Written by Callum Walker
When one thinks of Brazil and sport, football is the name of the game. But, Hugo Fróes – the Chief Operating Officer of the Brazilian Rugby League Confederation – has an ambitious plan to elevate Rugby League into the hearts and minds of the Brazilian people.
Fróes’ first aim is to secure Rugby League International Federation recognition – a necessity to play international fixtures. Fróes is adamant that, by the end of July, Brazil will be given this status.
“We have done all the necessary procedures through the Brazilian laws and the guidelines of the RLIF in record time. I believe we will have the confirmation this month, with unanimous approval,” he told Everything Rugby League.
Brazil – a former Portuguese colony – is not renowned for its English-speaking ability, but Fróes is keen to quell any fears that the language barrier could prove a great hurdle.
“We have an Australian director, in the sales department, and I speak English at a reasonable level, which allows me to meet our demands.” he says.
Brazil’s South American rivals, Chile, are ranked 32nd in the international rankings, 14 spots ahead of Brazil who are sitting in 46th, but Fróes is determined to address this superiority.
“They (Chile) have a team based in Australia and there are several players with Chilean heritage, which makes it easier to play games with other teams based in Australia. This is economically advantageous, as the Australian dollar and financial conditions are more favourable.”
“However, our team (Brazil), lost by just four points to Colombia (22-18) and in one year beat them 52-14 whilst we have also triumphed over Argentina. We have confidence, that if we play against Chile, we will show that the ranking is for an economic rather than a performance reason,” Fróes said.
When faced with competing against the giant of football, Fróes was pragmatic but definitely optimistic.
“Brazil has a massive culture of football, everyone knows and breathes the sport in some way. Football is the most important sport by far as well as the second, third and fourth. Then comes volleyball and basketball, but even they are light years away from football.
“It’s hard for everyone, but alternative sports like rugby union, football and baseball have been gaining ground, just like rugby league. When you have 210 million people, it’s more a matter of finding the niche, and that’s what we are currently creating. There’s room for everyone.”
One of the key points that all international sides must focus on is the youth setup. After all, these will be the generations that carry the Rugby League torch on into the future. And Brazil have already been making great strides in that area.
“We have the largest grassroots in Latin America, with a national championship with eight men’s teams and a Segunda division with three. We also have a women’s competition with four teams, all of course 13-a-side.”
“In the South America youth competition, we played and won in Argentina last year and we will also debut in the Brazil Schoolboys Cup, with five teams planned.”
“It is exciting to say, that we will have about 600 affiliates by the end of the year, more than the whole continent put together,” he says.
Fróes did not hold back on his goals for the next five years, outlining his desire to take Rugby League by storm.
“In Brazil, we have both a state and federal law to encourage sports. It takes money from companies that would have initially gone to the government and is instead given to confederations and sports teams. Basically, every confederation manages itself financially.”
“In 2020, we will declare our three projects – one for sport promotion in schools, another for the trips and tours of those selected to play for Brazil, and thirdly, for the professional maintenance of the confederation staff and the construction of a training centre.”
“If we can achieve so much without resources, imagine what we can do with financial contributions. We are definitely aiming to be a top-15 nation in five years,” he said.
It’s going to be an uphill task for Hugo Fróes and the rest of the Brazilian Rugby League Confederation, but with such optimism and structures in place, the possibility of Brazil becoming a force to be reckoned with is a real one.