1. CUBAN RUGBY - BY FRED FORESTER
In Cuba, all sports are regulated by the sports ministry (“INDER”). INDER has authorized the “Cuban Rugby Development Group” headed by Chukin Chao to oversee rugby in Cuba. Chukin is a former government lawyer, now general manager of a French company in Havana.
The development group has of December 2012 INDER received approval to form “Cuban Rugby Federation” (effectively Cuban Rugby Union) and in turn at the same time NACRA (North American Caribbean Rugby Association), the governing body for Rugby in North America and the Caribbean has invited them to become part of their organization . INDER is currently in the process of finalizing their application to NACRA.
Cuba is currently recognized by NACRA as a non member.Two years after joining NACRA, Cuba will be admitted to the IRB (International Rugby Board). Meanwhile IRB is assisting Cuba in coaching and refereeing. IRB sanctioned the recent Havana Howlers Sevens.
Rugby started in Cuba in October 1992 when a Spanish man from Barcelona, Ricardo Martinez, came to Havana University. Martinez brought a rugby ball and got about 12 students interested in the game. He formed a team called “Indios Caribe”. In June 1993 a team from the Cayman Islands came to Cuba and played Indios.
For the next few years Rugby was limited and was primarily played as an intramural sort at the University of Havana with about 40 to 50 players.
In 1996, a Frenchman, Max Bouix, came to Cuba. Max was a great help in rescuing, expanding and coaching the sport; He thought the players better scrumming and mauling techniques. He split the club in two and made a new club the “Giraldillos”. He brought in overseas teams especially from France. Max also started rugby in the provinces. Max is considered one of the fathers of Cuban Rugby and its great benefactor.
By 1998 rugby was played in about 4 provinces outside of Havana, this produced a reasonable amount of competition and by 2002 other teams had sprung up in Havana.
At the end of 2011, there are 15 Rugby Clubs in Cuba, 6 in Havana and teams in 9 other provinces. Cuba has 14 provinces of which 10 now have rugby teams. The Havana Clubs are, 1. Indios Caribe(1992) 2. Giraldillos (1996) 3. Marti(1997) 4. ISS International Sports School (2001) 5. Latin American Medicine School (2002) 6. Ciudad Deportiva (2009.) Teams also play in the following Provinces, 1. Pinar Del Rio 2. Mantanzas 3. Sancti Spiritus 4. Villa Clara 5. Ciego de Avila 6. Camaguey 7. Las Tunas 8. Granma 9. Guantanamo. Rugby is played all year round. Typically teams practice 3 times a week and play on Saturdays.
The country is divided into 3 regions, 1. West - Havana’s 6 team plus Pinar del Rio and Matanzas 2. Central -Villa Clara, Sancti Spirtitus, Ciego de Avila 3. East - Camaguey, Las Tunas, Granma, Guantanamo. Regional Championships are held from the 3 divisions in May each year and National Championship is competed for by the 3 winning clubs from each region in June each year.
Cuba has hosted visiting teams from several countries including Scotland, England France, Spain, Tahiti, USA, Canada and Japan. Cuban teams compete reasonably with visitors on 2nd or 3rd team level and welcome veteran teams of over 35s.
Cuba has only made one overseas trip to France in 2000 due to the shortage of funds.In addition to men’s teams.
Cuba has youth development program at 5 schools, where 160 boys age 9 to 12 participate in flag rugby regularly.
Women’s rugby is just starting to emerge . Teams were formed in May 2011 and played their first competitive games in the women’s division at the Havana Howler Sevens in early December 2011.
Rugby in Cuba is expected to expand significantly in the next 5 years, when they become members or the IRB and from the publicity that will result from rugby in the Olympic Games.
Cubans are very good athletes and can adapt very well to rugby. Cuba is not a rich country, uniforms, boots and balls are hard to come by. Thanks to the Canadian Dog River Howlers Club run by Karl Fix of Regina, most teams in Cuba obtain equipment from the Howlers and their sponsor Xtreme Sports, in Bangkok, owned by Eddie Evans a former Canadian international.
The spirit is there, the interest is there, the organizers are there, the government is agreeable, moral and financial support is there thanks to the IRB, NACRA and the benevolent Canadians. Expansion and skills will continue to grow.
Cuba is “Rugby Friendly” and an excellent host for visiting teams. Internal travel, hotels etc are well organized and efficient. Prices are very reasonable, tour agencies are helpful and good and they do all internal travel including airport transfers and cooperate with the rugby clubs. It is a great place to visit.
Teams from the US are required to obtain a license from the US Treasury Department. The process takes 2 to 3 months. Licenses are granted on a group basis and can be obtained before the final list of travelers is known. The final list is then attached to the license and is for people who are players, coaches, trainers, referees or physios. Supporters and spouses are not permitted to travel with teams. The process is not complicated and licenses are obtainable for US teams wishing to play in Cuba.
The Dog River Howlers RFC and Cuban Rugby jointly organize and host the IRB sanctioned Havana Howlers Rugby 7's (men and women) which in 2013 is being held on November 23 and 24. For further information on this tournament ot any Cuban rugby tours please contact Karl Fix at email@example.com