Rugby is a strong “tool” for development and peace

Miguel Benedetti a member of Mokaná Rugby Club. Photo credit: Mokaná RC, M.O.C.J. Fotografía en Movimiento, and Federación Colombiana de Rugby

Although at first, it might appear aggressive, Rugby is being used in Colombia as an alternative to the violence in the country. Breaking all the traditional barriers that say that rugby should only be played in wealthy country clubs, the oval ball has broken into Colombia across all social stratas.

This sport was initially developed in England as a variation of football in the 19th century. At the end of the 20th century the first Rugby clubs began to appear in Colombia, around the mid-80s, after people from France and England introduced the sport at a country club in Bogotá. However, it quickly made an unexpected turn and exploded into college campuses and high schools at various economic levels.

By the year 2000, the Colombian National Rugby Federation was officially accepted by the International Rugby Board. Here in Barranquilla, we have been playing Rugby since 2009 when it was first introduced by the Mokana Rugby Club. Later, just four years ago, once more teams had been established in “La Arenosa” , the Atlántico Rugby League was formed and affiliated with the National Federation.

In Barranquilla, the sport has never been limited to clubhouses; indeed, it grew more in a form of social inclusion – created by people who had heard of the sport, perhaps researched it online, and then tried creating teams of friends to play for fun. The doors have been (and are) always open for anyone who wants to join the game, and when they began to include people from the intercity areas (mainly schools) the results were very positive.

In the beginning, locals didn’t know much about Rugby. People initially thought the sport was the same as American Football, or that it was too violent or too burly. But soon, as the teams became more pronounced and more people saw games underway in the parks, many people realized that the contact was just another part of the sport that the rules were very different from what the quarterbacks play in the US.

Universities have become the principal sponsor of the expansion of the sport in the city, and many different schools have been joining in, making this year the best so far for new sign-ups.

At the moment we have three mixed clubs (Mokana, Camash, and Vikingos). Three are male only (Zorros, Osos, and Dogos) and one is female only (Abadas). Two clubs are farms (Chitas and Amazonas). And finally, there are two integration groups outside the metropolitan area in Puerto Colombia and Sabanalarga, and nine schools with children’s programs.

Local Rugby Team. Photo credit: Mokaná Rugby Club Facebook Page
Local Rugby Team. Photo credit: Mokaná Rugby Club Facebook Page

This process was also implemented in other parts of the country, mainly Cundinamarca and Antioquia. Last year over 16.000 kids were practicing rugby, learning all the teamwork that comes with it, playing, and winning against clubs from the wealthier suburban areas. The leaders of these social initiatives say that these integrations let the kids learn in a practical way. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what your social-economic status is – its a question of how hard you try – and if you try hard enough, you can beat anyone you face.

Competitively speaking, the level of the Rugby players in this city is growing very rapidly, but they are still in a development phase. Felipe Arias, a member of Mokana Rugby Club, said: “We want to become competitive at a national level. And we are at a decent level in the region, but we are still a new sport in the city (only seven years). We need a little time to catch up with places like Medellin or Bogota that have over twenty years of practice”.

Nevertheless, the results for the department are starting to appear; this May the Women’s Team finished third in the B division of the National championships which were played in Valledupar. Barranquilla also has a local tournament that started two years ago; the guys play Rugby Fifteen and the girls Rugby Seven. The Atlántico League wants to organize an event in October, but they aren’t sure because they still don’t have a field where they can play all the games needed for the cup.

The league used to use the fields of local colleges but they haven’t had access for some time. As they don’t have their own place to play (and the city doesn’t offer a place), they are at the moment moving from cancha to cancha, renting the very few grass fields that are available.

The same problem goes for practice, for example, Mokana trains every week at Parque Tivoli. Tivoli has decent open space, but it doesn’t have grass, only sand. Also, they only have access at night, and there is unfortunately a lack of lighting so gameplay can be quite difficult.

The teams are all hoping to improve these conditions, and they hope that the upcoming Central American and Caribbean Games might end up leaving them a sports complex where they can switch from sand to grass. But what they want the most is to keep expanding. in closing, Arias emphasized, “For now, our primary goal is to keep on growing, adding more and more people. We have a standing invitation open for all Barranquilleros to come and learn about this incredible sport, and hopefully, join the Rugby family.”