Having suffered in recent years with a decrease in the size of its squads and of its operational structure, SPAC’s rugby department had to take measures at the end of 2017 in order to reverse this process. With investments in a professional management and coaching staff, it was able once again, to create the conditions necessary for the sport to be practiced with the quality the club is so well known for. Furthermore, actions were taken in order to reduce the costs for players interested in practicing rugby at SPAC. Results were prompt. In 2018, all of the club’s categories started growing in numbers, which was especially encouraging for the women’s and junior squads.
Barely able to muster a full team by the end of the year, the SPAC Girls, as they are known, were unsure about their future. The most successful team in the history of Brazilian women’s rugby, responsible for making the sport popular at national level and for outstanding results at an international one (they made up most of the national squad for nearly a decade), faced grim prospects at Christmas time. Now, three months later, their numbers have almost doubled. Led by a coach who took part in the last Olympic Games, André Luiz, or Boy, as he’s known in the rugby community, they have shown immense potential in the first tournament of the year, claiming a hard-fought third place through a thrilling comeback. They now prepare to retake their post in the National Rugby Sevens Circuit, their main goal for the season.
Good omens also surround the boys and girls of the youth squads. For the past two years, the club had to invite players from other teams to join them in tournaments, so as to fill up all available positions. However, the recent rise in squad size seems to indicate that, soon, they will be chasing trophies on their own. Restructuring of the youth categories is lead by experienced coach Leandro Gevaerd, or Chubby, who’s also in charge of the men’s team. Having learned rugby in SPAC’s youth categories, he now faces the challenge of coordinating this traditional school for both rugby learning and character building.
“The first step to building a solid foundation for the youth categories was putting up a coaching staff directed at developing a structured work with our boys. This has helped immensely in captivating them. The second step was creating more opportunities for them to play. The engaging and qualified training sessions have attracted new kids this year and, with more children taking part, it becomes even more appealing. Besides, every weekend we either play a game or invite some other team from São Paulo to practice with us. This is essential because, as we know, playing is where the fun is.”
In order for the blue and white team to keep on growing, a micro-donations program was created at beginning of the year. Named SPAC Patrons (Mecenas do SPAC), it provides an opportunity for the club’s wider community, and other communities interested in supporting rugby and sports, to contribute directly to the department’s development. So far, it has proven a success among many rugby enthusiasts.
When asked why he decided to participate, Antonio Sel Franco, or Careca, who plays for SPAC’s veteran team (the SPAC Old Boys), said thus: “What motivated me was my passion for rugby and its principles, such as character, honesty, companionship, love for the jersey, teamwork, etc. Rugby’s values last for life; they are part of a person’s personal development. As for the financial help, it’s no more than my duty. It’s a very small investment when compared to what rugby has given me”.
The idea of providing a way for veterans and former players to now help children and young players to practice the sport they love is at the heart of the project; and, yet, it’s not only the elders that have felt compelled to take part in this groundbreaking moment for the club’s rugby. Anderson Zanutto, for example, is still old enough to play for the men’s team and, until last year, was doing exactly that. But his vast experience with the sport and long-lasting relationship with SPAC have led him to participate, so as to also give back to rugby a bit of the solidarity it teaches all who take part in the game.
“I discovered rugby when I was 16 years old, at SPAC, and I must say it was a turning point in my life. The values I learned formed the basis for personal accomplishments. As a player, I learned to be a better person. Rugby has changed, grown, but I still believe in the values that remain alive at this club. To be a SPAC Patron is but a small contribution that might end up changing the lives of many other people. It’s about helping make the world a better place.”
Maintaining and expanding its current structure is, however, only one of the goals the department has set for itself. At the moment, there are two main projects that await resources in order to become fully operational. One of them, called SPAC in Schools, aims to instigate the adoption of rugby at São Paulo’s private schools. Getting the sport to be a part of the regular curriculum at educational institutions is a major step in making it popular, as proven by countries who adopted this strategy, such as Portugal. For SPAC Rugby in particular, the project presents two points of interest: attract more players for its teams and establish commercial partnerships with the schools.
The other initiative the department intends to get going over the next two years is an old dream. With its practice grounds located in a part of town that offers its residents little opportunities for sporting activities, SPAC Rugby has long wishes to start its own social project, which would give children from the south region of São Paulo an opportunity to get to know and play rugby.
“With part of the resources we receive from our patrons, we intend to structure a pilot project somewhere close to the club”, stated the department’s director, Duncan Randall. – “Besides all our knowledge of the sport, gathered over decades, at the moment we have people with us that have a large experience managing social projects and will allow us to make a sure move.”
To be continued...