RIO DE JANEIRO — There is nothing in Rio de Janeiro’s streets and beaches that point out that the FIFA’s World Cup is fast approaching. It seems that cidade maravilhosa has not yet embraced the biggest party in world football. Nothing indicates that the city is ready as roads continue to be jammed with traffic, there is no look and feel, the airport seems dirty. A poll published yesterday indicates that the approval rate of the World Cup is host at an all time low of 52 per cent.
Truth is there is no need to promote football in Brazil: everybody plays it everywhere all the time. It is in this scenario that other sports fight for public interest. And in this sense, rugby is fighting a winning battle as it returns to the Olympic Games, in its shortened version (sevens), in Río in 2016.
Brazilian rugby is working hard and needs to grow its playing numbers. Aiming to take the game to as many people as they can, HSBC launched their Rugby Festivals, powered by Serevi, in the country’s best-known city and Sao Paulo. The Festival will also visit Hong Kong, New York and probably Australia.
“We share with the International Rugby Board the spirit of growing the playing numbers and at HSBC we want to give something back at grassroots levels,” explains Andrea de Vicentis, the bank’s Head of Sponsoring Planning.
“It is about leaving a legacy, engaging people and doing things that give them the opportunity to grow. Rugby is a great vehicle.”
Working with children — more than 1,000, a large number from the favelas, were involved over five days in Rio and Sao Paulo — was IRB Hall of Famer Waisele Serevi. The Fijian-born maestro is the most recognizable face in sevens rugby. Two businessmen created a company in Seattle, USA, for him to share his enormous expertise. Three years later, over 30 staffers work in growing the game of sevens. Serevi, 45, works with Puma 7s coach Santiago Gómez Cora and Ben Gollings (the HSBC Sevens Series highest try-scorer and points-scorers)
“Our goal is to ensure more and more children learn the game, enjoy it and see it as an option, healthy and attractive, with values and morals,” explains Serevi. With a smile that never leaves his face, he lead the group of five coaches that worked tirelessly promoting the best rugby can offer.
The week’s coup-de-grace was a coaching course that gave official IRB certificates to 50 local and regional coaches. “It is crucial that there are people well trained to continue teaching and keeping the rugby passion alive,” added Serevi, a double RWC 7s world champion. “Rugby sevens is growing and it is a great tool; here in Brazil they are working hard towards the Olympic Games, and it is great that both the local men and women sides have been confirmed as participating teams.”
In little more than two years, the Olympic flame will be lit again; it is festivals such as these that ensure that the return of rugby will be successful.