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Rugby League in Argentina

Rugby League is perhaps strongest in Australia where player numbers outstrip that of Rugby Union, but can it gather a significant following in Argentina?
By Eric Weil / Sportsworld

The beginnings of a sport that’s safer than Union

An ambitious man named Carlos Varela is trying to bring Rugby League to Argentina. He lives in Miramar and has named the seaside city “The Capital of Rugby League.” That could be a problem with spreading the popularity of the game. The sport’s central hub should be the city of Buenos Aires or in one of the other provinces traditionally associated with Rugby Union. So far in Miramar there are about 22 players who have played exhibition games in front of spectators.

The game is faster than Rugby Union — with only 13 players a side instead of 15 — and it is safer because there are no scrums, rucks, mauls and no throw-ins — which are the roughest part of Rugby Union and where players have more chance of getting injured. Also, once a player is tackled to the ground, play is halted for as long as it takes the tackled player to return to his feet and play the ball. The game’s decreased physical aggressiveness is therefore specially attractive to women playing the game.

Although the Argentine Rugby Union (UAR) says the number of players is on the increase, especially since last year’s Rugby World Cup, Carlos has statistics to show how in eight provinces the number of players has noticeably decreased, there have been no increases elsewhere either. Many parents are reluctant to have their children playing Rugby Union because of injuries which have left several players in wheelchairs for the rest of their lives.

Rugby League was founded in England in 1895 when 21 clubs decided to break away from Rugby Union to form the Northern Rugby Union (but changed to Rugby League in 1921). Why was it the Northern Rugby Union before? Because it was played in the north of England and it was dubbed the poor man’s game because in the south Rugby Union was played in the upper-class schools and the clubs themselves were also upper-class haunts. Now, though, there are a few Rugby League clubs in the south.

The sport is especially strong in Australia where it has more participants than Rugby Union and it is now played in 69 countries, including North America (USA and Canada). It also has its own World Cup which will is to be staged next in Australia in 2017.

In South America, there is some Rugby League played in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Bolivia, Uruguay and Peru — as well as in Central America in El Salvador. There is also a selection of these countries called the Latin American Rugby League. But the idea would be to form domestic leagues in these countries. The local Confederation Argentina de Rugby League (CARL), founded in 2014, also proposes to organize tours in Chile and Mexico.

AFTER DAVIS CUP

So Argentina got past Poland in last weekend’s Davis Cup tie after this column said their team was not very strong, but we also mentioned that often a country’s leading player would not, or could not, participate, because in a four-man team he would make a lot of difference. This is a pity, but these players have a very busy tournament schedule and need a rest — usually at the time when they should instead be playing for their country like with Poland who, at most, were lacking their best player four times this year.

If Argentina had lost, they would have had grounds to protest. The court was very fast — too fast as a matter of fact. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) allows a top speed of 50, but it measured 54. One would have thought that the ITF would measure the court’s speed before any matches begin.

Next comes Italy in the quarterfinals — again, away from home. Italy has just swept Switzerland 5-0 (who were admittedly without Roger Federer). Italy is a tougher proposition, but again success depends whether all their strong players turn up or not. And it also depends on Argentina. The match is in July and perhaps Juan Martín del Potro will be ready to play the best of five sets in top form by then. It would also be a last chance for him to convince the selectors to pick him for the Olympic Games which, he said, is his greatest wish.

A win for Argentina could even put them up against Britain, who have just beaten Japan 3-1.

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