The gradual normalizing of relations with Cuba includes, naturally, rugby. Since President Obama’s December 2014 announcement of restoring relations with Cuba (and even sparingly before), several social sides have visited the Caribbean island nation to play Cuban rugby enthusiasts.
The Wild Geese RFC, an over-35 side from the Washington, D.C. region, will be among those early “ambassadors” for the sport when a flock of Geese touches down in Havana on January 14.
Dubbed the “El Cubano Ron y Cigarros Recorrido” (The Cuban Rum and Cigars Tour), the six-day visit will find some 30 players and significant others engaging in various cultural activities—touring historic heritage sites and attending informative lecture sessions—in addition to lacing up the boots for three matches in Havana.
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“The tour has three goals,” says Wild Geese tour coordinator Neal Henderson. “To play rugby in Cuban against Cuban teams, of course, but also to meet local Cubans and learn about their culture and, perhaps most importantly, establish a relationship with Cuban rugby.”
That relationship will be cemented during the socials following the matches, when the Wild Geese, outfitted in their “No. 1’s” (jacket and tie), present their hosts with a set of jerseys and other rugby gear that is virtually impossible to obtain in Communist Cuba. The equipment is made available thanks to generous sponsorships by U.S.-based firms, including Front Row Performance Coaching and Love Rugby Company. The post-match socials will be sponsored by Cuisine Solutions, an innovative purveyor of sous vide food in the U.S.
The games should be competitive and challenging, Henderson says. On Sunday, January 15, their second day in Havana, the Wild Geese will play an abbreviated match of two 20-minute periods against the over-35 Team Havana.
A second match will be played under the Buenos Aires-based international rugby development organization Rugby Sans Frontiers banner, featuring a high-octane mixture of seasoned veteran players from the U.S., Cuba, Argentina and European countries. The ruby portion of the tour will end with the Wild Geese taking on another over-35 squad on Tuesday, January 17.
This is the Wild Geese’s first foray into Cuba but it is not the first time the over-35 squad has taken flight: Previous tours include foreign adventures into Ireland and Bermuda and domestic tours to Chicago, New Orleans, Saranac Lake, N.Y., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
In addition, the Geese apply their ancient wisdom and tactical support to various youth rugby clubs in the Washington, D.C. region as well as providing support to Hope in South Africa and the Richmond South Africa Wild Geese RFC. Hope in South Africa uses sports, primarily rugby and soccer, to offer developmental opportunities to young men while working to eliminate Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.