September 21 – In the lead up to their fixtures in European Championship B against Serbia and Russia, which double as qualifiers for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in England, the Spanish rugby league federation is further fostering a close relationship with soccer in the Valencia region.
“Instead of trying to go head-to-head with other sports, rugby league is instead starting to join forces with other programmes, to increase exposure and awareness of the game,” said Asociación Española de Rugby League administrator and player Aitor Davilia. “In particular, the Valencia region has seen a number of initiatives whereby rugby league is part of kids’ camps and seen at local schools.”
The best example is the town of Carlet, about 30km south of Valencia. For the past four years, thanks to a connection with Spanish national team member Andrew Pilkington, the AERL has run coaching sessions during the month-long summer football camp.
As a result, 18 months ago when the Spanish U21 side wanted to run a residential training camp prior to a summer friendly against Italy, the natural choice was Carlet. Likewise, when the full domestic national side welcomed Great Britain Teachers earlier this year, the town once again opened its arms and facilities.
Miguel Guzmán Moreno, the director of the town’s youth football programme commented: “The guys from rugby league have always come down, with no financial motives, to show our children more about their sport and its virtues. In return, the club and the town have given them access to facilities for matches, training sessions and camps, and the bond has strengthened as time has gone on.”
With the opportunity to further develop such links and expose more Spanish children to rugby league, AERL has undertaken sessions in similar football and multisport camps in Beniparrell (home of the country’s founding club, Valencian Warriors) and Vilamarxant.
Izan Galera, one of the organisers of the Vilamarxant camp noted that his company (Grup Multiesport Vilamarxant): “Is well aware of the need for young children to be exposed to a range of sports as well as learn about the values it can bring to their lives, so we actively encourage new sports in the events.”
With the national team entering camp at the beginning of October in preparation for the European Championship B matches, the likelihood is that at least one training session will be taken to Carlet, while there will also be some sessions at Valencia’s Cambridge House Community College, a British school that hosted a number of national team players last year. On that visit students were put through their paces as well as given talks on the players’ careers and the demands of being an amateur athlete on the international stage.
According to Davilia: “Children from all three, Cambridge House, Vilamarxant, and Carlet will also be invited to take in the match day on 6 October against Russia and walk out with the teams, thus strengthening bonds and maybe capturing the imagination of a future ‘XIII de Toro’ star.”
Spain open their European Championship campaign against Russia on October 6 in Valencia, before traveling to Belgrade to face Serbia on October 20.
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