In an Argentine prison, "rugby has been my outlet"

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"Guard!" The dry sound of the key in the lock, the grinding of the gate that opens. A few steps then we start again. Guardian, lock, gate. And so again and again. "The sounds of keyrings, doors that open and close, having to wait to take three steps, it's clear that I did not miss it." Yet Diego Gil, a 29-year-old, almost eight of them, seems happy to return to prison today, for the first time since his release three months ago.

"Inside it's very hard and ugly things are going on, yes. But we also form very strong friendships. That's what rugby left me, beyond anything else: going out of individualism to join a group. I promised the guys that I would come back for training, and the Spartans keep their word. "

"The first time it was not easy"

The Spartans, a rugby team created ten years ago in the San Martin high security prison, 50 km north of the Argentine capital, who borrowed his name from the film 300 one of the favorite behind the walls. The initiative, the first of its kind, has changed the lives of the 500 inmates and former detainees who are part of it. Besides, the first thing Diego did when he left was to tattoo the emblem of the club, a spartan helmet, on the thigh.

Eduardo Oderigo, nicknamed Coco, is at the origin. Sorry for what he saw during his visits to prison, this lawyer and amateur rugby player of 48 years had the crazy idea to come there to teach his favorite sport, yet reserved for the economic elite in Argentina. In San Martin, as in most prisons in the world, prisoners come from the poorest social classes.

"The first time was not easy, he recalls. First of all, because the guys were in poor physical condition. And they did not know this sport of bourges, as they said. They did not want to tackle, not throw themselves on the ground. Yet at the end of the training, they asked me if I would come back. I admit that I did not think about it very much but I said: ok, every Tuesday. And for ten years, rain or shine, I come every Tuesday. "

Today, of the 1,100 prisoners in San Martin, 350 play rugby several times a week. Other amateur coaches have joined the project but Coco remains their favorite. He found sponsors and built a real synthetic pitch where there was only a muddy wasteland.

"I found the desire to learn"

Gabriel Marquez is 25 years old and has already served five. He is the captain of the Spartans: "Rugby, it was an outlet for channeling all the hate, rancor, sadness I had accumulated since childhood. First, getting out of my cell to let off steam, it's not nothing, it's a space of freedom behind our barbed wire. But above all, it is the values ​​of this sport: sacrifice, honesty, respect of course, that helped me to consider life differently. And it's very specific to rugby! In football, for example, one insults oneself and one speaks anyhow to the referee … " He discovered a real passion for the oval ball and for the Pumas team, who comes from time to time to participate in their training. On the small screen of the cell that he shared with two of his companions, he planned to watch all the matches of Argentina, what does it matter if the jet lag schedules at 4 am (1). "I vibrate with them, he said with bright eyes. If life had been different, I would have loved to be a Puma. "

Of course, rugby does not solve everything and detention remains tough. But in ten years, the atmosphere of San Martin prison has changed, detainees and guards are noticing it. The violence within the walls has almost been eradicated, there is a lot less drugs too. Some of the Spartans, like Gabriel, have even resumed their studies. "I found the desire to learn and the discipline to do itGabriel smiles. I prepare my baccalaureate, it would make me very proud to have it, I would be the first of my family. " Coco Oderigo is also proud of his foals: "It works on trust, also on depending on each other. Since they were kids, society sent them the message that they did not expect anything from them, that they were useless. Here the team needs them so they have to get stuck for it. We expect something from them: their presence, their efforts and it changes everything. "

Values ​​taught and newfound confidence

The Spartan experience has been replicated in 55 prisons in six different countries. But the biggest mark of its undeniable success is the recidivism rate which does not reach 5% among its members, against more than 60% at the national level.

Of course, the values ​​taught through sport and the newfound confidence have something to do with it. But above all, it is the network of companies that Coco was able to convince and which offer to the Spartans a first job at their exit which facilitates the reintegration.

Diego works today as a landscape gardener. He took with him his passion and created a rugby team for young people in his neighborhood: "It's important not to forget where we come from, he said between two jokes to his found companions. Today it's going pretty good for me, I want to believe that I will never come back here for anything other than a puck game, and that's largely thanks to rugby. "

The light falls, Coco whistles the end of the training and the players find their habits of prisoners. They form a long line to return to their respective flags. Diego, he is preparing to iron one by one the gates that separate him from his freedom. A last hug mixed with sweat: "We find ourselves outside, Hermanos. Soon."

(1) Argentina enters the competition this Saturday against the French team, (9:15 French time).

Mathilde Guillaume Correspondent in Buenos Aires

(tagsToTranslate) Sparta (t) Argentina (t) Lawyer (t) Lock (t) José de San Martín (t) Between the walls (t) Rugby (t) Bourges (t) Hatred (t) Values ​​(t) ) Time difference (syndrome) (t) Social classes (t) Team d

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