THOSE that have followed the short journey of the GYG Latin Heat will be aware we are trying to encourage as many Latin Americans as possible to try the great game of rugby league.
In recent weeks the most encouraging developments have been in Brazil, a country now considered among the top five economies in the world, housing a population of almost 200million.
A great project is underway in Sao Paulo, the largest city in the southern hemisphere, where a steering committee has been formed for an outfit known as ‘Capital Rugby League’.
While the club is still on the lookout for a permanent home ground and jerseys, they will begin meeting for training sessions in the next month.
More established, but in a lesser-known region, is Brazil’s Baixo Guandu Rugby League.
A small three-team competition, the Baixo Guandu league is largely down to the passion of youngster Wanderlan Ferraz.
Here is an English translation of Wanderlan’s interview with Portal do Rugby, to give you a fuller picture.
Rugby league wants its space in Brazil, but to live in harmony with rugby union. This is the intention of Baixo Guandu, which has founded the nucleus of rugby league in the country. Located in Espirito Santo state’s northwest, on the border with heavily populated Minas Gerais, Baixo Guandu is a municipality of about 30,000 inhabitants. The region has fallen in love with rugby league after watching NRL broadcasts on the Sports+ channel. Wanderlan Ferraz became interested in the sport and began promoting it in his city. The idea caught on and neighboring towns, local miners and stakeholders emerged. Wanderlan told us a bit more about how both forms of rugby coexist in Baixo Guandu.
How did the idea of assembling a team of rugby league in the region of Baixo Guandu emerge?
Wanderlan: We started to monitor transmissions of rugby league on television and the internet. At first I found it odd, but quickly got the taste. The dynamism of league is very attractive, and in my opinion, it ends up becoming a more entertaining game than union. We understand from football (soccer) the ability to play fast, so soon got interested in the sport and started as a small group that practiced. Even when we found that it was not practiced anywhere else in Brazil, we were having fun and used the example of the NRL. Our inspiration were the Australians who are passionate about this sport, even though for now it is only big in their region. Nothing could stop us from making it big, at least in our city.
You also practice rugby union? What is the relationship between the two codes in your region?
At first we did not warm to the idea of playing union. However, with the lack of league teams some of our athletes also wanted to enter union for training, without ever leaving the main focus of league. Even in union, the basis of our training is focused on league skills. League is our innermost grand love. We play union to participate in some friendly matches and tournaments, so as not to be left behind the Brazilian standards for union. Our idea is, through the union, to promote the league and perhaps popularise it.
Does Baixo Guandu RL only have activities in the city of Baixo Guandu or other states ready for rugby league?
We started work in Aimorés and Eesplendor, Minas Gerais, however, with the lack of finances, we had to take a break in these cities. However, athletes interested in the code still train in Baixo Guandu with our group.
Do you have support from the government and local media?
Yes, we have received support mainly from the local media, which always makes articles about our projects. The public cannot be left out of what we are trying to achieve. Our mayor even said he wants to turn the city of Baixo Guandu into a place known for its rugby league.
Which activities for rugby league are being held?
The work of the league is internal, with weekly workouts. This year we have already played two friendly matches with local teams and a presentation afterwards.
What are your plans for the future ? Do you intend to mount championships?
For 2014 the goal is to create a championship nines with at least four teams in our city , and divide that championship at various stages in the year. We also intend to create a special State of Origin, with the selection of athletes from Espiroto Santo against the athletes of Minas Gerais. It would be staged over three games during the year .
Had anyone played rugby league before? Did you receive help from foreigners?
No, but in the beginning we had the help of an Australian who lived in Minas Gerais, who had previously played in a local league team in Australia. He gave us some tips, but unfortunately we ended up losing contact with him. However, we have got several people willing to help. Thanks to a friend who lives in Australia, Conrad Ingra, we got in touch with Ben Barba, one of the best players in the NRL, who says he is willing to help. Also Pierluigi Gentile from the Italian League and Figliolini Rodrigo, who has lived in Australia and now lives in São Paulo. There’s also the Latin Heat group, which promotes rugby league for the Latin American community around the world. There are many friends and lovers of rugby league that always send me messages of encouragement.
The fact that you are the first in Brazil to play rugby league influences the project in what ways? How is it carrying out a pioneering project?
Undoubtedly, we need to be calm and do the right thing. After all in some way we are the Brazilian representatives. It is very difficult to work with something new. The fact that no other team can give advice or comfort is strange. But we have adopted a system of working hard internally with commitment. With patience and seriousness I’m sure the work will give encouragement to others in Brazil. A major problem we face is a certain fear of the practice of rugby league by some enthusiasts for union. Our main focus is to take away the rivalry and show the benefits that league can offer.
Have you received contacts interested in rugby league from other parts of Brazil?
Yes, but there is not a significant number yet. We have had some contacts with people from rugby union and even lovers of league asking about our way of working.
There is already the intention of creating a federation and expand the sport?
Yes, this is our big goal, because I believe that having a sports federation will have more credence and will be viewed more seriously in Brazil. It may foster the creation of other teams. There is also a great desire to maybe one day have a national team.
How many athletes do you have today? What are the goals from here?
We currently have 30 registered athletes, but in January is our time for promoting registration with pamphlets and radio advertising and street sound. Our goal is to get at least 50 athletes by March to encourage other centers in Brazil. We have to do our part in an organised manner and thus be a mirror for others. As far as youth programs are concerned, we had some problems with schedules, but I believe that by June we will begin work there.