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The perfect recipe for growing your sport

Spain’s recent qualification for the 2023 World Cup has sparked an interest in rugby never seen before in the province, and there are several factors at play

SHAY CONAGHAN

Rugby is that sport that never really took off in Spain. But now it’s firmly on the rise not only in the country, but in Malaga province as well, despite not always being the go-to choice of exercise for the Spanish youth.

But the achievements of higher-profile teams have had a massive effect on the sport’s exposure. Take Spain’s qualification for the 2023 World Cup as an example: they received a boost in television coverage, though that attention was partly due to them also being disqualified from the tournament a month later.

Growing in the province

Clubs such as Club de Rugby Malaga reported that they have reached a total of 400 players, including a 42-player women’s team. Smaller sides like Fuengirola Rugby Club, founded in 2016, have 63 players among their ranks, a number they hope will reach 80 by the end of the year.

At CR Malaga, growth has been something evident at the club for several years now. “We have been growing at a constant average of 15% to 20% over the last eight years,” club treasurer Garrett McGuckian explained to SUR in English. Most of that growth, he said, was the product of local word of mouth.

There is a similar situation at Fuengirola RC. “Often the parents see how happy their children are and say that to other parents; that’s essentially the way many [new players] come,” the club said.

Large events

Important competitions being hosted locally is another way to get people interested in rugby. “It’s important that large events are linked to the community and are marketed well,” McGuckian insisted, but he is not sure that something like the World Sevens Series, which were played in Malaga earlier this year, helped rugby in the area.

He does, however, point to two events that did make an impact: the Spain-Uruguay game played in Malaga in 2016 and CR Malaga’s promotion to the national second division in 2019.

At Marbella RC, on the other hand, there is the view that the Rugby Sevens did have an enormous effect by increasing awareness, but that there is still a lot to be done going forward.

“Andalucía is behind the curve and that is something we have to work on,” said María Maganto, from the club.

Lack of stadiums

And the subject of facilities is a hot topic among Malaga clubs. They have been demanding new stadiums for years, as their future needs were already pressing.

One way that some clubs sought to improve their situation was by creating the platform ‘Únete a la melé malagueña’ (Join the Malaga scrum), which Marbella RC, CR Málaga, Fuengirola RC, Axarquía Rugby and Bokerón RC, among others, launched in March this year.

Among their many complaints, they highlighted that there was only one approved rugby pitch in the whole province - Marbella RC’s - and the construction was undertaken by club members themselves. But the club has been in financial turmoil since 2017, going as far as to having their accounts seized.

The platform, so far, has benefitted both CR Malaga and Marbella RC massively. “It’s been really helpful; it has brought the various cubs in the province closer together. CR Malaga is the only club playing at its level that does not currently have a ground of its own,” McGuckian explained.

They still rent training facilities and stadiums for their various teams. But now they have support from the provincial authority to build a stadium, originally planned in 2005, though it’s been delayed. “We are very optimistic that we will see the project come to fruition,” he said.

In Marbella, the platform has allowed public bodies to contribute more support to the club. “Marbella town hall has completed the refurbishment of a plot of land which can now be used as an additional training pitch,” said Maganto.

She also believes that the province can and should host important rugby events. “We are working towards getting investment to convert our facilities into a centre of excellence for training and coaching,” she explained. That would allow them to become an attractive destination for national and international teams. “They would be delighted to come to the Costa del Sol with its ideal climate for pre-season training.”

Few are benefitting

There are also different clubs who aren’t entirely convinced nor believe they are benefiting from the platform as the others have.

“It’s all nice words and it will have helped big teams like CR Malaga and Marbella RC,” said Fuengirola RC. “But not a small club like Fuengirola. We still train on half a pitch and we don’t have one which our teams can play on,” sources stated.

For Axarquía Rugby, the platform only came about after they got the keys to their own facilities. “For us, the platform is nothing more than a line of communication, where everyone uses it as they please,” they said.

Motivating the youngsters

While it’s true that belonging to a sports team should mainly be about exercising, having fun and creating bonds between new players, it’s also hard to ignore some of the province’s success stories: Alberto Carmona and Paula Coca, who were forged in CR Malaga’s academy, have represented Spain and they now play for European giants Toulon and Olímpico de Pozuelo in Madrid.

Clubs in Malaga province hope that their journeys can inspire other youngsters to follow a similar path and try something different.

They are constantly looking to welcome interested and keen players to their teams, and more information can be found on their websites.