Apart from tackles and the typical roughness of rugby, sportsmen from Canada raised another friendship bridge with their colleagues from Cuba when the First International Rugby 7s Tournament, initiated by the Dog River Howlers Club, took place in Havana, Cuba in late February.
The strong Canadian team, with players like Ryan Smith (member of the national team) and Chilean Nicolás Arencibia, was one of the main sensations of the competition held at the Eduardo Saborit Sport Centre in western Havana. The Dog River Howlers, based in Regina, Saskatchewan, has mostly Canadian players, although it keeps its doors open for players from all over the world.
Not only Smith and Arencibia, the latter formerly of Chile’s main rugby team, brought the audience, more used to baseball, boxing, volleyball and track and field, to their feet cheering and applauding.
Twelve teams and players from more than 10 countries captured the attention of a quite young crowd. There could have been no better time to get the message out about rugby in Cuba, as the local baseball league was in playoffs and everyone in sports-mad Cuba was in front of the TV when this strange new sport made its way into the headlines.
To give a boost to developing new figures in Cuban rugby is a great ambition of Dog River Howler president Karl Fix. It was Fix, a great supporter of the competition, who presented the José Martí Cup to the Howlers, the competition’s absolute winner.
Fix traveled to Havana three years ago and was so impressed with the passion of Cubans for sports that he set himself to develop the project, officially started with the participation of Canada in the Third Games of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America held in Havana in 2009.
Fix said he has high hopes to see Cubans in the rugby world elite in about 10 years, and didn’t rule out the possibility of seeing them participating in an Olympics, since he trusts their athletic talent and profound love for sports. He recalled that rugby provides players with positive qualities such as fraternity, honesty, loyalty, respect, sacrifice and altruism.
He explained that he supports growth of rugby, not only for Cuba, but in other Latin American projects, where he hopes fans will be seduced by the speed, power and intelligence of the game.
He also noted that mutual aid is a norm for rugby; as Englishmen helped Canada in its development, we Canadians do it with Latin Americans. We are convinced we will get greater attention since we’ve returned to the Olympics, he added.
Rugby received the best news in its history when it was approved last year by the International Olympics Committee to return to the Olympics – it previously was present in Paris 1900, London 1908, Amberes (Belgium) 1920 and Paris 1924.
With that idea, Cubans need to face foreign teams to get acquainted with new game systems. Cuba’s first club was created October 12, 1992 at the University of Havana by Catalan Ricardo Martínez, and the players named it Indios Caribe. Today, many of its players practice in 12 of the 14 provinces of the country.
Each year seven or eight foreign teams come to the island to compete and train with national teams, said Erick Gutiérrez, president of the Cuban Rugby Federation. Gutiérrez also expressed appreciation for the help provided by Fix and Canadian authorities to establish the groundwork of Cuban Rugby and foster its development, not only in Cuba but also in other Latin American countries.
According to Gutiérrez, the participation of more than five international clubs in the tournament is a great impetus for the International Rugby Board (IRB) to acknowledge the event as a competition in Central America and the Caribbean.
The Central Caribbean Rugby players will have their main regional competition from July 24 to 26 at Providence Stadium in Georgetown in Guyana, one of the venues of the Mayagüez Games (Puerto Rico).
Although it is not yet considered an official discipline in Cuba, rugby has been receiving close attention from the Department of Recreational Activities of the National Institute of Sports and Recreation (INDER in Spanish). The same institute that, sooner than later, might include Rugby among the high performance sports for the great joy of a sports loving people.