The inexorable growth of rugby league across the world has no greater example of what can be achieved by skill, imagination, teamwork and determination than the development of rugby league in Argentina. Once again, the defining qualities of the sport are the defining qualities of the leaders within the sport.
Rugby league came to Argentina in 2016 when pioneer Carlos Varela put together a 9s tournament with players drawn from the Americas and Australia.
The small group of administrators and coaches, often doubling as match officials, drew upon their experiences gained in both England and Australia to introduce more people to a sport which seems natural to them and their temperament.
Throughout their initial experiences, both good and bad, came the stories that will become the heritage and the history of rugby league in Argentina, just as in every other country where the sport has become established.
The desire to succeed on the international stage against their neighbours in Brazil, Chile and Colombia revealed the need to develop a strong domestic programme to grow and, nurture players and coaches. This quickly led to the next phase which was to raise money. In order to have the best chance of success the organisers realised that being a properly organised and structured governing body is the only way to attract support from government and from business, so they are on their way to creating an association and have applied for formal government recognition. The application process is now complete, and they are waiting for the formal recognition.
Argentina’s head coach and also a board member, Pablo Aguilera, whose first taste of rugby league came 25 years ago, when his school union tour to northern England included unplanned matches of rugby league and a visit to Knowsley Road, is rightly proud of what has been achieved, saying:
“We are planning to grow our domestic competition to at least 10 clubs and we will achieve this growth by working with local trade unions. Our story is very similar to the rugby league story in England in 1895, the game appeals to the working classes in a way that other sports do not, and the trade unions help us to share the sport with working people. These new participants will support rugby league as players, volunteers or fans.
“We see our international team as a vital part of our development and we plan to be involved in competitions within South America, the Americas Championship and eventually World Cup qualifying. A big step for us could be an Emerging Nations championship in 2021.
“We already have star players in Juan Canepa, Ulises Silva, Leandro Kwiczorand the Cosso brothers and we want them and all of our international players to inspire others.”
Under the leadership of Carlos Varela and Pablo Aguilera, there is another bright star shining in South American rugby league.