In land of football, equally-ancient rugby carves its own niche – Times of India

RIO DE JANIERO: Take some John Cena. Add a generous dose of David Warner. Place contents in a martini shaker and jangle well for a few minutes. What you get is Felipe Claro Sant Ana Silva. Add shoulder pads and protective gum shield, and you have Brazil’s thoughtful, business-minded Rugby 7s mainstay at this Olympics.

In a country where every other sport has to live out its second-class status to football ­- with perhaps, the sole exception of Olympics men’s volleyball, though even that too is a long shot -­ it is hard to believe that both rugby and football were born around the same time in Brazil, possibly the same day itself in 1894.

“Charlie Miller, the Scottish missionary who brought football to Brazil, got off the ship with a football in one hand and rugby ball in another,” Felipe tells us.

“On reaching Sao Paolo, he built two pitches alongside each other on what is today the Sao Paulo Athletic Club. One was for football and the other for rugby. The rugby ground is still there as part of our club,” laughs the back who has been a regular for Brazil for a decade now.

We want to be let in on more, but first, the 30-year-old looks at your name-card and says he has a connection with India, but he won’t divulge more. “There’s a lot of competition in Brazil in the gym and rugby equipment business. I don’t want to give away any name or source to my competition but a bulk of the gear that I sell -rugby balls and shoulder pads and other equipment -I import from an Indian manufacturer, an association I have had for a while now.”

Fitness has always had a place in the Brazil psyche and the explosion of the gym and cross-training culture over the past decade has fuelled a demand for quality gear.

Felipe, who runs a rugby gear supply business, also runs a gym. That he has played rugby professionally now for nearly two decades in Brazil and Argentina, and a good four seasons (2006-10) in the English league, make him the ideal guide on how the sport carved its own niche.


Despite literally coming from the same field, it is staggering to believe how football has left rugby so far behind. “I guess the intricate rules, the procedure and the gear may have made people turn to football instead,” explains Felipe, adding, “You cannot deny that the Brazilian, with his innate rhythm and agility, always had a natural affinity for football. We also play our rugby the Brazilian way but the sport is too nuanced for it to be discerned right away.”

Felipe agrees that in the Brazilian psyche, all other sport would always come second to football. “It is a matter of scale. We know that we have to live in the shadow of football, and the money it can attract, but I guess the ethos of rugby is not like that.” From a 12-team affair played in front of a handful of spectators two decades ago to over 350 clubs with age group teams and academies all over Brazil, Felipe tells us that rugby has made rapid inroads.

At their home Olympics, Felipe has modest expectations, especially with the bigwigs like New Zealand and Fiji in the fray, yet he is hopeful of a good showing from the ‘Tupis’ – named after the indigenous tribe that first greeted the Portuguese on their landing. That, and their games with Argentina’s Pu mas. It may not be football, but trust a local rivalry to crank up any sport, even rugby.

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Ellis Wilder

Hey there! My name is Ellis Wilder, and I'm a student at the University of Calgary. When I'm not hitting the books, you can usually find me writing articles for sports and travel blogs. I've always had a passion for exploring new places and experiencing different cultures, so I love sharing my travel stories with others. Whether I'm hiking in the Rocky Mountains or exploring a new city, I always try to capture the essence of the places I visit in my writing. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy reading my articles as much as I enjoy writing them!

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