Monday, December 19, 2011

Rugby Canada Helping Rugby Grow in Cuba

Indios Caribe - Cuba´s First Club
Earlier this month the official site of Canadian Rugby posted an interesting article about the future of the global game and the need for established unions to play their part in seeing the sport become truely global. Such an ambition mirrors the desires of Rugby World Cup-Argentina 2023 and underlines why Argentina would be hosting as a representative of the entire region and not merely Argentina itself. The posted article was titled In Support of Rugby is a Global Responsibility. Written by Fred Foster, the article comes from his recent experiences in Cuba where he participated in the Havana Howlers 7s Tournament. Canada stood tall in supporting the event in a similar way to what some Tier One unions have been doing for second and third tier sides.

In Cuba, all sports are regulated by the sports ministry (INDER) which has authorized the Cuban Rugby Development Group, headed by Chukin Chao to oversee rugby in Cuba. Chukin is a former government lawyer, now general manager of a French company in Havana. The development group is in the process of obtaining INDER approval to form the Cuban Rugby Federation. When this is approved, the Cuban Rugby Federation will join NACRA (the North American Caribbean Rugby Association), the governing body for Rugby in North America and the Caribbean. Cuba is currently recognized by NACRA as a non member and is not yet a member of the IRB which explains, among other things, why it is not listed in the IRB World Rankings. Fred Foster suggests that after two years as a member of NACRA, Cuba will be able to beomce a member of the IRB, the same organization which is assisting rugby in Cuba by helping with the development of coaches and referees. The IRB also sanctioned the recent Havana Howlers Sevens tournament.

Rugby in Cuba has a brief history. The sport was introduced to the Caribbean Island nation in 1992 when Ricardo Martinez from barcelona went ot the country to attend Havana University. Martinez brought with him a rugby ball and succeeded in creating a team called Indios Caribe following his successful attempts at convincing around 12 students to take up the sport. In June the following year, a team from the Cayman Islands traveled to Cuba and played against Indios Caribe. The sport mainintained a low profile over the following years.

In 1996, a Frenchman, Max Bouix, went to Cuba. According to Foster he was a great help in rescuing, expanding and coaching the sport as he succeeded in showing the players superior scrumming and mauling techniques. He split the club in two and made a new club called the Giraldillos and he brought in overseas teams, especially from France. Max also started rugby in the provinces. Max is considered one of the fathers of Cuban Rugby and its great benefactor. By 1998 rugby was played in about 4 provinces outside of Havana, this produced a reasonable amount of competition and by 2002 other teams had sprung up in Havana.

Today in December 2011, there are a total of fifteen rugby clubs in the country. Six of the sides are Havana teams while nine coem from other Cuban provinces. Of the country´s fourteen provinces ten now have rugby teams. Havana´s teams are Indios Caribe 1992, Giraldillos 1996, Marti 1997, ISS (International sports school) 2001, Latin American Medicine school 2002 and Ciudad Deportiva 2009. While the following provinces also have teams: Pinar Del Rio, Mantanzas, Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara, Ciego de Avila, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Granma, Guantanamo

Due to the country´s eternal tropical climate there is no winter season for rugby to be played in. Instead the sport is player year round. Typically teams practice 3 times a week and play on Saturdays. The country is divided into the following three regions:

1. West - Havana’s 6 team plus Pinar del Rio and Matanzas
2. Central -Villa Clara, Sancti Spirtitus, Ciego de Avila
3. East - Camaguey, Las Tunas, Granma, Guantanamo

Regional Championships are held from the 3 divisions in May each year and National Championship is held from the champion of each region in June each year.

In the country´s short history, Cuba has hosted visiting teams from countries including Canada, England, France, Japan, Scotland, Spain, Tahiti and the USA. Cuban teams have proven to compete reasonably well against visitors on 2nd or 3rd team level and Cuba welcomes veteran teams of over 35 years. Cuba has only made one overseas trip to France in 2000 due to the shortage of funds.

In addition to men’s teams, Cuba has a youth development program at 5 schools, where 160 boys age 9 to 12 participate in flag rugby regularly. Women’s rugby is just starting to emerge in Cuba. Teams were formed in May 2011 and played their first competitive games in the women’s division at the Havana Howler Sevens in early December 2011.

The sport is expected to expand significantly in the next 5 years in Cuba, when they become members of the IRB, and from the publicity that will result from rugby in the Olympic Games. Cubans are very good athletes and can adapt very well to rugby. Cuba is not a rich country, so uniforms, boots and balls are hard to come by. Thanks to the Canadian Dog River Howlers Club run by Karl Fix of Regina, most teams in Cuba have obtained equipment from the Howlers and their sponsor Xtreme Sports, in Bangkok, owned by Eddie Evans a former Canadian international.

Fred Foster is convinced that expansion and skills will continue to grow. The spirit is there, the interest is there, the organizers are there, the government is agreeable, moral and financial support is there thanks to the IRB, NACRA and the benevolent Canadians. He considers Cuba as being Rugby Friendly and an excellent host for visiting teams. Internal travel, hotels etc. are well organized and efficient. Prices are very reasonable, tour agencies are helpful and good and they do all internal travel including airport transfers and cooperate with the rugby clubs. It is a great place to visit.

Teams from the USA are required to obtain a license from the U.S. Treasury Department. The process takes 2 to 3 months. Licenses are granted on a group basis and can be obtained before the final list of travelers is known. The final list is then attached to the license and is for people who are players, coaches, trainers, referees or physios. Supporters and spouses are not permitted to travel with teams. The process is not complicated and licenses are obtainable for US teams wishing to play in Cuba.

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