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Breaking borders through rugby

other Updated: Sep 02, 2010 01:13 IST
Nikhilesh Bhattacharya

Juan Matias is an Argentine working in southern Iraq for an American NGO. He is an economist who works to prevent neo-natal deaths. And despite coming from the land of Maradona and Messi, his first love is rugby.

It is rugby that made Juan take a week off from his work in Najaf, 160km south of Iraq, and come to India. He is in the city playing for the Delhi Hurricanes in the 77th All India & South East Asia Rugby Tournament, currently on at the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club (CCFC).

"Last year I was in India, working with Doctors Without Borders in Bihar," said Matias, a trained economist from the University of Buenos Aires. "I came in contact with the Delhi Hurricanes team and joined them. We won the Callaghan Cup in Orissa, the national second division competition."

However, Juan was transferred out of India in February and after a month in his hometown, Tigre in Argentina, he found himself in Najaf, working with the NGO on paediatric health. "Neo-natal deaths are very high in the area and we are working with the health ministry in Iraq to find a local solution to this local problem," said Juan, who with his stocky built looks every ounce a rugby player.

Medical professionals (a few foreigners working with a bigger local team) do the main work, while Juan manages the resources. "The doctors and nurses want to treat every child they come across. I have to ensure that we do it without wasting resources."

When Delhi Hurricanes called him up to ask him if he would be available for the All India, Juan needed to bring all this management skills to work. "It was difficult, but I managed to take a week off."

Juan's three tires helped Delhi Hurricanes thrash Bangalore 29-0 in their first match of the tournament but their campaign ended on Tuesday when they lost 0-10 to Army Green on a rain-drenched afternoon.

However, Juan, who "never thought of rugby as a means of livelihood", does not regret the trip from Iraq to India. "Wherever I am, I love to wake up early in the morning for a bit of rugby," said the 30-year-old, who is yet to find a rugby team in Iraq.

Juan is a much-travelled man. After completing his university studies, He spent a year travelling around South America and nine months in Asia. "Apart from India, I had been to Nepal, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia."

"I think rugby is a great game to bring people together. Look at our Delhi Hurricanes team. We have Hindus and Muslims, people from Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana and Delhi proper and each one of them has to depend on the other.

"It can be a great game for India too."