Cuba is rich in many things, music, history, culture, natural attractions and a population that passionately embraces a wide variety of sports , including Rugby Union. Unfortunately there are also shortages of many things in Cuba and sporting equipment - especially in the case of Rugby Union – can be hard to find.
Rugby has had a slow emergence in Cuba and it is acknowledged that the first “official” team was formed at the University of Havana 1992. It is well known that Che Guevara and his close friend Alberto Granada both played in Argentina. Alberto subsequently became Cuban Rugby’s first Patron and helped develop the sport where it had not been traditionally played. It is now emerging and growing more strongly:
“Currently the National Rugby Development Group assumes practically nationwide functions Cuban Rugby Union which is to govern the entity called Rugby in Cuba, with the primary aim to continue expanding and developing all the Rugby throughout the country, winning participants mainly from an early age to create a solid foundation of continuity and permanence as a sport and recreational option in the Cuban population, with the completion of competitions and tournaments each year as the National Rugby 7s Tournament RBS International-Havana Howlers 7's, Schools Rugby Festival, International Festival of Rugby School, with particular attention to the strengthening of ties with the IRB, regional organizations and federations of the area.”
Extract from Union Cubana de Rugby Website, http://www.rugby-cuba.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2&Itemid=3
After a visit to Cuba in 2011, Iain Calman (the author of this article), Adam Sadil, Greg Sadil and Rowan Ward have been working to build closer relationships with Cuba and Cubans. One key inititiative is seeking donations of rugby gear – new or used – that can be donated to the junior players in Cuba (see photos of the kids in their donated Australian jerseys). This began with Rowan and Greg canvassing their contacts in the rugby community primarily seeking donations but also working towards coordinating some type of visit to play rugby in Cuba. The other initiative is the establishment of Cuba Libre Tours promoting tourism via small group tours.
Their efforts are paying dividends, last year the Surfers Paradise Dolphins Rugby Union Club responded very generously donating 6 bags of mixed gear including; jerseys, boots, balls and other training equipment. In addition Wallabies player Benny Mowan also donated a large amount of his own Wallabies kit.
The first “shipment” of donated rugby kit from the Surfers Paradise Dolphins was taken as hand luggage by one of the first groups to visit Cuba enjoying a holiday using an itinerary provided by Cuba Libre Tours. This group carried six large kitbags of gear which was enthusiastically received, and in typical Cuban style, the guys from Cuban Rugby made them all feel very welcome.
They have also kept in touch indicating how much they have appreciated not only the gear but the opportunity to build a strong relationship between Australian and Cuban Rugby Union. Here is a brief excerpt from a recent email message from Esmil the Junior Development Coach of Cuban Rugby:
Greetings from Cuba Rugby family. How is the Australian rugby family? And you and yours? Our club Indios Caribe follows increasing members: more adolescents come to the rugby family. Of course we need to learn more every day for meet their need as human beings and rugby players. Is a great challenge but is wonderful to see them learning, running, enjoying, getting control of their tempers (is another challenge) and staying far away from the bad side of the street. Thanks always for help them. I wish we could organize a tournament; even an informal one and you participate. Perhaps next year or the other…or in the paradise. Ja, ja,ja
Their ongoing efforts have now resulted in Tuggeranong Valley Rugby Union, the Vikings Club providing support by donating two full sets of jerseys and some additional rugby shirts. These will be taken to Cuba by Adam Sadil and Iain Calman next month when they head to Cuba to host another Cuba Libre Tour. Iain and Adam will be visiting Cuba regularly hosting customised tours to this amazing destination.
We would like to thank the Surfers Paradise Dolphins, Benny Mowan and The Tuggeranong Vikings for their generosity and hope that we can continue to build relationships with Cuba and Cuban Rugby.