rugby has given them Paulo, Brazil’s rugby hotbed and its biggest city. Yet it all started in the Presidente Joao Goulart School, high up in the Cantagalo favela, on a grey morning. Here, 350 schoolchildren are educated, fed and basically given some of the tender loving care they might not receive at home. Although

Concrete ambition: kids get a taste of rugby in the Cantagalo favela

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Rugby World News Article  
Rugby World News Article  

Waisale Serevi introduces rugby to children around the world