Rugby Americas North (RAN) is pleased to announce the inclusion of Federación Cubana De Rugby (FCR) as RAN’s newest Associate Member.
FCR was officially approved as an Associate Member at the 2022 RAN General Meeting in September in Miami.
RAN President, and Category ‘C’ Representative, George Nicholson has welcomed FCR, saying: “I was part of the NACRA (now RAN) EXCO that visited Cuba in September 2012 with the objective of creating a pathway for Cuba to join our Regional Association. Cuba has always been one of the athletic powerhouses in the Caribbean, so they were an obvious target as we sought to grow the game in our region. On behalf of RAN, I welcome the Cuban Rugby Federation into the RAN family, and look forward to seeing their athletes perform on the international stage.”
General Secretary of FCR, 51-year-old Chukin Chao Companioni, says the island’s new status within the region is a huge step forward in the development of rugby in Cuba.
“Being a RAN Associate Member is of paramount importance to us. It allows us to have close connections with other countries in the region, as well as to receive the appropriate support from RAN that will assist us to continue our efforts to develop rugby in Cuba,” he says. “In fact, only a few days after being approved as an Associate Member, we were given the opportunity to send two educators to Mexico for a RAN coaches educator course. This will now allow us to have our own Cuban educators working to train rugby coaches both in our country, and in the region.”
From Soccer Player to Rugby General Secretary
Chukin says, like most Cubans, he grew up playing baseball and soccer with no knowledge of the sport of rugby.
While studying at Law School at Havana University, he says he pursued soccer and was a goalkeeper for both the Law School and University soccer teams. However, in 1992 during his second year of studies, he was introduced to rugby.
“One day we were given the news that a visitor to Cuba wanted to show us a new game,” he says. “The next day I was among the first 12 students on the island to handle the oval ball to play a rare game they called ‘rugby’.”
Chukin says it was then that he started playing rugby however after some time he also began to take on the responsibility of coordinating and organizing rugby activities in Cuba.
“I split my time between playing and coordinating for some years until I eventually stopped playing in the men’s team in 2002,” he says. “I then became the General Coordinator for Cuban Rugby Development Group (CRDG), which was the body taking care of rugby within INDER (Instituto Nacional de Deporte, Educacion Fisica Recreacion); the superior entity in charge of sports in Cuba.”
Chukin says it was not until September 2014, that the FCR was founded and is when he began his duties as General Secretary.
“The best part is that the FCR Executive are all rugby lovers who are passionate about the sport, so we also take on extra roles within the Union such as coordinating, organizing, coaching, officiating games, painting fields, and carrying water. Most of us dedicate all our free time to growing rugby in Cuba,” he says. “The values, spirit, brotherhood, solidarity, and friendships within the rugby community are something that I have not found in any other sport. It is more than just a game and we are committed to sharing this with as many Cubans as possible.”
Developing Rugby in Cuba
Rugby started being played in Cuba in October 1992 at the Havana University, with Chukin one of the first on the island to pick up a rugby ball.
This was followed by the establishment of the first Cuban rugby club, the Indios Caribe of Havana University, followed by clubs such as Giraldillos of Habana del Este and Marti of Vedado.
Chukin says historically these three original clubs would compete amongst themselves during the year and play touring clubs from overseas such as the Cayman Islands, France, England, Argentina, and Canada.
“Then in 2002, the Cuban Rugby Development Group (CRDG) started helping to form clubs in the rest of the Cuban provinces like Pinar del Rio, Matanzas, Villa Clara, Ciego de Avila, Las Tunas, Granma, Santiago de Cuba, and Guantanamo,” he says. “Because of this, rugby is now played in eight provinces across Cuba.”
From 2010-2014, Chukin says the FCR went on to organize the Havana-Howlers 7´s International Tournament, which was very well received by clubs from Canada, USA, Mexico, Venezuela, Germany, and Trinidad and Tobago.
“We are continuing to do whatever we can to grow the game in Cuba and we now even have an annual national 7s tournament,” he says. “We also have a flag rugby program to introduce rugby to local children aged 7-12 years old in schools all over the country, as well as a women’s program which is gaining in numbers, particularly in the eastern part of Cuba.”
And, Cuba has been rewarded for their hard work to develop rugby in the country by this recent approval as RAN’s newest Associate Member.
“Becoming an Associate Member of RAN means we can now more easily share our experiences with other rugby unions or federations in the region, as well as gain access to more intensive support from RAN in terms of educational and training materials, funding, and much-needed gear,” he says. “We are also very much looking forward to now participating in the RAN tournaments to expose our players to a different level of rugby and different styles of play.”
Chukin says Cuban rugby is committed to continuing to push rugby forward on the island and becoming an Associate Member of RAN is a very important milestone in their development.
“This coming year, we are focused on trying to participate in some of the RAN competitions and to really start building on our skills and experience at a regional level,” he says. “For the future, we are going to work on becoming a full member of RAN and eventually of World Rugby, keeping alive our dream of someday going to the Olympic Games and why not to also win a medal?!”