Few public spaces in Uruguay are equipped to accommodate wheelchairs.
Buses, bathrooms, movie theaters, bars, and even poorly designed wheelchair ramps are often inaccessible. Because of this, handicapped individuals often live their lives at home.
This culture is changing now, however, thanks to Los Criollos, a Uruguayan quad rugby team. After months of planning and support from Fundación A Ganar and the local government, Los Criollos brought an international quad rugby tournament to Uruguay for the first time.
Torneo Internacional de Quad Rugby Copa “Maldonado Inclusivo” was held in Maldonado in late March and included teams from Argentina, Peru, and Uruguay, as well as a mixed nationality team.
Quad rugby was invented in Canada in 1977 and was designed by and for quadriplegic individuals. The Los Criollos team formed in 2014.
“It’s where we can be 100 percent ourselves,” Juancho de Posadas, the team captain, said.
Last year the members of Los Criollos decided to host their own tournament as a way of paying back teams that had hosted them in the past and of making their sport known throughout Uruguay.
“A Ganar embraced the cause,” said Magda de Posadas, Juancho’s sister who supports the team administratively.
Their mother, Malena de Posadas, is the president of the Uruguayan chapter of Partners and loves to get Partners involved in everything she can. A Ganar supported Los Criollos in developing the tournament by acquiring donations, setting up transportation to practice, and working out legal logistics. Intendencia de Maldonado, the local government, also came on board.
The members of Los Criollos began noticing an impact of the tournament before it even began, Magda said. The players promoted the tournament on television and began being recognized on the street. They gained new members.
Over 300 people attended the tournament, which was free to the public.
“[I felt] really proud and thankful,” Juancho said. “Proud to be with my friends playing for Uruguay in a team that we made in a tournament that we made.”
Quad rugby is a sport that takes extreme strength and energy, and when the local community came out to watch the tournament after all of the promotion, it began to recognize that, Magda said.
“People who went to see the tournament and saw it on TV were moved,” she said. “They started to understand what it means to be a quad rugby player.”
Los Criollos plan on competing in the International Wheelchair Rugby Foundation’s (IWRF) Americas Championship in Paraguay this September. Juancho and his teammates are focused on training hard and recruiting new members, while Magda and others managing the team are working out the logistics of gaining sponsors and making travel arrangements.
Magda is also trying to help make Los Criollos financially independent so that it can function as a professional sports team and the players can fully dedicate themselves to quad rugby.
“I’ve seen these guys going from being in their houses…to getting out, getting together, traveling, having a girlfriend, having jobs,” she said. “I’ve seen what playing quad rugby and playing on a team does for them.”