Rugby has been growing steadily, if not in huge numbers, in Costa Rica over the past decade. The game has a community of over 1,500 and the hope is that, post-COVID-19, rugby will be bigger and stronger.
“This is a well-run and organised country,” says Ramón Cole de Temple, who has been President of the Federación de Rugby de Costa Rica since 2015. “We have not been hit hard by coronavirus and we are hoping to soon be able to at least start training.”
For that to happen, the rugby field in La Sabana, the 72-hectare central park in the country’s capital city of San José, is crucial.
The Federación de Rugby de Costa Rica was given this prized green piece of real estate to develop the game in a park visited by over 30,000 Costa Ricans every weekend.
“Clubs don’t have their own facilities, only a couple have grounds that are either hired or lent, so for us to have this ground in the centre of town is of huge importance.”
The planned stands and floodlights are not yet there; still, having a home in La Sabana is huge.
“It has given us enormous exposure and a meeting point for players, friends and families,” adds Ivón Carballo, the former international, now the federation’s sole administrator.
“The National Stadium and the National Gymnasium are there, as well as football fields and venues for tennis, volleyball, beach volleyball, softball, baseball. Now we must ensure it is in great shape so that we can use it for training sessions and every weekend for games,” she says of this sporting hub.
Support from official agencies
Costa Rica is not renown as a sporting nation – the only professional league is football’s and many still toast to the team of 2014 that had a great run in FIFA’s World Cup, reaching the quarter-finals.
“Sports policies in Costa Rica are not based on high performance but more as an arm of health. They are focused more on recreational sport. We are aiming to aim for high performance.”
For that, there has to be a growth in the base. There has been big support for the National Sports Development Agency, The Childs Development Agency and the Sports Ministry, with whom they work hand in hand.
The support of the local government in Costa Rica has been crucial, but only a reflection of the good governance of the game.
Bringing the game to indigenous communities
As a result of a nationwide programme last year, rugby was expanded in this country of over five million, reaching every corner, including working with World Rugby's Get Into Rugby with two indigenous tribes.
Six national schools were developed, “with emphasis on women’s rugby,” opens Deuyenit Valenciano, RDO for the country and national captain since 2017.
“We were successful at age grade level and we’ve expanded around the country, helping communities to get youngsters out of unhealthy environments.”
In 2019, Get Into Rugby reached 3,600 boys and 2,700 girls across Costa Rica.
“Last year, for four months we had rugby sessions twice a week with the Naira awari tribe,” recalls Carballo. Stuck in the middle of the mountain range that crosses through Costa Rica, a country with beautiful Pacific and Atlantic Ocean coastlines, communications with such an isolated community was difficult.
“Getting there was very hard, but the rewards huge. Some 20 youngsters, boys and girls, would come and play with us. It is about offering a healthy option throughout the country,” adds Carballo.
In December, the Nairi awari children were at La Sabana during a rugby festival, a highlight of the season.
Ready for restart
Costa Rican rugby will be well prepared for when normality resumes.
“We had men’s and women’s tournaments and youth rugby was growing. The goal is to continue taking the game to schools and institutions.
“This time has allowed us to review our structure and plan ahead.”
Costa Rica has ruled the region in recent years. The women beat Uruguay and Venezuela for the first time in 2019 and the men beat Guatemala, their neighbour and fiercest rival.
With rugby being singled out as one of three sports of biggest growth, the support of the government is crucial, with high performance plans in the near future.
“That is what we are now aiming for,” concludes Cole de Temple.