Rugby as a ticket out of Venezuela

Berlin, Germany, Mar 3 (efe-epa).- Leandro Narvaez was able to escape poverty in Venezuela thanks to a German-based rugby association that scouted the promising player and funded his trip to Europe.

The Orquídeas Negras (“Black Orchids”) was founded by Venezuelan immigrants in Berlin and runs a rugby club of the same name. Once a year the organization offers young players in Venezuela a contract to come to play in Europe in the hope that they might find a future on the continent.

Leandro says it was hard to find a route out of Venezuela, where, according to the United Nations World Food Programme, one in three does not have enough to eat.

“When we arrive in Europe we have no intention of returning to Venezuela,” he tells Efe.

Leandro first initially plied his trade with the Orquídeas Negras but since 2017 has played for Juvenia Krakow in Poland after the team noticed him at a tournament.

The Polish club agreed to pay the player’s housing until he was able to find work. It also sorted his Polish visa.

“If it wasn’t for the Orquídeas Negras, I would not be living in Europe. The reason I’m playing for the team in Krakow is thanks to the opportunity they gave me,” he says.

The Orquídeas Negras offer to pay all the fees involved with moving from Venezuela to Europe, although Leandro says that he paid for his own flights.

The socio-political situation in Venezuela has forced an estimated 18 percent of the population — some 5.4 million people — to flee, according to 2019 data from the Organization of American States. Among those who left was Pedro Altuve, the president of the Orquídeas Negras.

“Unfortunately, in Venezuelan society, there are many economic and political problems as well as extreme poverty, where few can eat or have access to a hospital or medicine,” he tells Efe. The rugby project took root in 2011 and is now a fully registered association in Germany with its headquarters in Berlin. It began with just five members and has swelled to over 100.

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