While they wait for the 1:00 PM to strike, some prisoners are inside the cell thinking about plays, moves, or even formulating questions in their heads so that they can later discuss them with the coaches. Others anxiously wait for the moment they can leave the unit, run on the grass, breathe fresh air, and escape the reality of confinement for a few hours.
On the way to the court, you can see how the energy reached its peak among the inmates: they joke with each other, they talk loudly and laugh, they pat each other on the back and run towards the court. A group of inmates are talking about the tragic news of a father who killed his two sons, aged eight and nine, last Tuesday, and the operator told El País newspaper that the event caused a lot of uproar among those deprived of their liberty.
Los Titanes de Punta de Rieles meets in the midfield round and one of the coaches, Diego Ardao (26), begins training: “As we always tell you, rugby is a sport and at the same time it is a game, but the only way to have fun is to train hard alongside Along with those who have trained for a long time. As much as they get tired, beaten, or feel things are not working for them, in the end they will enjoy it a lot, I promise.”
Unit 6 in Punta de Reles has 1,732 inmates, of whom between 30 and 60 men are involved in rugby training. This sport, like football and boxing, began to develop in this prison four years ago, and the initiative to bring rugby to prisons arose from an agreement between Ministry of Interior Affairs and rugby union in Uruguay (URU) signed in 2016.
The deputy technical director of the prison unit, Alejandra Otanha, explains to El País that the prisoners from all units make up the team and they are people who have committed all kinds of crimes given that in this case “the person is not seen because of the crime but for effort and good conduct.”
In between pass and pass, three guests motivate the rest of their teammates and cheer them on with comments like “Let’s go up guys!” or “Let it go!”. But the coaches are getting tougher: whoever drops the ball must make 10 push-ups. Whatever goes wrong during practice or if someone does not want to cooperate, it is the prisoners themselves who correct each other and insist that the whole team go towards the same goal, especially the one who encourages them the most in this regard is the captain. Christian (32) joined the team a year ago. They named him the captain of an inter-prison tournament in which teams from Las Rosas de Maldonado and Comcar participated. He always loved sports, but never imagined that rugby was the activity that would give meaning to his entire prison stay. “This space means 90% of being here,” he says. “Practically everything is forgotten,” he adds.
Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill described rugby as a game of barbarians played by gentlemen. And it is that those who watch this sport – of British origin – for the first time will surely be subjected to heavy blows between players, especially due to “interventions” (dropping an opponent) or during a “scrum” (physical disagreement over possession of the ball). But the sport also has an element of team play, unity, discipline and respect that stands out. And these values, coaches stress, really make a difference for people deprived of their freedom moving forward. One of the coaches, says Matthias Palomec, 35, who is a coach.
A meeting between prisons
Lacale Bou in a rugby match
The President of the Republic, Luis Lacalle Pou, participated in a rugby match at the University of Maldonado Stadium last Tuesday, between the Argentine team “Los Spartanos”, made up of people deprived of their freedom, and the “Phoenix” team of Unity. No. 13, Las Rosas.
“We say yes to second chances”: this is the motto of Fundación Espartanos, born as a rugby team from the 48th Maximum Security Prison Unit in Buenos Aires.
Currently, it has developed several programs aimed at the social reintegration of people deprived of their liberty within the framework of four pillars: education, rugby, spirituality, and employment.
It was this movement, which spread throughout Argentina, that inspired the Uruguayan rugby union and other organizations to promote the sport in our country’s prisons.
Espartanos with INISA and the Halcones Foundation held a meeting in Colonia Berro yesterday morning for 47 young people.
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