Originally written by Robert Burgin
"This article originally appeared on RL News" Read the original article here
Last month I sat in Sao Paulo Municipal Hall adjacent to Hugo Froes – a slightly-built, dark-skinned boy from a small country town, whose father is dying of cancer.
With the bustling backdrop of the southern hemisphere’s largest city outside the window, Hugo lobbied the council passionately and powerfully to have rugby league introduced into the schools’ programme.
This, I thought, has got to be the climax to this amazing story.
If you were writing a Brazilian version of Slumdog Millionaire, there’s more than a few parallels that could be drawn.
I’ve known Hugo six years now and, in that time, he has successfully applied for Brasil to gain entry to the Women’s Rugby League World Cup, had the sport confederated and recognised internationally, and brought together teams from a geographical area of mind-blowing expanse.
He’ll be the first to tell you he hasn’t done it all himself.
In fact, his brother Gilberto is the actual president of Brasil Rugby League, credited with much of the legal prowess and documentation that has accommodated such a rapid rise.
“Yes, we are just two simple Asperger’s boys from the interior,” Hugo quipped to me last night.
Wait a second. Asperger’s Syndrome? The same condition Greta Thunberg describes as her “superpower”.
“I would never have guessed,” I replied. “We’ve never discussed this before.”
“It’s true,” he said matter-of-factly, before thawing slightly. “Maybe this explains my lack of charisma?”
Far from that being the casual observation, Hugo is definitely someone who strikes you as being of immense character.
Every second sentence is sarcastic. He doesn’t back down in an argument. In the hyper-masculine world of rugby league, he opens doors and gets things done despite the overwhelming odds against him.
More than one person has asked me if Hugo is the son of the person who runs rugby league in Brasil, such is his diminutive stature.
When I explain, no, this is the man who directs the show, the next thing they ask me is his age.
Hugo is in his late 20s but could easily pass for being in his teens.
He became enraptured by Sonny Bill Williams leading the Sydney Roosters to the 2013 NRL championship, back in the days when rugby league was broadcast on Brazilian TV.
Since then, he has been unrelenting in his quest to have the game played widely in the world’s fifth-largest nation, population 210 million.
“I adore rugby league’s history…the rebel spirit,” Hugo says.
“It is something that appeals to me in every way."