SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil is sending a message to everyone who plays rugby out there: You want to participate in the Rio Olympics? Come talk to us!
Hoping to put on a good show when rugby sevens debuts in the 2016 Games, the Brazilian federation has announced that it will go hunting for players abroad, looking for anyone with at least some experience in the game and a Brazilian link that would allow them to represent the country.
The federation this weekend is launching a worldwide campaign — entitled "Brazilian Rugby Players Wanted" — to spread the word, hoping to find at least a handful of players who can help turn the national team into a more competitive squad by the time the Olympics arrive.
Brazil has very little tradition in the sport and has never achieved significant results in top international competitions, but both the men's and women's national teams automatically qualify for the 2016 Games as hosts.
Rugby officials sent a letter to international federations, international clubs and rugby publications to try to attract players who may not be able to play at the top level in their countries but who could be useful to the Brazilian team.
"If you fulfill the criteria (to become a Brazilian citizen) and believe you have the athleticism, skill, passion and drive to represent Brazil, then we want to hear from you," says the letter being distributed to those involved with rugby across the globe.
"Be part of the dream," it adds.
The local federation said it already knows of a few players who are in position to seek citizenship to join the Brazilian team, but it wants to reach others who may not be aware of the opportunity.
"We want to make sure that everybody knows that we are seeking these players," said Sami Arap, the president of the Brazilian rugby federation. "And I have no doubt that soon we will start receiving emails of players and of agents offering players wanting to come to Brazil. I'm sure that the allure of playing in the Olympics will help us attract a lot of players."
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Arap said that he hopes to bring about six players for the men's squad and another six for the women's.
"The more the better," he said. "We will get a huge boost in performance by adding these players. Even if I get only two players with international experience, the improvement will be substantial."
Rugby sevens — a fast-moving derivative of the more traditional 15-a-side rugby — will be making its Olympic debut in Rio.
"We have a long-term goal to develop the sport," Arap said. "We are working hard to make sure that one day rugby becomes a popular sport in Brazil, second only to football. But because the Olympics in Rio are only three years away, we have to rush things a bit, and that's why it's so important to start bringing these players."
Currently there is no professional rugby league in Brazil. The country has only about 10,000 registered players and the sport is played mostly in clubs and universities. Brazil's women's team has had more success and is usually among the top 12 nations in the world, while the men's is near the top 30.
Arap said he expects the women's national team — which has been dominant in rugby sevens in South America — to contend for a medal in 2016, while the men's team will likely be playing mainly to gain experience.
The Brazilian federation already has already started a partnership with traditional New Zealand club Crusaders, which has sent in coaches for Brazil's national teams. The Crusaders and the Canterbury Rugby Football Union in New Zealand are already running the Brazilian federation's High Performance Program.
In addition to finding rugby players abroad, Arap said the federation is also trying to look for athletes who have the ability to switch sports.
"We are trying to identify athletes who maybe may not be thriving in their sports but who could possibly be representing Brazil by playing rugby in 2016," he said.
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